If you’ve never heard the name Bulls Cyclone Sullivan. It’s because you’re not listening. Sullivan’s name hangs over the red clay hills in black prairies of Eastern Mississippi. Like a lingering echo from some primordial event. Residents frequently and ceremoniously recount his legend like ancient Greek speaking of Odysseus, or Vikings telling their children of Beowulf. Sullivan, however, was a real man.
There was a knock on my door, front door, When I opened the door, there was this huge man standing there. And he looked at me said, Are you Bulldog? I said yes. And he said, You wanna play football? I said yes. And he said, we’ll get your gear. I said, Well, who are you? He said, I’m coach Sullivan, from Scuba.
At the conclusion of each of Sullivan’s brutal Practices, players retreated back to the dorm they affectionately referred to as the Alamo. But any hopes the Alamo would serve as a refuge from Sullivan himself we’re misconceived. In an arrangement unfathomable by today’s standards, Coach Sullivan, his wife, Virginia, and their four children, occupied an apartment on the first floor of the dorm. And the unparalleled around-the-clock proximity of coach to players created some of the most memorable aspects of life in Scuba.
As Sullivan was sculpting the lives of his players through brute force and intimidation, in a seemingly parallel universe, he was playing the role of loving husband and father. In this world, Sultan engaged in picnics and piano recitals, and willingly played the role of both the clown and the romantic.
While many of Sullivan’s players can recount the same outlandish practice experiences. Only a few can personally speak of Rockbrook a full two years before coach Bear Bryant made his fame trip to junction. It was in the crucible of Rockbrook that Sullivan hammered the lethal edge of his 1952 team. The techniques employed by Sullivan resulted in an attrition rate of over 80% and it would mark the first and last time Sullivan would ever subject one of his teams to the experience.
Sullivan’s antics during games gave the casual observer ample justification for placing him into any number of unfavorable stereotypical categories. But look past the layers of Sullivan strategically constructed veneer, and you will begin to uncover the unexpected. The man was tremendously complex, a member of Phi Beta Kappa. Solomon’s interest ranged from anthropology and natural history to journalism and human rights. His passion for dissecting and opposing defense was equaled by his curiosity of the world around him. And despite the draconian measures he implemented with those closest to him, it was his compassion for people that may have been his most endearing quality.
The etchings contained on coach Sullivan’s note cards were either the product of a stroke of visionary genius, but they represented half the consideration of a backroad bargain with the devil. In either instance, the offensive attack diagram by Sullivan could not be found in any other existing playbook in the 1950s. The only way to experience this brand of football wizardry was to pledge your loyalty to coach Sullivan. And to pack your bags for scuba Mississippi.
Once Sullivan concluded the brutal pruning of his roaster and outfitted the survivors in the famed skull and crossbones leather helmets, and successfully installed his other worldly offensive attack. He then switched into game mode, the difficult to imagine, this somehow involved a heightened amount of practice intensity, mixed with an added ingredient of paranoia. By the time Sullivan made it to the stadium, he saw total domination of the entire venue. This included psychological control over everyone present, including the opposing team and coaches, as well as game officials and even spectators.
Sullivan’s aerial circus offensive attack not only captivated fans and short circuited scoreboards, it also produced all American quarterbacks. In 1960, Billy Coleman became the first of Sullivan’s quarterbacks to garner all American honors. Don Edwards did the same in 61 and Lester Smith continued the streak in 62. as just a freshman in 1963. Bill Buckner became the fourth quarterback in his many years to reach all American status while piloting scuba’s offense. With Buckner returning as a preseason, all-American, Southern troops began the 1964 campaign as the number one ranked team in the country, and the heavy favourites to punch a ticket to the coveted junior college Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.
As Sullivan’s teams piled up victories and attracted fans, Sullivan himself became more popular and powerful on the school campus. He was named dean of men, and had the 1953 yearbook dedicated in his honor. Though not technically the top ranking official at the school, Sullivan was widely recognized by students as the final authority on campus. As a former Marine drill instructor, Sullivan was accustomed to barking orders and receiving immediate compliance. He therefore did not hesitate directing such orders towards players, students, staff members, or even his own boss, college president are a harbor
Coach Sullivan’s life and coaching career were defined by extreme moments, offensive attacks that defied conventional practice techniques to shock the conscience, hand to hand Mortal Kombat in a foxhole in the Pacific, and determination and death that devastated those around him. But possibly the most unexpected and extreme act of Sullivan’s entire life took place a few years before his death, out into the public eye, and in the privacy of his own heart, mind, and spirit.
While evidence of Sullivan’s life can easily be seen in tangible items, such as bronze statues, and the brick and mortar improvements on the scuba campus, tangible objects are insufficient conduits for legends. Legends travel through the intangible, the unquantifiable network of feelings and memories that traverse heart and mind. The 18 and 19 year old boys who wore the black leather helmet and ran the gauntlet of scuba, now possess a perspective and clarity that only the passing of time can bring. Fate did not haphazardly whisk them to an isolated rural town in Mississippi. Fate had ushered them into the throne room of a legend.