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Photo Credit: Richard Voges

Remembering Nebraska Football Trainer George Sullivan

December 27, 2018

It was a knee, or a shoulder. During an interview 40 years after the fact, George Sullivan remembered it being a knee. But other accounts say a shoulder.

He was getting the knee, or shoulder, taped before a Nebraska football practice – or before the Iowa State game in 1949, again based on the interview 40 years later. The game was played in Ames, Iowa. It was the only road trip he’d ever make as a Husker, Sullivan said during the interview.

He was always on what was then called the “nubbins,” now the scout team, during his brief Nebraska playing career, first under Potsy Clark and then Bill Glassford. 

Bernie Masterson was the coach when he enrolled at Nebraska in the fall of 1947, after enlisting in the Army following graduation from Loup City (Ne.) High School in 1944.

Sullivan grew up in nearby Rockville.

He didn’t go out for football until the spring of 1948, after Clark had replaced Masterson.

Anyway, as the story goes (and there aren’t variations here) during the taping, Blaine Rideout, Nebraska’s head trainer, asked Sullivan if he really wanted to continue banging around his knee, or shoulder. Sullivan asked what Rideout had in mind. 

“How about joining the training staff?”

Sullivan asked for the scissors, cut off the tape, and became a student trainer. He changed his major from business to physical education, earned two degrees at Nebraska and then enrolled at the University of Iowa to further his physical therapy education. 

He was soon persuaded to return to Nebraska and joined the training staff.

Sullivan succeeded Paul Schneider as head athletic trainer in 1977 and continued in that role until 1994, when he became an assistant to chief medical director Pat Clare as well as head football trainer. A year later, his title was changed to head trainer emeritus and medical consultant.

That’s a quick recap of what George did. But it doesn’t express who he was, which I’ve avoided to this point. The transcript of that interview 30 years ago offers little help, nor do the notes from before and after the interview I’ve kept in a gray folder, jammed in a filing cabinet.

I’m fairly certain I met George before I became a sports writer in Lincoln in the fall of 1978. He and my uncle Gib were friends as well as associates at Nebraska. Gib, the football team’s equipment manager from 1965 to 1976, grew up in North Loup, in the same general area as Rockville. 

Those small farming communities are about 40 miles apart.

My dad and my aunts and other uncles grew up there, too, of course. There was a mindset, a way of looking at the world, growing up where and as they did. Because of that connection, I knew George better than some on the football staff. Or at least I thought I did.

When Gib was in a care facility in Ord, Nebraska, as he approached his 100th birthday, I planned to contact George and offer to take him along for a visit. As the aphorism goes: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” I never made the call, or the trip.

Anyway, simply put, here’s the person George was. My son Chad ran cross country in high school and was having knee problems. When I mentioned that to George at football practice one day, he told me to bring Chad to the training room some morning before school and he’d take a look. 

George was always there by 6 a.m. to help those who needed it. 

I took Chad once or twice, and George treated him as he would a Husker athlete.

A small thing, and personal, to be sure. But I think of that when I think of George, that and an omnipresent smile when I’d see him and wife Genie in the pressbox years after he retired. Don and Pedie Bryant would be with them. And when George said something, the intonation and good nature brought to mind my uncle Gib, and my dad, all three now gone.

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