‘Sully’ readies to work 300th sellout

Sep 24th, 2009 | By | Category: Campus News, Issue, September 24, 2009

Retired athletic trainer George ‘Sully’ Sullivan has served Huskers since 1953

In 55 seasons with the Huskers, George “Sully” Sullivan has missed only one home football game. And, honestly, that one doesn’t count.

“I missed the spring game in 1997 to serve as a trainer for the PanAmerican Games in Sao Paulo, Brazil,” said Sullivan, emeritus director in Athletics. “But, since I started in 1953, I have not missed a Nebraska home football game. I’ve worked each of them on the sidelines or up here in the press box.”

That’s 348 games, including the last 299 – an NCAA record for consecutive sellouts of home games. Might as well push that tally to 349 and 300, respectively.

“I’ll be here Saturday, kibitzing with the media guys,” said Sullivan.

George Sullivan
George “Sully” Sullivan, emeritus director for Athletics, has worked every home football game since the 1953 season.

Sullivan is a Husker legend in his own right. He suited up for the squad in 1947 and 1948 after serving in the Army at the tail end of World War II.

“I had so many injuries that a trainer talked me into helping him tape up other players,” said Sullivan.

He worked as a student trainer in 1949. Sullivan earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from NU and his physical therapy degree from the University of Iowa. He returned to NU in 1953, splitting time as chief physical therapist for the University Health Center and treating Husker athletes.

In 1976, Sullivan became the Huskers’ head athletic trainer. He worked with the athletes until his retirement in 1994. Today, Sullivan works as a consultant for Athletics and helps in the press box on game days.

After working during some of the best and worst times in Nebraska football history, Sullivan can easily pinpoint the force that fueled the fervor of Husker Nation.

“It’s all because of Bob Devaney and what he accomplished that first season,” said Sullivan. “In my opinion, it all started with the win over Michigan.”

The Huskers were emerging from the dark run of coach Bill Jennings, a five-year span in which Nebraska won just 16 of 50 games. After Jennings’ dismissal, Nebraska hired Devaney, a fiery coach from the University of Wyoming, for the 1962 season.

On Sept. 29, 1962, Devaney and the Huskers traveled to Ann Arbor to face the Big 10 power Michigan Wolverines. The Huskers returned with a 25-13 win and the buzz among Big Red fans started to build.

Five weeks later, the sellout streak began when the Huskers hosted Big 8 rival Missouri for homecoming. Nebraska lost the game, 16-7, with 56,501 fans attending.

Along with helping rebuild fan support – Nebraskans have always followed the team, even in lean years – Devaney also pushed to expand the stadium.

“Devaney was instrumental in pushing the upward trend in fans attending games and the number of seats available,” said Sullivan. “He was the one who really pushed for an addition to Memorial Stadium.”

Sullivan also credits athletic director Tippie Dye for reaching out to fans in the Devaney era.

“Tippie was responsible for starting the different clubs, the Beef Club, Touchdown Club, Extra Point Club,” said Sullivan. “Those clubs were another reason behind the continuation of the sellout streak.

“Memorial Stadium became the place to be on Saturday afternoons.”

Sullivan has watched Memorial Stadium grow and change – hotdogs were originally thrown (and sold) by athletes, now they’re flung high by “der weiner schlinger” – and has collected more than a few memorable football Saturday moments.

“The Oklahoma games are all pretty memorable,” said Sullivan. “But, the one played the day after the JFK assassination was big. It came really close to not being played.”

Sullivan also recalls Devaney – then serving as athletic director – telling Colorado to leave their buffalo mascot Ralphie at home.

And, there’s the creation of “Gatorade” too. Sullivan says Nebraska made it first, and he called it Huskerade.

“Gatorade started at Nebraska,” said Sullivan. “A neurosurgeon from the med school came to me and we talked about how the brain gets dehydrated just like a muscle.

“We started mixing up saline solution for the athletes to drink.”

By the 1964 Orange Bowl match up with Auburn, the athletic training staff was mixing Kool-Aid into the saline solution and called it Huskerade. Nebraska won the game 14-7 and the next week, a trainer from Florida called to see what was in that Big Red’s sideline drink and created their own version. Trainers from the University of Florida went on to claim credit for the cramp-deterring drink.

“Too bad we weren’t smart enough to go public with it first,” said Sullivan.

There are a number of great games too, but Sullivan spent most of his time watching for injuries on the field. He remembers players and how they caused the crowd to roar.

Today, he believes the sellout streak would be a point of pride for Devaney. And, as Nebraska preps for No. 300, he doesn’t see the Husker faithful ending the record any time soon.

“I don’t see people giving this up any time soon. This is Big Red. It’s their team,” said Sullivan. “I know I’ll be here on Saturday. It’s the only place to be if you are in Nebraska.”

— Story and photo by Troy Fedderson, University Communications

300 logo

No. 300

The sellout streak in numbers

• Nearly 22 million fans have passed through Memorial Stadium turnstiles since the streak began. That’s roughly the population of modern-day Australia.

• Nebraska has won 260 of the 299 consecutive sellouts. Bob Devaney, Tom Osborne and Frank Solich have a combined 233-27 record at home during the streak.

• Notre Dame is second in the streak with 206 sellouts.

— Compiled by Steve Smith, University Communciations

Homecoming Events

Concerts, a parade, decorations, tailgating, a blood drive, pep rally, coronation – all are part of the annual homecoming celebration week activities planned through Sept. 26. The homecoming theme is “Come on Home.” Most events are free and open to the public.

This year’s homecoming culminates with events at the Sept. 26 Nebraska football game vs. Louisiana-Lafayette – the long-anticipated, history-making, 300th consecutive football home game sellout. Kickoff is 6 p.m. at Memorial Stadium.

Other homecoming events and activities, with approximate times and locations include:

Sept. 24 – City Campus Blood Drive, Nebraska Union Centennial Room, 9:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m. (Campus Red Cross, Blood Bank); Royalty Election, Nebraska Union, Campus Recreation, East Union from 9 a.m.-7 p.m. and online; East Campus Country Band Event, Aaron Watson and The Eli Young Band, East Campus Mall, 8 p.m. Shuttles from City Campus to East Campus for UNL Students with a valid N-Card. The shuttles will begin picking up at 7 p.m. from Henzlik Hall and continue until one hour after the end of the concert. In case of rain, the concert will be at Nebraska State Fair Park Open Air Auditorium.

Sept. 25 – Lawn Display Competition, judging begins at noon; Football Friday at Wick Alumni Center, Holling Garden, doors open at 4:30 p.m., 5 p.m. panel including former Huskers Tommie Frazier and Matt Davison; 6 p.m., Homecoming parade with grand marshal Johnny Rodgers, floats, the Cornhusker Marching Band, Herbie Husker and Lil Red, NU Spirit Squad.; 6:45 p.m., Come On Home pep rally, introduction of homecoming royalty candidates. Children’s activities, balloon animals and face painting. Admission is free. Food and drinks available for purchase; 6:30 p.m. the Lied Center for Performing Arts’ 20th anniversary celebration with a free party featuring the Lincoln a capella group “No Better Cause,” the UNL Marching Band, and cake, all at the Lied Center.

Sept. 26 – Football, Nebraska vs. Louisiana-Lafayette, 6 p.m. Homecoming Competition and Royalty winners announced at halftime.

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  1. Is anyone selling programs from the 300th sellout? By the time I thought about getting one, they were all gone.
    Mike Furrow
    Bowie, Texas
    PS-Excellent article on George Sullivan. He checked out my knees when I went out for the Husker baseball team as a freshman in 1964.

  2. he was also a great speaker, i always remember his moving words at the State Coaches Associations in the Midwest

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