Jason Peter remembers the loving side of George Sullivan, Nebraska's head athletic trainer from 1977 until 1995.

Peter also remembers Sullivan's tough and stern side — a side that was beneficial to Peter and numerous other Husker football greats during a glorious era in the program's rich history.

Sullivan essentially was in charge of the freshman locker room in 1993 when Peter arrived as a high-profile lineman from Milford (Connecticut) Academy.

"When guys are sore and banged up and they're up there on that training table getting taped up, there's that tendency to start to bitch and moan about how sore you are," Peter told the Journal Star Wednesday morning. "I remember George just kind of being like, 'If you're going to bitch and moan, you better take that somewhere else.'

"He'd always have that toothpick in his mouth. You certainly got the impression he was a tough guy. He just kind of let it be known that not in his training room was he going to listen to that sort of stuff, because the reality is, you haven't seen anything yet."

Sullivan died Tuesday night. He was 91. He served as Nebraska’s assistant athletic trainer and head physical therapist from 1953-77 before becoming head athletic trainer in 1977 and retiring in 1995. He first stepped inside Nebraska’s football training room in 1948 as a student, giving him nearly a half-century view of NU’s storied program.

Paul Koch, a Nebraska strength and conditioning coach from 1987-96, regards Sullivan as one of the giants of Husker football during the glory years.

"You have Bob Devaney, Tom Osborne, George Sullivan, Milt Tenopir and Charlie McBride," Koch said. "You did not want to get on their bad side if you wanted any future at Nebraska. George definitely was right up there."

In pondering Sullivan's impact on the program, Koch said, you have to consider the importance of "physical touch."

"We're talking about young kids still learning their way in the world, and they think they're invincible, and all of a sudden their body tells them, 'Uh, dude, there's a line you don't cross and you crossed it and now you're hobbling,'" Koch said. "So there are damaged psyches going through that process."

Sullivan helped players through those tough times.

"I think the thing a lot of people don't realize is a trainer sometimes has as much or more impact than a coach," said Tom Osborne, Nebraska's football coach from 1973-97. "The trainers are with players early in the morning — George was usually in the office at 6 a.m. and sometimes wouldn't leave until 6 at night or even later than that.

"He did the taping, treatments and sometimes listened to players' problems. George was a guy who cared about the players a lot, but at the same time he was firm. You didn't play games with him. I think if a guy was trying to get out of practice or some type of work by pretending he had more problems than he really had, George wasn't going to have any of it."

Peter, an All-America defensive tackle and co-captain for Nebraska's 1997 national championship team, obviously liked that Sullivan held players accountable. As Peter progressed in his career at NU, he noticed his relationship with Sullivan changing.

"You had to earn his respect and once that was earned, you could (joke) around with him," Peter said. "We used to joke about his sausage fingers. He would laugh. He absolutely was a kindhearted guy but also had that old-school way about him. Bottom line, he loved us, especially the guys who worked hard."

Both Osborne and Koch remember Sullivan for being a stickler for players removing their ball caps in the training room and at the training table.

"He made them pay attention to proper procedure and decorum," Osborne said. "In a way he was a disciplinarian, but he also was their friend."

Sullivan played football for Nebraska in the late 1940s and received bachelor's and master's degrees from NU. After getting a physical therapy degree at Iowa, he returned to NU in 1953.

He had an office on the sixth floor of Memorial Stadium long after he retired in 1995.

"It was kind of hard to see him get older and his health start to deteriorate," Peter said. "It was interesting (in recent years) because he was retired, but he was always around. It always seemed like he was still doing something for the university. If they needed to tape an ankle or set up something, he was still part of it.

"He loved the University of Nebraska, and that's kind of where he always wanted to be around."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.


Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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