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The gift requests would start about two weeks in advance.
Actually, it was more like a mandate not to buy anything at all for Father's Day.
Louis Bullard wanted his family to get up early for church, come home for a meal together and eventually they'd all head out to the movies together - just like pretty much every other holiday on the calendar.
Alex Bullard, the boy would grow up to become an offensive lineman just like his dad, his sister, Ashley, and mom, Dorothy, were always more than willing to give Louis what he wanted. Except, of course, they couldn't resist breaking the first rule.
"We always got him a little something," Alex said. "He liked robes, so we'd get him a robe and maybe some house shoes, just father stuff."
Last year, for the first time there was nothing to buy, no dinner with dad or an evening movie.
A three-year battle with gastroesophageal junction cancer eventually claimed the life of Louis Bullard at age 53 on April 18, 2010, just more than two months before the celebratory holiday.
The second Father's Day without him might not be much easier for Alex now, and the loss still has an obvious effect on a tight-knit family and the son who had ventured away from home to play football at Notre Dame before coming back to Tennessee this spring.
Perhaps none of the subsequent holidays like the one today will pass without a little pain, but the family is already working on some new traditions to replace the old.
"It was really tough (last year), because I was really envious of all my teammates up at Notre Dame because all their fathers were there and they were all hanging out," Alex said. "It was tough being without him the first Father's Day, but instead of being negative about it, I just turned it into a positive.
"I just took that day to kind of reflect on the fact I spent 19 years with him and he's a big part of the man that I've become today."
In fact, Louis has always been the man Alex wanted to become.
* * *
Alex was eager to play because he wanted to play like his father. He would say a lot of times that he wanted to grow up and be like his dad. I remember him telling that to Louis' best friend with the Seattle Seahawks, Jacob Green. Alex was eating a lot, and Jacob would say, 'Man, you're eating a lot.' And Alex said, 'I have to eat a lot because I want to grow up and be like my dad.' He wanted very much to be like his dad."
- Dorothy Bullard
* * *
There was no pressure to play.
Deep down, Dorothy Bullard knew her husband would want his son to put the pads on just like Louis Bullard had during a 10-year professional career that included three seasons with the Seattle Seahawks.
But his playing days had taught him firsthand the rigors of the game, the risk of injury that comes with it and the lasting impact it has taken on bodies once the final whistle has blown on a career.
So the decision for Alex came with some caution, but when it was made in fourth grade to hit the field for the first time, Louis was right behind as a coach.
And to the surprise of nobody, Alex was plugged in right away on the offensive line.
"Louis wanted to be that coach, that dad that was out there on the field," Dorothy said. "Naturally he put Alex on the offensive line, and Alex was a big kid and they needed the help, so he would play both offense and defense.
"But, of course, he put Alex at left tackle and that's where he started out playing."
The younger Bullard has developed into a lineman who can play anywhere up front, and that versatility is a big part of the reason the Vols have been so thrilled with his arrival this spring after transferring closer to home following two seasons with the Irish and a standout career at Brentwood Academy.
The fact Alex had his hardship waiver approved and gained eligibility right away only added to his value for UT, which has used him some at tackle and also experimented with him at center as it continues to tinker with the lineup.
But no matter where he ends up, Alex developed the aggressive mindset needed to play in the trenches at an early age thanks to some tough instruction from a former pro - and he certainly was born with the physical tools thanks to a dad who checked in at 6-foot-6, 265 pounds.
"I guess probably my favorite memory is from when I first started playing football in little league," Alex, now 6-2 and 309 pounds, said. "Looking back on it now is just kind of funny, because I used to get upset when he would get on me and coach me up and things like that. He would always say, 'Alex, I'm just talking to you like a college coach would talk to you.'
"Now I'm seeing what he means by that."
* * *
"They're just little mannerisms, like hands and feet. I never saw my dad play because I was very young. The bulk of my experience was seeing him in Corporate America, and I see in Alex sometimes the way he conducts himself with his teammates off the field a lot of the way my dad conducted himself in business - which is to make sure he does things with integrity. Alex very much has that 'go-hard-or-go-home, do-it-right-or-don't-do-it-at-all' mentality. My dad was that way."
- Ashley Bullard
* * *
Whether it was the amount of food he was eating or just genetics taking hold, Alex Bullard was rapidly beginning to look more and more like the man he wanted to become.
Those robes Louis Bullard got for Father's Day? Alex was starting to wear the same size, so the only way to tell them apart was to look for telling stains that generally came from the kid.
But Alex also was increasingly acting more and more like his dad, both on the field and off it.
"He has so many of his father's mannerisms and behaviors," Dorothy Bullard said. "On the field, Louis was a very, very aggressive player. Alex is that way, too, and Louis would always tell him to make sure his eyes were always all over the field and he knew where each of his teammates were supposed to be all the time.
"Of course Louis was that way, people would call him The Politician on the field because he knew where everything was supposed to be. They are very aggressive on the football field, but when they walk off they're gentle giants."
Some of that Alex has to simply accept as fact since he's never watched any film of his dad in action, though there are plenty of people who can vouch for the way Louis played and pictures around the house that help document his career.
But the off-the-field approach is much easier to relate to given the close relationship between a father and son, which the Bullards simply called Family Time. And that bond between them also is what made his last semester at Notre Dame so difficult once Louis was no longer a phone call away.
"Just times like those, sitting as a family, hanging out, that father-son relationship that we had, hanging out together," Alex said. "That's what I miss."
* * *
"When he was first diagnosed, I had the confidence that he was going to be OK and that everything was going to be all right. So I stuck with my decision to go away to Notre Dame, but after his illness got worse, it was rough. Especially being up at Notre Dame and not being able to come home as quickly or as often, and I was right in the middle of spring practice, too, so that made it tough. I'm just glad I've made the decision to come back home so now I can have more family time and see my family more often."
- Alex Bullard
* * *
The last conversation came by phone.
Alex Bullard got the call from his dad during the middle of spring practice in 2010 at Notre Dame and came home the next day.
The last communication with Louis Bullard didn't need any words.
"By the time I got home the next day he wasn't in condition to talk," Alex said. "You know, even though we weren't able to speak to each other with sentences, I feel like we were speaking to each other with our eyes and the way we were looking at each other while he was laying in his bed.
"I knew what he was saying to me, and he knew what I was saying back. That was special."
That goodbye also was heartbreaking, and as Alex struggled to cope without his father and with his mother and sister back in Franklin, it became clear that moving closer to home was his best option.
Dorothy Bullard had kept an apartment in South Bend, Ind., and tried to visit at least every weekend, but that was an eight-hour drive each way. Still with a confident mindset and the skills to succeed at a high level, Alex needed to blend location with the chance to compete in an elite environment.
The Vols provided the perfect solution, offering a short drive for the family, an opportunity to play in the SEC - and a much larger support group.
"Of course a broken heart takes time to heal, that sort of thing," Alex said. "But this has helped.
"A lot of my friends are here from high school, I've met great friends, I can get home in two hours. I think it's been good."
That shorter distance has one more positive that will be put to good use today, a holiday that wasn't easy the first time around and might never be for the Bullards again.
"We want him to come home so that we can go out and put flowers on Louis' grave together and just reflect on him as a father and a husband and all the good times, the wonderful life he provided for us," Dorothy said. "He was a great man, a great father, a great husband, a great businessman, a man that loved God and loved people, and he spent all the years we were together serving others and giving of himself unconditionally."
Even if he won't be physically around to enjoy it, Louis Bullard will once again be getting the only present he really wanted.
The Bullards will be together on Father's Day.