BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — The history of football in Birmingham is rich. You could name dozens of players and coaches who have had a major impact….none more so than Pat Sullivan, who has been immortalized by his alma mater John Carroll High School after a career that spanned six decades.
There’s no telling how many football games Sullivan has seen. His victory over cancer means his gait is slowed by tethered oxygen — but in his day, he left many a defender grasping at air. Some would argue Sullivan’s heyday was in Auburn orange and blue.
“Has there been a better one? I don’t know of a better one to ever play at Auburn,” Auburn running back Terry Henley Auburn said.
Others, like current Auburn football head coach Gus Malzahn remember him coaching in the crimson and blue Samford hue.
But the Heisman trophy winner’s favorite game?
“Well I would tell them it’s a high school game,” Sullivan exclaimed.
That game was in John Carroll cavalier green:
“We were seniors. We played Ramsay High School,” Pat Sullivan recalled. “So I remember on Thursday they came riding by our practice field — and kind of hollering what they were going to do to us. And fortunately we were able to win that ball game. It was just that inner peace that we had accomplished something.”
His records speak for themselves. But no matter how many TDs he tallied, or yards he gained, Sullivan struggled to get something much smaller–just a congratulations from his dad.
“He was at every game that I played, but he was not like a lot of the daddies that were, you know, coming you know, that’s my boy this or that — daddy never said two words. In fact, I don’t remember him saying, you know, telling me that I played a good game except for one game.”
That one game came from John Carroll High school, where passion and pageantry still overshadow fame and fortune.
“Oh you’re going to ask me and I’m going to get on my soapbox,” Sullivan sighed. “I see all this stuff on ESPN. And all the players beating on their chests, you know, where it’s turned into an “I” game. So many of these players today they think it’s all about them. That’s not what it’s all about.”
It’s about moments like this, with former teammates gathered around their former signal caller to celebrate a special night. Out of all the games Sullivan’s been to, this is a first! This one is being played at a field named after him.
“This may sound trite but from the very beginning people have always said pat was a hell of a football player but he’s a better person than he is a football player,” said former Auburn wide receiver Dick Schmaltz.
“I’m not getting that field named after me because of me — it’s because of we, you know, because of all my teammates and all the things that we did,” Sullivan explained.
But it sure would make dad proud of his boy.
“Oh I’m sure that he’d be proud and I’m sure going to miss that he’s not going to be there because he was a big part of my life,” Pat said.
And with countless players yet to set foot on Pat Sullivan field, there’s no telling how many lives he could impact.
“Hopefully I did things the right way — and maybe that’ll influence some young player to do things the right way. Maybe it’ll just turn out good.”