On November 13, 1971, two undefeated SEC teams met on a crisp cool autumn day with SEC and national championship hopes on the line.
Seventh ranked Georgia was a three point favorite over No. 5 Auburn. The Tigers were cast as the underdog because the Bulldogs had the SEC’s best defense having only surrendered four touchdowns in their previous eight games. In addition Georgia coach Vince Dooley said his ’71 squad was one of the best teams he had ever coached.
Dooley verses his old coach, the legendary Shug Jordan - just added to the hype leading up to the battle of the unbeatens. Yet no championships were settled that day. A Heisman Trophy was clinched however, as Auburn Quarterback Pat Sullivan led his team to a 35-28 victory.
His favorite receiver Terry Beasley was double covered all day and still Sullivan found him four times for 130 yards and two touchdowns. Georgia’s shadowing of Beasley allowed Sullivan to throw two more touchdowns to his second favorite receiver Dick Smaltz..
It was a magnificent performance. Pat made several completions with defenders hanging all over him. On one play he completed a 27 yarder to Smaltz as he was being taken down by a defender.
He finished the day 14 of 24 for 248 yards and four touchdowns. In a era when defense and ‘three yards and a cloud of dust’ dominated college football, those numbers were huge. It was truly a Heisman signature game.
Georgia coach Vince Dooley said afterwards,
“We were beaten by the best quarterback I’ve ever seen. Sullivan was a super player having a super day and if Sullivan is Superman, then Terry Beasley is Boy Wonder.”
Picking up on Dooley’s quote, Sports Illustrated headlined its article about the game with the title, “Underneath That 7 Is An S.” The magazine said Pat Sullivan could, “do everything but leap tall buildings in a single bound.”
Dooley’s sentiment was often echoed by other SEC coaches like Alabama’s Bear Bryant; who felt Sullivan was one of the best to ever play the game. After Pat rallied the Tigers from a 17-0 deficit to defeat Alabama 33-28 in the 1970 Iron Bowl, Bryant said,
“(Sullivan) does more things to beat you than any quarterback I’ve ever seen.”
Pat finished his three year varsity career with 6,284 passing yards and a NCAA record of 71 total touchdowns (53 passing and 18 running). He led the nation in total offense in 1970. A two time All American, he was a two-time SEC player of the year, most valuable player in two bowl games, and still commands a place in the SEC record books. He is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame, and the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.
His career has seen coaching stops at Auburn, TCU, UAB, and Samford University. As one ofPat Dye‘s assistants, he helped Auburn win three SEC championships during the eighties while mentoring Auburn quarterback greats Jeff Burger, Reggie Slack, and Stan White.
He has fought and won many battles as a player and a coach but none were more valiant than his successful personal fight against throat cancer in 2003-2004.
Now the Head Coach at Samford University, he will be honored Saturday by his alma mater in remembrance of his ‘71 Heisman Trophy year. The ceremony will take place prior to his team taking the field to play in Auburn’s homecoming game.
Auburn AD Jay Jacobs said, “Coach Sullivan is … an Auburn football legend, but more importantly, he is a class act with the utmost character and integrity. Recognizing Coach Sullivan along with many of the players from his era will be a special moment for the entire Auburn family.”
Pat said he is humbled by the recognition and glad that his family as well as over 50 of his former teammates will be on hand to commemorate the 40th anniversary of his Heisman win. “I really appreciate Jay inviting my teammates back, because I know I won the award because of their help.”
Pat Sullivan is a man of genuine humbleness – an Auburn Man who has been a successful player, college coach, and cancer survivor. He is and always will be the undisputable, authentic hero to the Auburn faithful.
This Saturday will certainly be a “special moment for him and the entire Auburn family.”