Pat Sullivan Still Offering Life Lessons
While his alma mater took the weekend off, Auburn’s first Heisman Trophy winner was busy playing catch up at Samford. This hasn’t been the easiest year for Pat Sullivan. Quite frankly, the last decade has been one big hurdle.
After missing all of fall practice and the first three games of the season following cervical fusion surgery this summer, Sullivan is back on the field hoping to build on last season’s 7-4 record, his best since being named head coach of the Bulldogs in 2007.
Samford has struggled at times this year without him, but following Saturday’s Southern Conference win over Western Carolina, Sullivan was all smiles.
“We challenged our football team to get better in every phase, and to just worry about ourselves and not worry about anybody else,” said Sullivan following the 62-23 win.
The 1971 Heisman winner was diagnosed with throat cancer back in 2003, a battle he nearly lost. He’s spoken often since of the struggles he had overcoming the disease, including losing more than 50 pounds during his fight to live.
Last year brought more struggles, with Sullivan battling pneumonia and even missing the Chattanooga game late in the season. It was the first time that illness had kept him off the sidelines.
Despite all the radiation and chemotherapy he endured a decade ago, he never missed a practice or game while serving as UAB’s offensive coordinator. This time around, the pain was just too great.
While he’s back at practice, Sullivan gets around in a golf cart and coaches from the press box for now. He’s still dealing with an oxygen tube that he hopes will be removed soon.
Sullivan chooses to look ahead and is thankful for his blessings.
“I’m doing better,” Sullivan said. “I’ve still got a ways to go. I’m not going to do anything to jeopardize my health. As long as I’ve got a saint of a wife to take care of me and the good Lord and these doctors, I’m going to make it.”
It’s hard to believe it has been 42 years since a young Pat Sullivan brought so much joy to Auburn. While Cam Newton and even still Bo Jackson get most of the attention from Auburn fans, those who watched him in his prime say without hesitation there was no one better.
His stats will not stick out as special these days. It was a different game. They hardly tell the story. What made Sullivan special was his leadership and will to win.
“There was a mystique about Pat,” said former Auburn linebacker Bill Newton during an interview with Phillip Marshall. “When he went into battle with you, you knew he was going to do something to win the game.
“He was a great athlete and very commanding, but he was mild-mannered, really good guy. He was definitely the leader of all leaders on the field.”
The strengths Pat Sullivan drew from more than 40 years ago, is what keeps him going today. He’s someone clearly content with what’s happened in his life. And why wouldn’t he?
He continues to be an example for all of us.