By Lee Davis
John Carroll Catholic football has been on a roll lately.
On Sept. 23, the Cavaliers defeated Moody 13-7 to end a 14-game losing streak. And now one of the great names of the school’s fine football tradition is soon to receive an unprecedented honor.
Former Cav quarterback Pat Sullivan, who went on to fame at Auburn University as an All-American and Heisman Trophy winner, will be the special guest of honor at John Carroll’s game against Springville on Oct. 7, when the football field will be renamed Pat Sullivan Field in his honor.
Sullivan will address the present-day John Carroll team in the dressing room before the game and be a part of the official dedication ceremony at halftime.
The former Samford University football coach played for the Cavs from 1965 to ‘67, and he was recruited by colleges across the nation before Auburn coach Ralph “Shug” Jordan persuaded him to cast his lot with the Tigers.
Sullivan played running back in his sophomore year at John Carroll before being converted to quarterback before his junior season. In an era when many high school games ended with scores such as 7-6, Sullivan produced more than 4,000 yards and 350 points in his career as a Cavalier. He also played defensive back and handled the team’s kicking duties.
Any doubts that Sullivan might not live up to his high school billing were quickly dispelled in his first year at Auburn. Freshmen were not eligible for varsity competition in 1968, so Sullivan played on the Tiger freshman team. In the season’s final game, he sparked Auburn in overcoming a 27-0 deficit against the Alabama freshmen to win 36-27. In varsity play, Sullivan led the Tigers to 26 wins and three bowl appearances in three seasons, along with two wins each against traditional Auburn rivals Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama.
Sullivan’s senior season ended with a 9-2 record, and he was named the recipient of the 1971 Heisman Memorial Trophy, given annually by the New York Downtown Athletic Club to the nation’s top college football player. He won the award over such luminaries as Cornell’s Ed Marinaro, Oklahoma’s Greg Pruitt, and Alabama’s Johnny Musso. Sullivan did not go on to stardom in the National Football League, but he did have a respectable stint with the Atlanta Falcons and Washington Redskins.
Sullivan’s resume is perhaps the most impressive of any football player in Over the Mountain history, but it doesn’t begin to do justice to his influence on this community in the 50 years since he first put on the John Carroll uniform.
At that time, the only other established area schools were Shades Valley and Berry, and Mountain Brook first opened its doors in the fall of 1966. While the Mounties and Buccaneers already had quality programs, it was Sullivan and the Cavs that drew the biggest crowds to their stadium, which was located on Montclair Road at that time.
Media coverage of high school athletics was very different from today. No games were televised and few were broadcast on the radio. There were no recruiting experts to rank the state’s top college prospects. Most teams were fortunate if their Friday night games got a one paragraph write-up in the Saturday edition of the daily newspaper. So news of Sullivan and his on-the-field exploits largely came by word of mouth. Because of Sullivan and outstanding players at other area schools, high school football became a topic of discussion in break rooms and at water coolers of offices in Birmingham and south of the mountain on Monday mornings.
I’ll always believe that was the seed that planted the interest that Over the Mountain football – and high school football in Alabama generally – enjoys today.
John Carroll’s decision to name their stadium after Pat Sullivan is a great way to say thanks for the memories. It’s also a great way for all who love high school football to say thanks for the present – and the future.
Jordan wasn’t looked over…
As Pat Sullivan is being honored for his past career, another former Over the Mountain star is being honored for his present. Former Homewood lineman Jordan Sims – now at Ole Miss – was named Southeastern Conference lineman of the week for his efforts in the Rebels’ 45-14 win over Georgia on Sept. 24.