Alumni » Pat Sullivan

Pat Sullivan

Thanks for the Memories!

“Growing up with Pat Sullivan at Blessed Sacrament School (BSS) my memories are that he excelled at sports. I remember him playing softball for BSS, and football through Toy Bowl.  He participated every spring in grades 5-8, winning trophies in Field Day activities held at BSS.  He also played baseball for a park league and games were held at Jackson School.  In our younger days, park leagues were a social affair/meeting place for the neighborhood kids.

Pat was also an altar server.  In 5th grade, Pat won the penmanship award for cursive writing.  Pat was always a nice boy and a little on the quiet side.


At John Carroll Pat played football and basketball.  Truthfully, I can’t remember if he played baseball but he probably did. I carpooled with Pat sometimes my senior year.  I remember riding in his blue and white Oldsmobile with white interior.  We were both in Ms. Horn’s Speech class.  During his speeches Ms. Horn would correct him because he had a habit of saying “and uh”.


I got my first speeding ticket with Pat our senior year. We were on our way to John Carroll for a game and I was driving.  My excuse to the policeman for speed was I had to get Pat Sullivan to his game.  Pat had just signed with Auburn, and I was in hopes that he knew or had read about Pat and would let me off.  It made no difference to the policeman, I got a ticket.  In high school, like at BSS, Pat was a nice guy and a little on the quiet side. I am proud to say Pat was my friend.”

A senior was angry at Tony who was a freshman. He grabbed him by his tie and was dragging him down the ramp and going to take him behind the school and whip him. Pat calmly appeared out of nowhere and quietly told the senior, “You don’t need to do this. It’s time to go to practice” and the senior released Tony.
Many years later, Tony and  a younger coach for Mtn Brook were scouting Woodlawn. Pat, as the UAB coach, was also scouting the Woodlawn star linebacker, Karlos Dansby. After the younger coach is  introduced to Pat he attempts to make conversation and asks, “So, coach, did you ever play college football?” to which Pat nonchalantly replied, “Yes, I played at Auburn” No mention of Heisman. No mention of All-American status. No funny look or expression that might embarrass the young coach.

Hixie was sent to Msgr. Houck's office four days that week all from Ms. Horn’s class. She sent a note each time and Msgr. Houck’s ears turned red but he covered his mouth trying not to laugh. "If I see you down here tomorrow. You’ll be picking up paper on Saturdays" Msgr. Houck said firmly, "Don’t come back in here". The next day was Friday and Hixie knew he couldn't mess up in Ms. Horn's class again. 

However, he had found a gopher rat that he had been nursing back to health. He would bring food to it in its cage and he kept it hidden by the Lutheran Church across the street from the gym. He knew that art teacher, Mr. Joe Milazzo, was deathly afraid of rodents and he couldn't resist letting it out in class. Poor Mr. Milazzo tried to climb one of the support poles in the class screaming all the while. Well, that was it. Mr. Milazzo told Msgr. Houck, "It's either him or me". Luckily, Coach Porter stepped in and a deal was struck. When it was time for Art class Hixie would go to the gym. His Art grade would suffer but he would not fail and it was better than picking up paper on Saturdays. Hixie would spend time rebounding for Pat Sullivan. They knew of each other but got to know each other much better during these shoot-arounds. More days than not, Pat would stop Hixie from cutting up and say with a smile, "Stop, Hixie, I've got to focus." After high school they would stay in touch when Pat would come to town seeing each other quarterly and texting regularly.


A few years back Hixie attended a presentation that Pat made at OLS school. When they were walking to the car, Hixie stopped Pat and said, "You've done well, Pat" to which Pat replied, "So have you, Hixie, but you've had more fun than I did." 


Pat sent a very comforting message to Hixie when his twin brother, Joe Stephens '68, passed away back in 2012. The past three years Hixie texted Pat regularly and he knew that something was not right when he texted him Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving and he didn't get a reply from Pat. His wonderful wife, Jean, called Hixie on Thanksgiving to tell Hixie that Pat was not doing well. This was shortly before Pat passed away.

“Where does one start about sharing a story or two about my teammate and friend Pat Sullivan?  We all remember his stories on the football field.  I want to share a story that happened years after high school on a Saturday at Sears in Vestavia Hills.   Pat had won so many awards and the hearts of people in Alabama.  I was working in Sears, Pat and Jean were walking through the store, well-wishers were gathering around them to tell them “Congratulations”.

I was standing out of the aisle, as Pat and Jean walked by, Pat saw me and left the crowd and came over and hugged my neck and then he introduced me to his beautiful wife, Jean.  He told Jean we were football teammates and friends from John Carroll.  

Pat Sullivan was a teammate and my friend.  Last time I got to talk to Pat was the Friday night when John Carroll renamed the football field to Pat Sullivan Field.  After 50 years, many of our football teammates attended and got to take the field again with our friend Pat Sullivan.”

“I was most surprised and delighted, that the day before our first football game in 1968, I had worked my way in as starting left offensive tackle! This was Pat’s senior year and my junior year. I was a “tall” 5’ 7”, and 165 lbs. And, starting at the right side tackle was Tommie Spina, about the same size. Benny and Joe Pilleteri, were the starting guards. WOW, did Pat have a lot of height and muscle for his huge offensive line! HA! Pass blocking for Pat was a real workout, at daily practice and especially during a game! Many defenders found it very difficult tackling Pat, especially on drop back passing plays! Pat could scramble! He would drop back, sometimes scramble to the left, and then to the right, and maybe back again, pass or sometimes run! Wow, this would wear me out and often the opposing defensive lineman I was blocking! One game, against, I believe, Sylacauga High School, Pat kept running back and forth, back and forth, until the defensive lineman and I just about completely stopped, puffing hard, trying to catch our breath, and were almost resting on each other! At the end of the game he said to me, “man that Sullivan is quick, fast, and sure does move around a lot”!

Pat was always gracious and kind, complimenting and supporting his offensive lineman, win or lose! Pat complimented all of his  teammates! He made us feel taller, stronger, and better than we actually were!  But, Pat humbled himself about his role as our quarterback! THAT was PAT SULLIVAN!

“I first met Pat at summer football practice his freshman year at John Carroll when I was a sophomore.  It was obvious he had leadership qualities and took control of the team from day one.  For three years it was a great pleasure to be a teammate of his.  He made me and others around him better players.  He had a sense of knowing when encouragement was needed and could really build you up and make you feel better.  He also knew when to get face mask-to-face mask with you and tell you to settle down and get your head in the game (after I jumped off sides twice).  My senior year Pat and I had first period together and since I was one of his offensive tackles, as a joke, I would tell him every morning that he had to call me his best blocker; five years later after winning the Heisman, he signed a poster for me, addressing it "To my best blocker, your friend, Pat Sullivan". Through the years, whenever we ran into each other, he would always bring that up and we would share a laugh together.  He was truly one of a kind.”

Pat  was one of the most humble peopleI have ever known. During his senior year at John Carroll, he got some type of award at almost every assembly we had.  We sat in the gym , Seniors on the floor, alphabetically. Of course he was seated near the back. When his name was called to get the award, he would walk from the back of the gym to the stage with his head down. He would accept the award and walk back to his chair the same way he walked to the stage . Most of his awards were in the form of a trophy, most of them a foot or a foot and a half tall. He did not carry them in front of him as if to show everyone what he had won. He always walked back to his seat with the trophy in one hand and dangling by his side.

He was a three-sport letterman and excelled in basketball and baseball also. He was what I considered the ultimate team player. It was never about him and what he could do but rather how he could help the team.

I ran into him at the movie theater right after he won the Heisman Trophy. Back then the award was given before the last game of the season. Auburn was in town for the Alabama game and it was tradition to go to a movie the night before the game. When I saw him, I went up to him to congratulate him on winning the Heisman. He thanked me and made the comment that winning the game tomorrow was more important to him. That was who Pat Sullivan was  to me. The Ultimate Team Player.

Having had the honor of participating in sports with Pat in high school and college, my sports memories are too many to try to convey in a small space. Likewise my memories of Pat, and Jean, and I include Jean because they were/are a team, and Jean was a big part of who Pat was. The one quality I will always remember of them was the graciousness with which they accepted praise and adulation. They ALWAYS, when receiving a compliment or honor, sought to bring others into the spotlight with them, complimenting others for their role in helping to make Pat and Jean’s accomplishment possible – they made it a shared thing and not just a totally individual thing. I hope my words adequately convey what a big part of their lives this was – whether they were succeeding in a sports related endeavor, or helping cancer and other disease patients, they brought this quality to the experience. I will always be thankful for having them in my life.”
“I first met Pat in August 1961 when he came out for the Toy Bowl football team. We were in need of a quarterback and Pat was perfect for the job. Terry Butler was the quarterback for the big team (7th and 8th grade) and he immediately started teaching Pat. They worked well together. Pat played both ways. On defense he played safety with David Shelby and me as cornerbacks. We played together with our other teammates for six years. Pat was usually the tallest man on the team and as a three sport letterman was always in fantastic condition. He could throw the ball farther than anyone expected and was a scrambler like very few. Pat was the ultimate team player and well deserved all the honors and awards he received.”

“I remember a practice one hot August day at JCHS football field on Montclair Road.  Sully was already a highly decorated player going into his senior season, so the excitement level was growing.

For some “unlucky” reason, Coach Craig had picked a handful of us sophomores to participate in the varsity scrimmage that morning.  I was thinking here is a big chance to show some of these seniors what we could do !

My chance came when I lined up as a defensive tackle and managed to get around the offensive lineman.  I had a clear rush and shot at tackling Pat as he set up for a deep pass while standing in the pocket.  Just as I was about to lower the boom on him, he put a move on me that still has me dizzy and wondering ‘what just happened’.  Let’s just say that I was humbled and quickly realized how good he really was and what he could be down the road.  He did complete the pass which added insult to injury !

The thing I remember most about Pat had nothing to do with athletics.  I had the good fortune of introducing him as the guest speaker at a couple of Church events.  He never started a presentation without thanking God, his parents and his wife, Jean.  He would always praise the Good Lord and his family before getting into his talk. Always unselfish, he never took personal credit for the many awards he received saying, “These awards should go to my teammates because without them, I wouldn’t be standing here today.”  I heard him say these words numerous times. The Epitome of a Selfless Man.”

“My memories of Pat cover 18 different teams from grammar school through college. They consisted of: 2 years of Toy Bowl, 4 years at John Carroll in Football/Basketball/Baseball and 4 years of Football at Auburn.  It is not easy to find one event that stands out when there were so many.  


One thing that I will always remember was Pat’s affection for his Grandfather.  From elementary school through high school I do not remember a practice or a game that his granddad was not there looking through the fence, sitting in the bleachers or standing along the sideline-consistent and reliable, like Pat. 


Pat was a star in every sport and there were so many great plays.  In Baseball – the 9th inning strikeout pitch; the diving catch at shortstop; or the final inning home run to win the game. In 

basketball he made it look easy.  No dribbling behind his back or between his legs – he could but he did not. The perfect passes he made to Harold Wehby, Hobby Presley and Ricardo Parks to make their shots; his jump shot from the circle to win the game at the buzzer; and the 2 free throws he made with the clock at 2 seconds, when we were down by 1 point just to name a few.


For his teammates, Pat was: Steady, Dependable, Consistent, Effective and Inspiring. For his opponents he was the most relentless competitor most would ever encounter. 


To me the most memorable game was our 1968 Alabama vs. Auburn Freshman Football Game in Tuscaloosa.  Back then the NCAA Freshmen were not allowed to play varsity. In the S.E.C., each school had a freshman team.  Our final game was against Alabama.  From the start of the game nothing went our way.  Midway in the 2ndquarter the score was Alabama 27 and Auburn 0. Then, Sullivan and Beasley began “Their Legend” with a long touchdown pass down the sideline over Terry’s head into his hands for the beginning of our greatest comeback victory. At halftime, down by 20 points, Pat gathered us around and said, “We have them now.”   He was correct.   Pat ran and passed us to a final score of 35-27, OUR GREATEST COMEBACK!”

“Pat Sullivan was a legend.  For me, growing up in Birmingham, attending Catholic schools, and competing in Toy Bowl, he was also a hero.  He was the type of person who, when you heard other people tell stories about him, you wondered if they were true.  When people referred to him, they called him by his first and last name, like George Washington or John Wayne.  And yet everyone seemed to know him.  How could so many people personally know such a man?  It was when I became one of those people who knew him that I understood.  He took seriously what he meant to other people.  Although he would never say it, I think he knew that for many people, bumping into Pat Sullivan at Mr. P’s in Bluff Park or Ted’s in Southside would be a story they’d tell all their friends.  It might even brighten their day. 

 He had the qualities we often associate with great leaders - determination, optimism, grit.  But it was his empathy for others, as well as his awareness of his own vulnerability that were perhaps his greatest strengths and why he was an inspiration to so many.  I can remember after one knee surgery or another, rehabbing in the training room at Samford, and looking across to the other training table to see Coach Sullivan receiving therapy on his neck from the many surgeries he had undergone.  And he would ask how I’m doing, wanting to know how the rehab was going.  Despite the pain he was in at times, he thought constantly of others. 

He spoke frequently about relationships.  “It’s the thing you take with you when this is all over,” he would say.  His life was evidence of the value he placed on personal relationships.  He built a family culture around the football program which included his own family, his wife, Jean, and their grandchildren.  Coach Sullivan and I stayed in touch after I graduated from Samford.  After he retired, and as his health worsened, it was hard to interact with him without getting a little choked up, wondering if you would talk to him again.  After each of those conversations, and even when I think about him now, I feel an urgency to reach out to someone I know, maybe someone I haven’t spoken to in a while, and let them know how much I appreciate them.  I can’t think of a greater legacy to leave than that.”

“The best thing about Coach Sullivan is not how smart he was as a football coach. It was how he carried himself and how he invested in the lives of others. Everyday attending John Carroll Catholic High School I'd walk by and see Coach Sullivan's picture on the wall holding the Heisman trophy. It made me strive to be my best everyday so one day I too could have my picture on the wall next to his in some way. It wasn't until my senior year I had the opportunity to meet Coach Sullivan back in 2006-2007. We connected right off the bat. We both were from Birmingham, we both attend John Carroll, we both grow up in the same area, we both wore the same #7 jersey, and we both wanted to make Birmingham a better place. I could tell Coach Sullivan was going to get the best out of me if I attend Samford University. Anyone who was blessed to play for Coach Sullivan learned some valuable lessons, both on and off the field. I learned the importance of relationships we establish with people, how to treat your wife and respect women, how to be humble and kind, how to always compete at everything you do in life, how to learn from your mistakes, and, most importantly, always serve God by serving others. All of these life lessons will stay with me for the rest of my life.”
“In the spring of 1972, after the assembly that John Carroll held in Pat’s honor, I was back in Sister Miriam’s classroom.  There was a knock at the door and they asked me to come out.  Pat had tracked me down through the office.  Chris Banks and I had decided to attend Auburn the next year and play football as walk-ons.  Pat wanted to let us know that Auburn was looking forward to having us on the field.  Even given the fact that our older brothers were good friends of Pat, I was especially touched that he took the time on that day meant to honor him to do this.  Needless to say it impressed my classmates (and later my girlfriend when I told her about it!)”

“Pat Sullivan!

He was always nice to me and he didn’t have to be.

At John Carroll Catholic High School in Birmingham in 1966, I was in the 9th grade. He was in the 11th. He quarterbacked the football team, had a deadly corner shot in basketball and he was outstanding in baseball.

He would speak to me and give me a smile. That was important to me, more important than he knew. It was integration. I was a stranger in a strange land, navigating a new world, alone in a crowd.  That smile meant and still means a lot.

We discovered we shared a common fondness for “Tall Paul” a popular local disc jockey on WENN radio. Tall Paul would give a daily good morning shout out to Pat. “Good morning Pat Sullivan,” he would announce over the Birmingham airwaves.

I followed Pat to Auburn. He was instrumental in my getting a scholarship and becoming a three-year starter.

Pat could make you feel like the closest friend. Great people can make you feel as though your relationship is uniquely special. It’s one on one. I felt that way with him.

On some cool fall mornings while out walking the neighborhood, neighbors may see me with a Samford football jacket on. They ask, “Didn’t you play at Auburn?” I answer “Yes,” They give a quizzical look at the Samford Jacket. I say, “Pat Sullivan gave it to me.” Enough said. “

Excerpt from

As I SEE It by Thom Gossom Jr.

First African-American athlete at John Carroll who later starred at the University of Portland

“We went way back and people will never know how much he looked after me. I consider him a friend and a giant. There were actually two or three gyms that I was not allowed to play in. Pat would always take the time to listen to me. He went out of his way to reach out to me and protect me. We had one goal - to win - there was no time for discrimination. When you put your jock on, the opponent was the enemy and you counted on your teammates no matter the color. In fact I say that Pat’s middle name is “Winning”. Not just in football. He could have gone pro in baseball. Why did we win so much back then - we won in football, basketball, and baseball. It was simple - Pat was the engine and we were on the train.

It was the first time for him and for me to have a friend who was another race.This was right after Bull Connor and George Wallace. 

There were others who looked after me as well such as David Shelby, Tommy Spina, and Msgr Houck. It was exciting looking back because we feel like we did something to change Birmingham. It wasn’t simply sports. We’ve stayed in touch through the years. When we pulled into the parking lot at the State tournament and got out of the van we heard clearly from opposing fans, “They got a N*****” and Pat looked at me and reassured me saying, “You’re with me”. Later when we were at the hotel Pat was my roommate - different times - the story has not been told - he was the epitome of true greatness.”

BSC Basketball Hall of Fame
“In ‘67 we went to the State basketball playoffs in Tuscaloosa. When we unload we hear players and fans from other teams saying, ‘They got a ‘N’’ referring to Ricardo Parks. Pat came up to me and said we’ve got to do something here. He then went over to Ricardo and said, “Don’t worry. You’re with us.” Pat was conscientious, was never jealous and never negative. That transferred from how he  looked at our team to his own marriage. He married Jean in college and he was a man of character. I believe that is Pat’s greatest accomplishment - his sincerity and loyalty to Jean and his family”

Pat’s center at JC


“I’m old – and my early recollection of meeting Pat is faint.  I started Toy Bowl as a fourth grader when I begged the Trinitarian Brothers to let me play a year early.  Somewhere along the way -- most likely 5th or 6th grade,  Pat Sullivan erupted on the scene and made the lackluster “little team” shine – and shine so brightly he was playing with the “big team” quickly.  From an early age Pat was a presence to be reckoned with – not because he was flashy;  much to the contrary, Pat was a shining star who deflected to those surrounding him. The rag-tag group of grade schoolers from around the county met up every afternoon during the week, practicing to become a unit – a team.  And in all those years with Pat at the helm, there was never a loss. 


By the time we got to John Carroll, we knew Pat would be a star. He was such a natural talent – don’t get me wrong – he worked as hard as anyone to get better.  But while I struggled to make my blocks and keep my assignments,  Pat executed in such a natural, fluid way.  If I was a knife trying to cut through a brick, Pat was the knife sliding through butter.  And Pat made me so much better than I really was – as a player, as a student and as human.   Always encouraging – always challenging – and throughout the years with all his accomplishments and awards, always sharing the spotlight with his “supporting cast”. 


As I get older, I look back on those years and realize how special they were – we worked hard, played hard and in a wonderful way found  common bonds that have kept us all close over the years. 


I hope some of this is useful for you.  I have some stories – but when I try to put them to paper I don’t see others interested in the mundane things from high school 50 years ago.  We were teammates yes – but friends for 60 years. Despite our different paths and the long gaps between visits, whenever our paths crossed it seemed as though it was only yesterday.  Class of 68 – what a special group – and Pat Sullivan will always be bigger than life to me.”

“First of all, a big shout out for one of my most favorite people, Lynette Bice Casey. She is absolutely "the best".  Now, as far as Pat S. goes, there are only three words that truly describe him, "humble team mate". I was a year ahead of Pat at Blessed Sacrament and over the years we served and played together on eight different sporting teams. In addition we worked and served together as head altar boys in our respective classes responsible for scheduling and altar service. It made no difference, Pat was the same throughout our time together. He was so "humble" that he never ever called attention to himself despite the fact that he was always the best at whatever activity we were engaging. Pat was a consummate leader and always put the "team"  ahead of himself and made every team member feel better about themselves. And finally Pat was not only humble who always put “team” first, he was  always a great "mate", a great friend. He was just fun to be around. Pat was a really good friend.”