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Pat Sullivan: The Man, The Myth, Auburn

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Since the events of last weekend we have all had time to process the highest of highs and the lowest of lows with the passing of Pat Sullivan. My father, Dave McCracken, who instilled my great love for Auburn, was kind enough to pin some of his thoughts on Pat and what he meant to Auburn people then, now and forever.

Amid the euphoria of Saturday’s win over bumma came the sobering news that Pat Sullivan had died. I was aware that he had been battling throat cancer for several years and had stepped down from coaching at Samford because of it. It was the spring of 1971 when I realized a dream and began work on a Master’s at Auburn. I was a lifelong Auburn fan and was absolutely giddy at the prospect of watching Pat Sullivan and his ace receiver, Terry Beasley, “The Human Deer” in the fall. They had stormed the SEC in 1969 and 1970 and were widely recognized as the most deadly passing combination in College Football. The fact is Pat Sullivan put Auburn on the football map .... Bo Jackson was seven years old when Pat came to Auburn; Cam Newton hadn’t even been born. One has to remember, Auburn had not beaten bumma since the 1963 Jimmy Sidle/Tucker Frederickson Orange Bowl team (my All-Time favorite Auburn team), beat the tawd, 10 - 8. Pat had been an All-State quarterback at John Carroll High School in Birmingham and was the focus of an all out recruiting war between Bear Bryant and Shug Jordan.

In 1968 Sullivan and Beasley led the Auburn Freshmen (in those days, Freshman were not allowed to play on the Varsity) to a come from behind victory over the bumma Freshmen that raised eyebrows across the state. Auburn people were STARVING for a winner. In their first Varsity game in 1969 against Wake Forest, the Auburn offense received a standing ovation from the Auburn Student Section when Sullivan, on the game’s first play, threw a long bomb intended for Beasley. Although the pass fell incomplete, Auburn partisans had adopted the duo !!!! With Pat leading the way, Auburn went 8-3 in 1969, beating bumma 49-26 for the first time since 1963, finishing #20 in the final AP Poll and played in the Bluebonnet Bowl. In 1970, the Tigers went 9-2, again beating bumma 33-28 (coming from 17 points behind in a game reminiscent of the Freshman win), and went to the Gator Bowl where Pat out dueled Ole Miss’s incomparable Archie Manning.

Such it was in the Fall of 71 ... Pat and Beasley were Pre-Season All-Americans.... “Super Sully” was on the cover of virtually every football magazine. The Tigers Went 9-2 with huge road wins over Tennessee in Knoxville and Georgia in Athens (Vince Dooley called Pat “Superman” and Beasley his “Boy Wonder”). They finished ranked 12th Nationally and played Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. The season was capped with Pat winning the Heisman Trophy - he was the first player from Auburn and the State of Alabama to do so. It’s hard to describe how beloved “Super Sully” had become at Auburn. He was only spoken of in revered terms. There were posters of Pat and Beasley all over Auburn and this was before there was a computer on every desk !!! Through it all, Pat was humble, recognizing and crediting his teammates and coaches. He was sharp looking, articulate ....the perfect ambassador for Auburn ...... Heck, to Auburn People, he WAS Auburn !!!!

My only contact with Pat came years later in 1989 when I phoned him while he was on a recruiting trip as an Auburn assistant. I was the President of the Valdosta High School Touchdown Club (Booster Club) and wanted to (nervously) ask if he would be the featured speaker at our annual banquet honoring our State Championship Team. “Sure I will. When do you need me,” he replied. He absolutely wowed the audience that night with an inspirational talk and firmly planted Auburn in the minds of many in the audience (right in the heart of Bullpuppy country). I have read many tributes in the past few days about Pat. One of the best was from a fellow whose father met him after Pat had been diagnosed with throat cancer. The father shared that he was concerned about his youngest son’s health as he was using smokeless tobacco. Pat asked for his son’s phone number and called him the next day to share his personal story. The young man got a call from a Heisman Trophy winner, a former NFL quarterback .... a stranger, someone he had NEVER met .... simply because Pat was the kind of person who cared !!!!

God’s speed Pat Sullivan and WAR EAGLE!!!