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Heisman Flashback: Pat Sullivan

[i]With quarterback Cam Newton poised to become Auburn's third Heisman Trophy on Saturday, we take a look today at quarterback Pat Sullivan, the 1971 winner.[i]

Pat Sullivan poses with Heisman Trophy

It was, in many ways, as big as any game that had been played in the Southeastern Conference. On Nov. 13, 1971, Auburn and Georgia met at Sanford Stadium in Athens. Never before had two unbeaten SEC teams met so late in a season.

Auburn was ranked No. 6 and Georgia No. 7. It was an elimination game of sorts. Auburn would play unbeaten Alabama two weeks later. And then there was quarterback Pat Sullivan, who was locked in a tight race for the Heisman Trophy with Cornell’s Ed Marinaro.

The atmosphere that day was so electric that it still brings chills to those who played and those who watched.

“Things were so different then,” said Sullivan, now the head coach at Samford University. “They hype of the game, the atmosphere were unbelievable. We rode the bus over and 20 or 30 miles outside of town, the Georgia students met us and started circling the buses. They were shouting things, throwing beer cans, all kinds of stuff.

“I always rode on the second bus with Coach (Gene) Lorendo and (center) Spence McCracken. We played Jeopardy in the back of the bus. Once all that started, you could have heard a pin drop on that bus.”

The Tigers went straight to Sanford Stadium to work out, and the students went with them.

“Everybody has their own memories,” Sullivan said. “I remember walking into the stadium and seeing somebody had stretched a sheet in the stands that said ‘Piss on Pat.’ It was gone the next day.”

At the Holiday Inn, things got louder and wilder. Students drove around honking their horns well into the morning hours. They ran through the hotel, banging on players’ doors. Lorendo, the offensive coordinator and a giant of a man, confronted one student, only to have him escape by scrambling through his legs.

“We didn’t get any sleep,” Sullivan said. “Then we got to the stadium and it was just unbelievable. They were hanging from the railroad trestle, the trees, anywhere anybody could be in sight of the field.”

The game lived up to its billing, and Sullivan made his case for the Heisman Trophy, throwing four touchdown passes in a 35-20 Auburn victory.

The Heisman Trophy winner was to be announced at halftime of the Georgia-Geoorgia Tech game on Thanksgiving. Auburn and Alabama would play two days later. Auburn and Oklahoma had already accepted bids to the Sugar Bowl. Alabama and Nebraska would meet in the Orange Bowl. If things fell in the right way, one or the other would have a national championship game.

There were no invitations to New York City. The winner would get the news at the same time the rest of the nation did.

“It was so different than it is today,” Sullivan said. “My mom and dad were going to drive down and be there. At the time, I just wanted to get it over with. I was worn to a frazzle.”

Sullivan, his wife, Jean, and his parents had Thanksgiving dinner. “We ate Thanksgiving dinner, then our TV went on the blink,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan put in a call to Buddy Davidson, the sports information and close friend who had helped him through the process. Davidson told him the Downtown Athletic Club had called wanting a telephone number in case he was the winner. The Sullivans moved to the Heart of Auburn Motel. Offensive lineman Danny Speigner and his wife, Debbie, were there. So was Davidson.

“The announcement was made and Coach Jordan came by,” Sullivan said. “Then we went to the coliseum. That was probably as emotional as any locker room or anything. The players knew and I knew they shared in as much as I did. The energy and the feelings were awfully special. The next day, we had to get on the bus and go play Alabama in the biggest game of the year.”

Sullivan and others who played that Saturday are convinced the outpouring of emotion over the Heisman proved costly on game day. Alabama won 31-7.

“I’m not saying we would have beaten Alabama, but our senior class had never lost to them,” Sullivan said. “We didn’t play very well. It was close (14-7) going into the fourth quarter, but I threw an interception and they kind of took over.

“One thing I will always remember is being introduced. The Auburn fans cheered. The Alabama fans cheered, too. They were very gracious. I’ll always remember that.”

Though freshmen were not eligible until the year after Sullivan left, he still holds the Auburn career record for touchdown passes with 53. He is fourth in completions with 459 and fourth in yardage with 6,284.

Terry Beasley, his favorite target, still holds the career record for touchdown receptions with 29 and receiving yards with 2,507.

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