Pat Sullivan: Auburn's First Heisman Trophy winner
AUBURNTIGERSDOTCOM Pat with his wife, Jean, and daughter, Kim.
Pat with his wife, Jean, and daughter, Kim.

April 11, 2012

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By Buddy Davidson
This is the first story in a series of three to document memories from behind the scenes from the perspective of the Sports Information / Media Relations Director.

As a junior in 1970, Pat Sullivan led the nation in total offense and average yards per play. He earned SEC Player of the Year and All-America honors. He led Auburn back from a 17-point deficit to beat Alabama, 33-28, and was also MVP in the Gator Bowl as the Tigers beat Ole Miss and Archie Manning, 35-28. Pat was the leading Heisman Trophy vote getter returning in 1971. This gave him a lot of national attention going into his senior year.

There was not an official Heisman "campaign" on his behalf by Auburn University. There was a plan to get he and the Auburn team as much national recognition as possible. In our minds, the best way to accomplish that was to win games and achieve a high national ranking. For a quarterback to win the Heisman, victories were, and probably still are, the most important statistic. And in 1971 Auburn and Pat won all nine of the games it played prior to the deadline for votes to be sent to the Downtown Athletic Club in New York.

For the only time in the history of the Heisman Trophy, the announcement was done at halftime of the Georgia-Georgia Tech football game on Thanksgiving night. The next day the Auburn team was to get on a bus and head to Birmingham for the Alabama game on Saturday.

Earlier on Thanksgiving Day the television set at the Sullivan apartment stopped working, so his parents got a room at a local motel so all the family could watch it in a more private setting. The family invited me to be with them. Pat and his family found out he won the most prestigious award in college football by watching it on TV just like everybody else.

Shortly after the announcement Pat and his family joined his teammates, coaches and athletic administrators at the Athletic Department lobby in Memorial Coliseum for a brief celebration that ended in time for the team's normal curfew two nights before a game.

Pat was a gentleman and a true student-athlete throughout the process. He never asked me how things were going. Pat had talked to Head Coach Ralph Jordan and to me about the process before the season started. After that he just tried to win as many games as possible and hope that would influence the voters in a positive way. His teammates were constantly asking me if he was going to win it and I kept telling them just to keep winning. To this day Pat has always given the credit to his teammates and coaches and they were probably more excited than he was when the announcement was made.

Pat and his teammates and coaches truly won it on the field. When he played, Auburn could play 11 regular season games, but only played 10 his three years. His statistics reflect three fewer games than other quarterbacks of his era. And Coach Jordan never let Pat stay in against overmatched opponents to pad his stats.

Things are so different in the sports information business now. In 1971 there was no ESPN, no internet and a lot of the methods used today to get attention didn't even exist.

There was only one network that televised college football at the time and one of their prominent employees told me at a national meeting prior to the season, "Don't get your hopes up." I asked him what about and he said, "Pat Sullivan winning the Heisman Trophy." I then asked him why.

He said, "Nobody from a cow college is ever going to win the Heisman Trophy. If he was at Notre Dame he would, but not at Auburn."

Well, this cow college now has three.