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Auburn Heisman Trophy winner Pat Sullivan dies at 69

Pat Sullivan (AP Photo/Anthony Camerano)
Pat Sullivan (AP Photo/Anthony Camerano)

Pat Sullivan was the first player from Auburn University to win the Heisman back in 1971.

Posted: Dec 1, 2019 12:59 PM
Updated: Dec 1, 2019 5:56 PM

Pat Sullivan, Auburn’s first Heisman Trophy winner and one of the program’s all-time greats, passed away Sunday at the age of 69.

A native of Birmingham, Sullivan was a three-year starter at quarterback at Auburn from 1969-71, winning the Heisman Trophy as a senior in 1971. He was a two-time All-American and named the SEC Player of the Year as a junior and senior.

“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Pat Sullivan, one of Auburn’s all-time greats on and off the field. I will forever be indebted to Coach Sullivan for helping bring me back to Auburn to serve as the head football coach,” Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said. “He was a friend, mentor and a man of great character, who was beloved by many generations of Auburn fans. Pat Sullivan is, and always will be, the definition of an Auburn Man. He certainly will be missed. Our thoughts and prayers are with Pat’s wife, Jean, their three children and the entire Sullivan family.”

A three-sport star at John Carroll Catholic High School, Sullivan signed with Auburn in 1968, before freshmen were eligible to play varsity football. As a sophomore in 1969, Sullivan emerged as one of college football’s elite quarterbacks, passing for nearly 1,700 yards with 16 touchdowns.

As a junior in 1970, he led the nation in total offense with 2,856 yards (2,586 pass/270 rush), leading Auburn to a 9-2 record and top 10 ranking, teaming with receiver Terry Beasley to create the SEC’s most feared passing combination.

“Sullivan to Beasley” became a fabled moniker in Auburn lore, with No. 7 connecting with No. 88 for 1,051 yards, 52 receptions and 11 touchdowns to lead the SEC in 1970. Sullivan and Beasley’s uniform numbers, along with 1985 Heisman Trophy winner Bo Jackson’s No. 34, are the only three Auburn jerseys to be retired.

In 1971, Sullivan led the Tigers to a 9-0 start, securing Auburn’s first Heisman Trophy with a 248-yard, four-touchdown performance against Georgia. In the Heisman voting, Sullivan edged Cornell’s Ed Marinaro, 1,597-1,445. He finished his senior season with 2,012 passing yards and a career-best 20 touchdown passes.

“On behalf of the Auburn family, we are heartbroken by the passing of Pat Sullivan. He was a kind and humble gentleman, who was an Auburn legend,” Auburn Director of Athletics Allen Greene said. “He made a lasting impact on Auburn as the school’s first Heisman Trophy winner, a coach and longtime ambassador. We extend our deepest condolences to the entire Sullivan family.”

Sullivan concluded his Auburn career with 6,284 passing yards and 53 touchdown passes, gaudy statistics in an era that predated college football’s passing revolution. Sullivan’s 53 TD passes remain the most in Auburn history. He also rushed for 18 career touchdowns.

A second-round pick in the 1972 NFL Draft, Sullivan played four seasons for the Atlanta Falcons before concluding his professional playing career in 1976 with the Washington Redskins and San Francisco 49ers.

He spent five seasons doing radio commentary for Auburn football before joining Coach Pat Dye’s staff in 1986 as quarterbacks coach. Sullivan spent six seasons (1986-91) on the Auburn staff, helping the Tigers win three Southeastern Conference championships in 1987, ’88, and ’89.

Sullivan’s head coaching career began at TCU from 1992-97. After serving as UAB’s offensive coordinator from 1999-2006, he remained in his hometown as Samford’s head coach from 2007-14.

Sullivan is enshrined in the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame, Alabama Sports Hall of Fame and the National High School Hall of Fame. He is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 1991.

In addition to the Heisman Trophy, Sullivan also earned the Walter Camp Award in 1971 and was the Sporting News Player of the Year.

Sullivan and his wife, Jean, have three children, daughter Kim, and twins Kelly and Patrick. They also have eight grandchildren.

Sullivan Family Statement

“At the age of 69, Patrick Joseph “Pat” Sullivan died peacefully at home on the morning of Sunday, December 1, 2019 surrounded by his loving family. He was diagnosed with cancer in 2003 and fought a long and difficult battle as a result of his treatments. The family is appreciative of everyone’s outpouring of love and support.”

Auburn Athletics Statements on passing of Pat Sullivan

Auburn Head Coach Gus Malzahn: “We are deeply saddened by the passing of Pat Sullivan, one of Auburn’s all-time greats on and off the field. I will forever be indebted to Coach Sullivan for helping bring me back to Auburn to serve as the head football coach. He was a friend, mentor and a man of great character, who was beloved by many generations of Auburn fans. Pat Sullivan is, and always will be, the definition of an Auburn Man. He certainly will be missed. Our thoughts and prayers are with Pat’s wife, Jean, their three children and the entire Sullivan family.”

Auburn Director of Athletics Allen Greene: “On behalf of the Auburn family, we are heartbroken by the passing of Pat Sullivan. He was a kind and humble gentleman, who was an Auburn legend. He made a lasting impact on Auburn as the school’s first Heisman Trophy winner, a coach and longtime ambassador. We extend our deepest condolences to the entire Sullivan family.”

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