Jeff's Journal - 8/27/04

Your Heisman trophy isn't worth a whole lot when your throat is burned shut by radiation.

That's one of the lessons Pat Sullivan learned in his victorious battle with cancer.

Unable to eat, Auburn's 1971 Heisman winner lost 45 pounds, down to 165 - less than he weighed at John Carroll High School in the late '60's when he first caught Coach Shug Jordan's eye.

"It's been a giant roller coaster," Sullivan tells The Journal. "You'd have days where you'd feel good, then the next day you'd get depressed."

On those dark days, a card or a phone call from a former teammate or a member of the coaching fraternity would lift Sullivan's spirit.

The diagnosis came last fall. Sullivan, the offensive coordinator at UAB, told his team after a game. Within days, Pat Sullivan was on prayer lists from coast to coast.

Almost a year later, Coach Sullivan says he "could not be doing any better."

He's cancer-free.

Six weeks ago, he started eating again.

He's back up to 185. But there's one thing Pat Sullivan is not doing now that he used to do.

Using smokeless tobacco.

A heavy dipper for 25 years, Pat Sullivan is now an aggressive anti-tobacco advocate. Some of his UAB players kicked the habit when they saw what a nicotine addiction did to their coach.

Stacy Searels, a former Auburn all-SEC lineman and graduate assistant, is the offensive line coach at Louisiana State.

In January, Searels called Pat Sullivan from the LSU team bus in New Orleans. The Bengal Tigers were about to play for the national championship, and Stacy was craving a dip.

"I've cussed you five times today because I've wanted to dip," Sullivan recalls Searels saying. But thanks to Sullivan's encouragement and example, Stacy just said no. "That's the ultimate test," Sullivan says.

Given a second chance at life, Pat Sullivan is re-evaluating his priorities.

For Pat Sullivan, faith, family and friends are 1, 2 and 3.

Football will have to settle for being #4.

"After you go through what I've been through," Sullivan says, "you realize what's really important. It's not money or prestige."

That's why every meal shared with Jean, Pat's wife of 34 years, is something to savor.

Time with their children and grandchildren is precious.

That's not to say Pat Sullivan won't ever be in the office early or stay late putting together game plans for UAB.

But hopefully, Pat Sullivan's story will give us all something to chew on.