Chandon Sullivan was 14 when Nick Collins intercepted Ben Roethlisberger in Super Bowl XLV and ran it back for a touchdown. In the end zone, Collins dropped to his knees and reached his arms to the roof of AT&T Stadium.
“I was in Georgia, watching with my mom and dad,” Sullivan said on Tuesday.
While the play was one of the defining moments of Green Bay’s 31-25 victory, it didn’t live an indelible impression on the teenager. However, it popped back into his mind after the versatile defensive back signed with the Green Bay Packers.
“If you walk out of here like you’re leaving the building, if you look to your left, you’ll see the picture from the Super Bowl,” Sullivan said.
The Packers’ big-play defense has been posing for a lot of photos en route to the team’s 4-1 start. Group celebrations, in fact, have become a fixture on game days. Not, however, after Sullivan’s interception on Sunday back at AT&T Stadium, a brilliant play in which he stepped in the alley between Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott and receiver Randall Cobb. After the play, he ran to the end zone and paid tribute to Collins by dropping his knees and extending his hands toward the heavens.
“I guess it was kind of on my mind subconsciously,” Sullivan said. “We had a plan – I’m not going to tell you what we were going to do – but in the heat of the moment, being my first interception, I was like, ‘Man, I know what I’m going to do,’ I ran to the end zone. I knew we were going to take a group photo and I posed. I knew that the photographers were going to get a picture of me solo, just like how he did it when they took it. So, I posted the picture and it kind of took off. So, that’s kind of cool.”
Sullivan went undrafted out of Georgia State in 2018. After opening the season on Philadelphia’s practice squad, he was promoted to the 53-man roster and played in five games, including one start. The Eagles released him after this year’s draft.
“Within the next 24 hours, I had a few teams calling,” Sullivan said. “One unique situation was Green Bay. ‘We think your talents will fit right in with these guys. We’ve got a young DB corps. You can come in and compete. It’ll be a great opportunity for you.’ So I told my agent, ‘I think Green Bay is where I want to go. I feel like I can compete there and I have a lot to offer.’”
While the Packers have defined starters at cornerback and safety, many of the backups in the secondary are multitaskers. Sullivan, Josh Jackson and Will Redmond are corners who can play safety (or safeties who can play corner). Being able to play more than one spot requires intelligence. Sullivan was an Academic All-American who graduated with a 3.86 GPA while majoring in journalism and minoring in sociology.
“We took grades very seriously,” Sullivan said. “My dad, he taught us to try to be the best at everything you can. Growing up, it was always straight-A’s. If you brought home a B, that’s OK but you’re going to hear about it for a little while. Hat’s off to my dad and my mom.”
He was one of 13 finalists for the William Campbell Trophy – aka the Academic Heisman. That intelligence is a key on a football field filled with elite athletes.
“People don’t realize the games are 90 percent mental,” Sullivan said. “It’s all in your preparation. Can you get the information you need pre-snap and then, post-snap, what can you do with it? Physically, skill-set-wise, you’re good enough. That’s why you’re here in the league. That’s going to take care of itself. It’s how can you process information? That’s what separates the Aaron Rodgers from the rest of the quarterbacks in the league or the top cornerback or the top safety. It’s how well can you process the information and react? That’s all it comes down to.”
Having processed that information, Sullivan let his natural athleticism take over on the interception. At Winder-Barrow High School in Winder, Ga., Sullivan was an all-region performer at running back and defensive back. He arrived at Georgia State – a school that didn’t start playing football until 2010 and didn’t join FBS until 2013 – as a receiver. The coach at the time, Trent Miles, suggested Sullivan try cornerback.
Sullivan started 44 games in his collegiate career and set the school record with eight career interceptions. While he ultimately didn’t stick with the Eagles, he’s perhaps found his niche with the Packers. However, just like how being released didn’t ruin his confidence, Sunday’s big play doesn’t mean he’s made it.
“My mind-set is never that I made anything or that I’ve arrived,” he said. “The way I was brought up from my parents and my earlier coaches was to never be satisfied. I never feel like I’ve arrived. Even after this past game, I still feel like there’s so much more I have left to show. I’m just hungry every day.”