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BEST IN THE LAND Pat Sullivan and Bo Jackson each won a Heisman Trophy -- but by vastly different routes

Dec. 17, 1993
Dec. 17, 1993

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Dec. 17, 1993

AUBURN '93

BEST IN THE LAND Pat Sullivan and Bo Jackson each won a Heisman Trophy -- but by vastly different routes

UPON ARRIVING AT AUBURN IN THE FALL of 1982, Bo Jackson quickly
became acquainted with the legend of Pat Sullivan, the former Tiger
quarterback who had become the school's first Heisman Trophy winner
in 1971. Everywhere he turned, or so it seemed, Bo found a shrine to
Sullivan. Outside coach Pat Dye's office was Sullivan's number 7
jersey, framed and hanging on the wall, along with an oil portrait of
the heroic QB. Another Sullivan portrait adorned a wall outside the
cafeteria of the athletic dorm. His Heisman bronze was displayed in a
glass case in the lobby of the athletic department offices. Ever
check out that Heisman, Bo? ''I don't pay it no mind,'' Jackson would
say, stonily.
Understand, it wasn't that Jackson had anything against Sullivan,
who by then was a member of the Auburn radio team. It was just that
Bo was so different from Sullivan that he couldn't relate to Pat's
accomplishments. When Sullivan was calling the signals for coach Shug
Jordan, Southeastern Conference teams were just beginning to offer
scholarships to black players. Sullivan also was symbolic of a bygone
era when the Old South demanded that its football heroes be
all-American boys in the old-fashioned sense: clean- cut,
self-effacing, soft-spoken. How was Jackson, a self-confessed
''bully'' and ''hoodlum'' in his youth, supposed to deal with that?
Although only 11 years separated the end of Sullivan's Auburn career
and the beginning of Jackson's, a lot had changed, both in society
and in football.
So Jackson never even tried to live up to Sullivan's legend or to
fulfill anybody's preconception of what he should be. ''I just want
to be Bo,'' he repeatedly told interviewers. As it turned out, that
was more than good enough. At the end of his senior year, in '85,
Jackson, too, won the trophy; he and Sullivan are the only Heisman
winners to have played at one of the eight colleges at which John
Heisman coached in his 35-year career, from 1892 through 1927.
Unlike Sullivan, who had little success in pro ball, Jackson
became an even bigger athletic entity in the pros, a two-sport
superstar who evolved into an American pop icon. But around Auburn,
even now, Bo is no more revered than Pat. And once you study
Heisman's style during his career at Auburn -- he had a 12-4-2 record
from 1895 to '99 -- you have to believe the old coach would have been
as comfortable with Sullivan as he would have been confused by
Jackson.
As an early and staunch proponent of the forward pass, Heisman
would have been delighted by the arrival of Sullivan on the Auburn
campus in the fall of 1968. In a game that foretold the future, the
Tiger freshman team (freshmen weren't eligible for varsity play then)
was trailing Alabama 27-0 in the second quarter. But Sullivan then
hit split end Terry Beasley with a bomb to get the Tiger Cubs rolling
toward what turned out to be a 36-27 victory. That also marked the
beginning of what is still the greatest passing combination in Auburn
history.
After years of run-oriented teams, Tiger fans were more than ready
for Sullivan-to-Beasley. During the 1960s they had grown envious of
high-scoring SEC offenses that were built around such quarterbacks as
Alabama's Joe Namath and Ken Stabler, Mississippi's Archie Manning
and Florida's Steve Spurrier. On his first varsity play, in a home
game against Wake Forest, Sullivan attemped a pass to Beasley. ''I
was so pumped up that I threw it 20 yards over his % head,'' Sullivan
said later, ''but the students stood up and cheered.'' The Tigers won
the game 57-0 to begin an 8-3 season that Auburn fans remember most
for a 38-12 win over previously unbeaten Florida and a 49-26 victory
over Alabama. ''Auburn hadn't beaten Alabama since 1963,'' Sullivan
recalled years later. ''I was selling soft drinks in the east stands
that day. That's how I got in.''
In 1970, Sullivan's junior season, Ole Miss's Manning, a senior,
was considered the front-runner for the Heisman. However, after
Manning was sidelined by a broken arm midway through the season,
Sullivan emerged as the league's best quarterback. Throwing mainly to
Beasley, Sullivan engineered a 9-2 season in which the Tigers ripped
Tennessee 36-23 to hand the Vols their only loss of the season.
Midway through the season Sullivan received a letter from Manning.
''He said some writers had tried to get him to say some derogatory
things about me,'' Sullivan recalled later, ''but he just told them I
was having a better year than he was.'' Ironically, after Sullivan
had guided the Tigers to a 33-28 win over Alabama in the final
regular-season game, Auburn was pitted against Ole Miss in the Gator
Bowl. Against the Rebels, who by then had Manning back at QB, the
Tigers won 35-28, and Sullivan, who led the nation in total offense,
was tabbed as a prime Heisman contender heading into his senior
season.
The Tigers won their first nine games in 1971, and Sullivan was
locked in a Heisman duel with Cornell's Ed Marinaro. Then, in a huge
game against unbeaten Georgia in Athens, Sullivan pulled away from
Marinaro by leading the Tigers to a 35-20 victory, breaking the game
open by throwing a strike to Beasley for a 70-yard TD that gave
Auburn a 28-20 lead. Once again, Sullivan brought to mind the line
written by Jack Doane in The Montgomery Advertiser: ''Blindfolded,
hands tied behind his back, Pat Sullivan would be a one-point
favorite at his own execution.''
On Thanksgiving Day, Sullivan was announced as the Heisman winner,
touching off a wild celebration in Auburn. Typically, Sullivan gave
most of the credit to his family, coaches and teammates. But alas,
for Tiger fans, Auburn was blown out by Alabama 31-7 two days later.
Some felt the Heisman hoopla had distracted the team during its
preparation for the game. ''I'm not saying that's why we lost to
Alabama,'' Sullivan said, ''but I think it affected us.''

This is an article from the Dec. 17, 1993 issue

While John Heisman would have thrilled to the exploits of
Sullivan, the coach , would have been vexed by Jackson. Heisman was
such a taskmaster that he kept the players' water consumption to a
minimum. (He also didn't let his players bathe with soap and warm
water during the season, claiming such things were luxuries that
would only make them weak.) During his years at Auburn, Jackson
skipped spring practice to play baseball or run track. Even in the
fall he was such a desultory practice player that Dye had to treat
him differently from other players.
''I was a little more liberal with Bo,'' Dye said in a 1985
interview. ''I called all over the country -- Georgia, Oklahoma,
South Carolina -- asking the coaches, 'How do you handle your
superstar?' Everybody said they didn't let the guy do anything but
polish at practice. Really, I think all the coaches and players
accepted Bo for the way he is. Bo's not a guy who's going to go out
and practice 100 percent every day. But when I look back, I can't
think of anybody who was ever responsible for winning more big ball
games.''
As a kid growing up in the Birmingham suburb of Bessemer, Jackson
was so physically tough and uncontrollably wild that a relative
began calling him Boar, which would later be shortened to Bo. He was
known around his neighborhood as ''that bad little Jackson kid''
because he threw rocks at passing cars, broke windows and regularly
beat up his peers for no apparent reason. Unlike Sullivan, who had a
middle-class upbringing, Jackson lived with his mother and nine
siblings in a three-room house that had no indoor plumbing. But at
the age of 13, after an episode in which he and several friends were
caught after killing $3,000 worth of pigs belonging to a local
minister, Jackson came to realize that further transgressions would
land him in jail. He began to mend his ways.
Unlike Sullivan, who even as a kid had dreamed of playing football
for Auburn, Jackson wanted to play for Alabama. He changed his mind
after a fateful conversation with Ken Donohue, who was then a top
assistant to Crimson Tide coach Bear Bryant. Donohue's first mistake
was telling Jackson that he likely wouldn't play much until his
junior year. His second was telling Bo that if he went to Auburn, he
would never play on a team that beat Alabama. That was just the sort
of challenge that Bo loved, so he said goodbye to the Tide and opted
for Auburn. He also turned his back on a $250,000 bonus offer from
George Steinbrenner's New York Yankees, thus making him the only
athlete to rebuff both the Bear and the Boss in rapid succession.
At the beginning of his freshman season Jackson told Auburn
equipment manager Frank Cox that he wanted to wear number 34. Said
Cox in a 1985 interview, ''I told him, 'Man, you don't want number
34. Herschel Walker of Georgia is number 34.' And Bo says, 'Yeah,
that's the reason I want it.' Well, I gave it to him.''
Interestingly, Auburn had a basketball player at that time named
Charles Barkley, who also wore number 34. ''But it had nothing to do
with that hero-worship stuff,'' Cox said. ''It just happened that
number 34 was the largest basketball jersey we had in stock -- the
only jersey that would fit Charles.''
Like Sullivan, Jackson began his collegiate career against Wake
Forest, gaining 123 yards on 10 carries in a 28-10 Auburn victory
that opened the 1982 season. By year's end he had gained 829 yards
for an 8-3 Tiger team. In his sophomore year Bo gained 1,213 yards as
Auburn won the SEC title and went 11-1.
As a junior, Bo missed six games due to a separated shoulder and
gained only 475 yards on the season. Then, in his senior year,
Jackson's Heisman hopes were hampered by his decision to take himself
out of two big games -- the Tigers' 38-20 loss to Tennessee and their
14-10 setback against Florida -- because of injuries. Even some
Auburn diehards began to wonder if Bo was dogging it. Would Pat
Sullivan have done that? ''I made up my mind long ago to ignore them
and do what I can do,'' responded Bo, whose chief defender was Dye.
The questions over Bo's dedication were part of the reason why his
Heisman margin over runner-up Chuck Long, the Iowa quarterback, was
only 45 points, still the closest vote in the history of the award.
After being announced as the winner -- but barely -- Bo sounded
bitter. What about the 1,786 yards he had gained as a senior? What
about the 4,303 yards for his career?
''Some people called me a coward,'' Jackson said before his final
game at Auburn, ''but I'd do it again. I can look back at my season
and career at Auburn, and I know the critics won't be signing my
paycheck.''

Today Sullivan is the head coach at TCU. In '86 he gave up his
radio work and tire business to accept Dye's offer to become Auburn's
quarterbacks coach. Though he developed Jeff Burger, Reggie Slack and
Stan White, Sullivan was passed over for the position of offensive
coordinator in 1991. In January '92 he left Auburn for TCU.
As for Jackson, he helped the Chicago White Sox win the American
League , West last summer in one of sport's great comebacks. He
played the full season with an artificial hip that was implanted
after Jackson suffered what appeared to be a career-ending injury
while playing football for the Los Angeles Raiders in 1991. And to
think this was the guy that some had called a coward.
One of the few photos of Sullivan and Jackson together was taken
at the 1985 Heisman presentation ceremony at the Downtown Athletic
Club in New York City. There they are, posing with Dye, who was, in
effect, representing the ghost of Coach Heisman. Sullivan has his
left hand on one of the trophy's arms; Jackson has both hands
grabbing the base. Both are smiling. Different folks, different
strokes. But both good Auburn men who did their utmost to execute one
of John Heisman's maxims: When you find a weak spot, hammer it.