By Joseph Gunther
John Sullivan, C #65
Hometown: Old Greenwich, CT
College: Notre Dame
Experience: 5 years
The Minnesota Vikings drafted a smart, undersized, short-armed center that was underwhelming as a senior in the 2008 NFL Draft from Notre Dame.
The experts were mixed on his ceiling. His fans thought that his intelligence and work ethic would lead him to a starting role for a long time. The doubters thought that his intelligence and work ethic would keep him in the league as a versatile backup.
After two years of serving as the backup, Sullivan continued to impress and eventually took over as the starter for the Vikings in 2009.
His job was to replace six-time Pro Bowl participant, two-time All-Pro selection, six-time Minnesota Vikings Man of the Year Award winner, St. Paul native and fan-favorite Matt Birk.
It was a daunting task that Sullivan embraced and succeeded at immediately. The Vikings went to the NFC Championship game at the Superdome and Sullivan earned the highest performance-based bonus of anyone in the NFL at just under $400,000. That bonus was determined by his playing time percentage and his salary cap number.
His second year as the starter didn’t go so well in 2010. He battled through two calf injuries and the death of his father.
In 2011, he bounced back as one of the few bright spots on a team that went 3-13. The team rewarded him with a five-year contract extension worth $25 million, $10 million guaranteed, with three weeks remaining in the season.READ MORE: ‘Our Business is Down Over 50%’: Deadly St. Paul Bar Shooting Impacts Surrounding Businesses
“I can’t thank the Vikings enough for giving me another chance,” Sullivan said. “They gave me another chance to go out there and prove that last year was result of circumstances and to show what type of player I can be when I’m healthy and not dealing with some personal things.”
Now the fifth-year veteran is the longest tenured starting offensive lineman on the Vikings’ roster. He knows that he is counted on to be a leader in front of second-year quarterback Christian Ponder.
“That’s a role I need to embrace and help our team with,” Sullivan said after signing his contract extension. “I view my role with trying to help Christian out as much as possible, make sure he’s comfortable and he can be as successful as possible.”
At that time, he saw Ponder as the future of the Minnesota Vikings.
“He’s the total package. We’re going to do great things with him at the helm.”
On Tuesday, a ceremony will take place at the University of Minnesota’s Amplatz Children’s Hospital to name a new playground the Sullivan Playground in honor of a $150,000 donation from Sullivan. Chad Greenway’s Lead the Way Foundation and the Vikings Children’s Fund donated $25,000 each to complete the project.
“He has been very active in the community along with being a key member along our offensive line,” Vikings owner Zygi Wilf said when the team signed him to the extension. “John is a bright young man and we are fortunate to have him in the Vikings organization.”
Sullivan is constantly giving what he can back to the community and none of it has come with much publicity. He is more to a lot of people than just a very good football player.
For more Local Football Bloggers and the latest Vikings news, see CBS Sports Minnesota.MORE NEWS: None Hurt After Shots Fired Inside Plymouth Movie Theater
Joseph Gunther is an avid fan of Minnesota sports, including football, hockey and baseball. He covered a wide variety of sports while attending Hastings College in Hastings, Neb. While at Hastings College, he was a part of the first collegiate media group to broadcast a national tournament via television, radio, internet and newspaper at the 2004 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball Tournament. He grew up in the Twin Cities playing three years of varsity football in high school. His work can be found on Examiner.com.