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Edward Allen SullivanJuly 23, 1935 ~ November 12, 2015 (age 80)
Ed Sullivan never thought the school he idolized as an Irish Catholic lad from Western Pennsylvania, Notre Dame, was in his football future. Pursued by several high profile colleges, he was set to commit out East until Irish Coach Frank Leahy received high school game film on Sullivan late in the recruitment process. Leahy’s staff told him, “This Sullivan kid is smaller and slower…but he’s always around the ball. You’ve got to take a look.”
Even with Leahy’s scholarship offer extended, Sullivan was inclined to say no. The plethora of All Americans in the Irish program made him question his own ability to contribute to such a vaunted program. “I decided to convince myself,” Sullivan would later tell his family, “that the other program I was set to join had plenty of All Americans too, so I would face a high level of competition no matter where I went. “
This “lean in” attitude became a hallmark for Sullivan, 80, who passed away November 12 at his home in South Bend, Indiana, surrounded by his wife Rose of 56 years, four children and many of his 12 grandchildren.
With renewed mental tenacity, Sullivan distinguished himself as a two-way starter at center and linebacker for the Irish between 1953-57, the team’s leading tackler as a junior, and team captain his senior year. Driven to perfect his long-snapping abilities, Sullivan’s precision was so routine he confidently asked his punters whether they wanted him to deliver the football “laces up or laces down.”
Sullivan was a man who always found a way to get things done. On crutches with an ankle injury that kept him from traveling with the team to Norman, Oklahoma, he was still determined as captain to lead his troops and somehow managed to get to the Irish locker room in time to deliver a rousing pre-game call to action. Notre Dame then shocked the nation with a 7-0 win over the #1 Sooners, ending what was then (and is still) college football’s longest winning streak at 47.
The same traits that propelled him on the field – a fearlessness, Steel City grit, and hardwired competitive streak that actually made the toughest obstacles attractive – were also integral parts of his life off the field.
His hugely positive attitude would go on to serve him exceptionally well against the multiple threatening health events he faced the last half of his life. At age 40, Sullivan survived a nearly unsurvivable heart attack that damaged half his heart. There would be many more medical crises, and many more amazing recoveries.
Sullivan approached his professional life with the same resolve. Following three years in the Canadian Football League, where he starred for the British Columbia Lions and achieved All-Pro status twice, he spent the remainder of his long and successful business life as a popular salesman, realtor and entrepreneur – purposely choosing jobs and designing work schedules in order to be at every one of his kids’ sports and school activities.
An early adopter of technology, Ed was fascinated by inventing more complicated yet less efficient ways to do something (which both frustrated and humored his wife and children). Though his projects never went to market, his remarkable creativity resulted in devices ranging from leaf blowers to electronic football games years before similar items were mass produced. Every birthday or Christmas, he presented his family with something original and artistic, including his handwritten cards crafted with his own clever limericks.
Sullivan’s engaging personality naturally drew others to seek his company and his counsel. Born to Hildur and Edward Sullivan on July 23, 1935, in McKeesport, PA, he was raised by a single mother and never knew his father, who died when Ed was three. That experience compelled him to serve as a surrogate father to relatives and friends alike. Sullivan’s kids were constantly told “Big Ed” was “like my second dad.”
An enthusiastic participant in all things community and service related, whenever Ed saw a need or void he rushed to fill it. From starting a South Bend chapter of the Holy Cross Corsillo, to organizing bus caravans and booster clubs at his kids’ high school, to spearheading numerous local golf outings with the NFL Alumni Association benefitting the Ara Parseghian Foundation, Ed threw himself completely into every last detail needed for the success of his many missions.
Always guided by his internal moral compass and integrity, Sullivan was quick to defend his convictions. On more than one occasion, he threatened to have sports fans removed from their seats if they continued to use offensive language around children seated nearby. Once during a nationally televised ND football game, he became aggravated while listening to what he thought was biased announcing against the Irish – immediately sending a halftime telegram to the press box broadcast booth that became the next day’s South Bend Tribune headline “Sullivan Irked by Schenkel.”
The two most consistent loves in Ed’s life – family and football – were passions he intertwined seamlessly by sharing stories, insights and lessons learned. To this end, he taught his daughters how to watch football by watching the direction of the left and right guards on offense and delighted his sons when he accurately called plays before they happened.
“Everything that makes Notre Dame so very special – God and faith, tradition and values, loyalty and a fighting spirit – was personified in full by Ed Sullivan,” said Roger Valdiserri, ND’s legendary Sports Information Director who is godfather to Sullivan’s firstborn. “He had this ‘force of nature’ exterior and strength. And he had this sincere selflessness and emotional core that was nurturing and made everyone who knew him feel better. A true Notre Dame man.”
Survivors include his wife Rose (nee Ferraro); children Kelly of Chicago, IL, Edward Jr. (Molly), Patricia (Tim Maher) and Michael (Marcey) of South Bend, twelve grandchildren and many nieces and nephews. Visitation for Ed Sullivan will be Tuesday, November 17 from 3:30 to 7:30 at Palmer Funeral Home, 17131 Cleveland Road, South Bend with rosary to follow. A Mass of Christian burial will be celebrated on Wednesday at 11 am at St. Joseph’s Parish, 226 North Hill Street, South Bend with visitation one hour prior. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to South Bend Center for Hospice Care, 501 Comfort Place, Mishawaka, IN 46545 and Congregation of Holy Cross Mission, P.O. Box 1065, Notre Dame, IN 46556.