Ed Sullivan came to Notre Dame in 1953 from the football-rich area of western Pennsylvania, a solid lineman out of McKeesport and a late recruit by Coach Frank Leahy. Sullivan grew up idolizing Notre Dame, and headed west intent on getting an education and making his way into the Fighting Irish lineup.
By his junior year of 1956, Sullivan became Notre Dame’s starting center, snapping the ball to its star quarterback Paul Hornung. The team suffered through a frustrating 2-8 season, with five losses to Top 20 teams, including a 40-0 home loss to Oklahoma. However, Hornung displayed enough individual prowess to earn himself the Heisman Trophy, a great source of pride for his teammates. The next season, for his senior year, Sullivan was named co-captain of the Irish.
Ed Sullivan, a hard-nosed football player and as nice a fellow as you want to meet, died Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015. After football, he became a long-time South Bend resident, raising a family with wife Rose, succeeding in business, serving the community, and always proudly wearing the Blue and Gold.
The day after his passing, Sullivan’s co-captain Dr. Dick Prendergast, still a practicing periodontist in Evanston, Ill., shared a story from that 1957 season.
The Irish had started strong, with victories over Purdue, Indiana, No. 10 Army, and Pittsburgh. But November began with losses against No. 16 Navy and No. 4 Michigan State. Next up, a trip to defending national champion Oklahoma, sporting an all-time record 47-game winning streak. Sullivan had suffered a injury the previous week against Michigan State and was not able to play. But he made the trip to support his teammates.
“We got off the plane and went directly to the Stadium, to get the feel of the place, go through some drills, that sort of thing,” Predergast recalled the other day. “After that, it was into the town of Norman. We got off the busses at what was certainly the best hotel in town, and we were looking forward to getting to our rooms and relaxing.
“There we were in the hotel lobby– Father Hesburgh, Coach (Terry) Brennan and the other coaches, (athletic director) Moose Krause, and the captains – Ed and myself. Waiting for the room keys. When all of a sudden the hotel manager starts making a big pronouncement, ‘You will not be able to stay here.’
“And of course we said, ‘what do you mean, we can’t stay here?’ It’s all been arranged.”
The hotel manager, it turns out, had spotted backup Irish running back Aubrey Lewis, the team’s lone black player. It was the hotel’s policy, then legal, to deny accommodations to blacks.
A few minutes of chaos ensued, Prendergast recalls, followed by Father Hesburgh leading the Irish traveling party out of the hotel. Back on to the busses, and on toward a little town (“It seemed like an Indian village,” said Prendergast) about 20 miles outside of Norman. There, the team stayed in a motel with minimal amenities; “I think maybe one bathroom per floor; pretty worn down, a far cry from what we had been expecting in Norman.”
Prendergast said the team was upset over the treatment afforded their teammate, and that the Irish “used that spirit and emotion the next day. By game time, we were ready to tear their heads off.” In front of 63,000 rabid Oklahoma partisans, the Irish played the game of their lives, and upset Coach Bud Wilkinson’s Sooners, 7-0, breaking the record streak.
Click here to read more about Ed Sullivan and the 1957 upset of Oklahoma.