Catching Up With former Baltimore Colts lineman Dan Sullivan

Catching Up With former Baltimore Colts lineman Dan Sullivan
(Baltimore Sun file photo)

Forty-five years later, Dan Sullivan can still hear his Colts teammate's declaration prior to the 1968 NFL championship game in Cleveland.

"I'm going home Sunday," said running back Tom Matte, who hailed from Cleveland, "so don't you S.O.B's embarrass me out there."


They did not. Baltimore won, 34-0 as Matte ran for 88 yards and three touchdowns through holes carved out by Sullivan and other Colts linemen.

"We played a near perfect game," said Sullivan, the right guard. "And every time Matte scored, he ran straight to the stands and shook hands with the fans."

A pillar up front, Sullivan played 11 years with the Colts (1962-72), during which they went 104-45-5, reached two Super Bowls and won a world championship in 1971. Staunch and savvy, he starred at guard but played all five line positions, as needed, without missing a step.

"I even filled in at center for awhile, in 1962, though [quarterback] Johnny Unitas didn't approve," Sullivan said. "I had short legs so, when I squatted at the line, my fanny went down instead of up — which meant John had to bend down further to get the football."

Now 74, he lives in Andover, Mass., not far from either his hometown of Dorchester or Boston College, where the 6-foot-3, 250-pound Sullivan studied business before turning pro as a third-round draft pick for Baltimore.

"A lot of my college friends went to Wall Street, and I could have done the same," he said. "They all made more money than me, but I'd make the same choice (to play football) 100 times."

As a Colts rookie, he was mentored by Art Donovan, the Hall of Fame defensive tackle who'd also played at Boston College.

"[Donovan] showed me around and looked out for me like I was his adopted son," Sullivan said. Though Donovan died in August, "I'll never forget him," he said.

Married 49 years, Sullivan has three daughters, all born in Baltimore. The middle child, Julie, 46, has Down syndrome and lives at home.

"She was born in 1966, in the middle of my career, when our best friends were our teammates and their wives," he said. "All of them loved Julie then, and still do. Though she's non-verbal, we're blessed that she enjoys going to restaurants with us, or to the beach with the Mattes, or just being one of the guys."

Among Sullivan's keepsakes is a photo of his daughter and Unitas, taken in July of 2002.

"Julie and John are arm-in-arm, both of them laughing to beat the band," he said. "We treasure that picture."

Two months later, Unitas died of a heart attack.

Their daughter's disability didn't keep the Sullivans from having a third child, Kristen, born in 1971. One week before Super Bowl V, during Lorraine Sullivan's pregancy, they learned she would be born without the chromosomal disorder.


"We got the news in Florida, where we were practicing for the game," Sullivan said. "After we beat Dallas (16-13), someone asked, 'Is this the happiest day of your life?'

The second happiest,' I said."

Sullivan's Super Bowl jersey hangs in his basement, near the stationary bike and Nordic Track where he works out.

"If I get bored, I'll go out for a five-mile walk," he said. Twice a week, he plays golf even though "when I get close to the green, I choke."

Retired, he spent 35 years in the food brokerage business, having started as a salesman for Mrs. Filbert's Margarine, in Baltimore, during his playing days.

"I have no regrets," Sullivan said. "I played ball for 11 years in a wonderful city that treated my family well, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

"From time to time, I'll look at those faded team photographs and think, 'You didn't do so bad, big guy — you played with some awfully good football players."