Sullivan Took Lessons From Birk On, Off The Field

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 14, 2009 – 1:00 pm

The NFL is often described as a “copy cat” league, where teams often share similar methods of operation, from specific play-calls to the way a travel itinerary is developed.

But with an influx of young talent entering the league every year, and a contingent of crafty veterans on rosters, it often behooves the younger players to engage in the copy-cat philosophy on an individual level. One Vikings player, C John Sullivan, seems to have done that. And the man from whom he learned most last year, Matt Birk, will be visiting Mall of America Field at the HHH Metrodome this week with the Baltimore Ravens.

Sullivan was drafted in the 6th round of last year’s draft and immediately joined a roster that contained Birk, a 6-time Pro Bowler and a staple in the Vikings offensive line since 2000. The presence of Birk meant Sullivan would spend his rookie season developing, but the 1st-year player from Notre Dame knew he was in a good environment to learn, with a good teacher ahead of him on the depth chart.
“Whenever I had a question, I tried to pick his brain,” Sullivan said. “It’s on the younger guy to go and ask; the older guy doesn’t just offer up the information. You’ve got to go and seek that out. He was always very helpful. I’ve picked up a lot of stuff from him and I’ve tried to incorporate it into my own game, both on and off the field.”

Birk’s play on the field is something every team would like to see from their center. But Sullivan said he also learned a lot from Birk in meeting rooms, such as how to learn on opposing team’s scheme and how to pick up tells from individual players.

Aside from being a great player on the field for the Vikings, Birk was also an All-Pro off the field. He was named Vikings Man of the Year in 7 consecutive seasons and was also a generous participant in his teammates’ charitable endeavors.

Sullivan says he also learned a lot from Birk in terms of handling himself off the field.

“We talked about life lessons, especially last year as a rookie,” Sullivan explained. “You go from being in college and dealing with class and football, to being an adult as a 23-year old and dealing with handling different stuff off the field, whether it’s relationships or handling your money. Matt and I would talk often.”

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