|By Kevin Devlin
Legendary gridiron hero has an incredibly impressive resume
He grew up on West Fifth Street and attended the Bigelow School before heading to Dorchester Heights.
At South Boston High School, he played on the varsity track team for three seasons, and in his senior year, was a city as well as a state track champion.
But his legendary status would be realized on the football fields for Southie High and Boston College.
He played on the 1950 high school varsity football team that was considered one of the best teams ever assembled by the Knights. As far as he was concerned, this team had a lot of depth and many great players.
In the first six games of that season, before injuries decimated the team during their historic 19-18 victory against Boston College High School, Southie outscored their opponents, 186-12. And, this single-wing tailback accounted for 97 of those points, scoring touchdown after touchdown and PAT’s.
In his senior year, he was acknowledged for his prowess (his speed and quickness) in the gridiron wars by being named an All-Scholastic by the Boston Post, Boston Globe, and the Boston Herald.
After high school, he received a scholarship to play football at Boston College.
At Boston College, he played all four years on the varsity football team and in his senior year was chosen as team captain.
As a freshman, down in Memphis, Tennessee, against Mississippi, during a kick-off return, he ran the ball back 100-yards for a touchdown. Against Navy, he caught a pass for 96-yards that stood as a record at BC for nearly four decades. And, against Holy Cross, in an historic encounter, he caught a 56-yard pass late in the game, to set up the go-ahead touchdown which sealed the victory for his team.
His name, known to many steeped in local sports-history, is Thomas Joe Sullivan.
Thomas, now 73, currently lives in Quincy with his beautiful wife. After finishing his career and studies at BC, Thomas became a probation officer and worked at the Roxbury Courthouse from 1958 until 1966, and then was the chief probation officer at the Framingham Courthouse from 1966 until his retirement in 1999. Just to keep himself busy, he currently works part-time at the Massachusetts Convention Center.
Thomas modestly remembers his days of glory as if they were yesterday. And, he is quite proud, and rightly so, of his accomplishments.
Against Holy Cross, Thomas caught a 56-yard pass from the late quarterback Jimmy Kane that took them to the one-yard line. After four heart-wrenching attempts, running back Joe Johnson (future player for the Green Bay Packers) finally ran it in for the touchdown.
“When we upset Holy Cross the whole city was rocking,” said Thomas. “There were 40,000 fans in the new Alumni Stadium and we were big underdogs. When I made that catch I came off the field and my knees were knocking because I was so nervous. I was only a freshman. Looking back this was certainly a big victory for us and a big win for their football program, because at the time, although we didn’t realize it, football at BC was at a crossroads.
“I had fun and it was exciting to play football,” added Thomas. “And I made so many friends, so many good friends.”
From the pick-up, sandlot football games at the former Columbia Park, to the high school games packed with standing-room only fans at White Stadium in Dorchester, to the college games played at BC Alumni Stadium, this learned football player, a true student of the game, made friends, dazzled and frazzled opponents, astonished teammates, and just had fun.
And, he made gridiron history.
He made many friends and had a lot of fun playing sports.