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Irish pay tribute to Sullivan

Sam Werner | Monday, November 1, 2010

For the members of the Notre Dame football team, attendance at Thursday night’s Mass of Remembrance for Declan Sullivan was optional. But the entire team was there when Mass began, sophomore linebacker Manti Te’o said.

“It was great to see the Mass, all the people there, that’s great. Only at Notre Dame, right?” said junior walk-on safety Chris Salvi, who met Sullivan at football tryouts in their freshman year at Carmel Catholic High in Mundelein, Ill.

Sullivan, a videographer for the football team, died Wednesday when the scissor lift from which he was filming practice collapsed. His memory was honored throughout the day Saturday as Notre Dame played Tulsa.

Prior to kickoff, the band dedicated its Trumpets in the Dome performance to Sullivan, and played the Alma Mater at the conclusion of its halftime performance.

The football team honored Sullivan with a moment of silence immediately following the national anthem, as well as a prayer led by University President Fr. John Jenkins. Notre Dame and Tulsa players also wore green shamrock helmet decals emblazoned with the letters “DS” in black. Players attended postgame interviews wearing shirts with the same design.

“When you look at this shirt and the decals on the helmet, it gives us another boost and another thing to play for,” Te’o said.

After the game, Irish coach Brian Kelly spoke about Sullivan, who he estimated was one of only a dozen student workers he has known personally over his 20-year coaching career.

“I got a chance to meet Declan and know him because of all the time he spent in our office, especially this summer,” Kelly said. “As you know, he was a lover of film and writing. … I’ve got great memories of him just being in the film and video offices.

“You know, you think you’re strong and able to handle all of those things that are thrown at you. This one was very difficult.”

Kelly said he knew as soon as the tower fell that Sullivan was the one on it.

Even though the Irish came up short against Tulsa, players said the opportunity to play was an important part of the grieving process.

“I think a lot of us were very grateful for this chance to play today and to get our minds off of everything that happened this week,” senior linebacker Brian Smith said. “It was really good to get our team out on the field today and just try and play the game.”

In addition to honoring him on the field, Te’o said he would do whatever he could to support and console Sullivan’s family.

“My heart goes out to his family,” Te’o said. “I’m trying to get ahold of his sister Gwen to make sure she is okay; and that if she needs anything, to let me know and let my family know. It’s a tough time for them and we just have to be there for them, since we are a big family.”

Junior defensive end Ethan Johnson echoed Te’o’s comments, saying that Notre Dame’s loss to Tulsa was of secondary importance Saturday.

“I view [the game and the tragedy] as totally different,” Johnson said. “Losing [a football game] pales in comparison to death. I feel horrible about losing, but it pales in comparison to how his family feels right now.”

Salvi recounted a particularly memorable speech Sullivan gave for a class in high school. He said Sullivan started the speech by pretending to be visibly nervous, enough to worry his classmates, before composing himself and giving a great presentation. Salvi said word of the speech quickly spread through the school.

“I actually wasn’t even in the class, I just remember hearing about it,” Salvi said. “It just got around the school and it was funny.”

Salvi said one of the toughest parts of the past few days was communicating news of the tragedy to friends back home.

“It’s not easy, especially when you’ve got friends calling you up asking what happened and you have to explain to them,” he said. “You’ve just got to take a step back and take time to think about everything, just reflect, and also have people there for you to let you know it’s going to be okay. I’ve been fortunate enough to have support from family, friends, coaches, teammates.”

He said the remembrance of Sullivan would extend well beyond Saturday’s game.

“You don’t want to put it out of your mind because he was a good person and you want to remember him and kind of honor him in the way you conduct yourself every day, not just on the football field,” Salvi said. “You want to act like he would want you to act and you want to play like he would want us to play.”