GREEN BAY – Chandon Sullivan was only 14 years old when Nick Collins performed his iconic slide to celebrate his 37-yard interception returned for a touchdown in Super Bowl XLV.
Watching alongside his parents in their Atlanta home, the future Packers cornerback didn’t know at the time how critical the play would be in Green Bay’s 31-25 win over Pittsburgh at AT&T Stadium but gained a deeper appreciation for it over the years.
Today, it’s an image Sullivan sees every day he walks into Lambeau Field – Collins on both knees, hands held high with the football in his right hand – and one that was subconsciously on his mind as the Packers traveled to play Dallas on Sunday.
Covering the slot, Sullivan locked onto Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott and soared to pluck his first career interception out of the air.
Before the game, Tramon Williams and the defensive backs had a plan for a potential takeaway celebration, but Sullivan chose to improvise and pay homage to Collins – a fitting tribute back at the site of the Packers’ Super Bowl triumph.
“In the heat of the moment, being my first interception, I was like, ‘Man, I know what I’m going to do,’” Sullivan said. “I ran to the end zone. … I knew that the photographers were going to get a picture of me solo, just like how (Collins) did it when they took it. So I posted the picture and it kind of took off.”
Sullivan was one of 16 former college free agents to make the Packers’ 53-man roster last month, but he took one of the unlikeliest of routes to Green Bay.
For starters, the 5-foot-11, 189-pound cornerback chose to stay close to home and play at Georgia State, which played its first game in 2010. Somewhat overshadowed in a football hotbed that produced Alvin Kamara and Deshaun Watson, Sullivan blazed his own trail at Georgia State, setting school records for games played (49), interceptions (seven) and passes defensed (25).
Sullivan signed with Philadelphia last year as an undrafted free agent and wound up starting in one of the five games he played. Blindsided by his release after the 2019 NFL Draft, Sullivan signed with Green Bay because he felt the young makeup of the roster gave him the fairest shot at earning a spot on the 53.
Secondary coach Jason Simmons gave him every opportunity to prove his worth, playing Sullivan everywhere in the secondary during training camp. The 23-year-old cornerback eventually made the team after notching 17 tackles, five passes defensed and an INT across several positions during the preseason.
“He made plays everywhere,” Simmons said. “When you have a guy who could be that versatile, I don’t care who goes down. I just say, ‘Hey Chandon, go in there.’ He’s mentally prepared to handle it and then his physical skill set can handle all the positions we have.”
Perhaps Sullivan’s strongest asset is his intelligence. His parents, Dexter and Jannice, made sure he paid attention in the classroom, reflected in Sullivan’s 3.84 GPA at Georgia State and his status as an Academic All-American.
“If you brought home a B, that’s OK but you’re going to hear about it for a little while,” Sullivan added.
In Green Bay, Sullivan has constantly been in the ear of Williams and the other veterans in the DBs room, asking what he can work on, how he can watch film better, and how he should take notes.
Those study habits and film sessions carried over to the field Sunday. Sitting in a Cover-2 zone against Dallas, Sullivan stayed underneath and let his instincts take over when Prescott attempted to throw across the hash marks to Michael Gallup.
With Brown (hamstring) out and King leaving with a knee injury in the fourth quarter, Sullivan played 39 defensive snaps against the Cowboys.
“Chandon is a baller,” King said. “I knew it the first time I saw him, he’s definitely a guy who can go up and get the ball. He fits right into our secondary. I knew he was going to have a good game with the type of focus he brought to work.”
Sullivan said he hasn’t had a chance to connect with Collins yet, but hopes to at some point. While it wasn’t a touchdown in a Super Bowl, Sullivan was thrilled to make a big play at critical point in a regular-season game.
That moment is now behind him, though. He already has his focus shifted to next Monday against the Detroit Lions.
“My mindset is never that I made anything or that I’ve arrived,” Sullivan said. “The way I was brought up from my parents and my earlier coaches was to never be satisfied. I never feel like I’ve arrived. Even after this past game, I still feel like there’s so much more I have left to show. I’m just hungry every day.”