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Greenwich's Sullivan leads Vikings into playoffs

Updated 3:47 pm, Friday, January 4, 2013

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  • Minnesota Vikings center John Sullivan (65) gets set to snap the ball to quarterback Christian Ponder (7) during the first quarter of an NFL football game against the St. Louis Rams Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Tom Gannam) Photo: Tom Gannam, AP / FR45452 AP
    Minnesota Vikings center John Sullivan (65) gets set to snap the ball to quarterback Christian Ponder (7) during the first quarter of an NFL football game against the St. Louis Rams Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Tom Gannam) Photo: Tom Gannam, AP

 

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A contingent of football fans in Greenwich will no doubt watch Saturday's NFC wild-card playoff game between Minnesota and Green Bay with No. 65 of the Vikings the center of their attention.

John Sullivan, who starred at Greenwich High School and Notre Dame, will once again make fans in town proud as he is set to make his third career playoff start at center Saturday for the resurgent Vikings.

In his fifth season with Minnesota, the 6-foot-4, 301-pound Sullivan is the team's longest tenured offensive lineman, having started 61 of the Vikings' 64 regular-season games at center the past four seasons. The 27-year-old Old Greenwich native is back in the postseason with the Vikings for the first time since 2009, when the team advanced to the NFC Championship game.

After suffering through a 3-13 finish a year ago, the Vikings have been a surprise team, earning a playoff berth with a 10-6 mark. Minnesota qualified for the postseason by edging visiting Green Bay in last week's regular-season finale. Now the Vikings must face the Packers at fabled Lambeau Field just six days following that win.

"Playing the same team two weeks in a row -- it's definitely a different experience for me and it's a different experience for a lot of my teammates as well," Sullivan said.

"The playoffs is separate from the regular season. Unlike last week's game, it's win or go home. We're playing a rival team that we're familiar with on the road, so we're looking forward to the challenge."

Though thrilled following Sunday's playoff-clinching win against the Packers, the Vikings had to turn the page quickly.

"I enjoyed the win that night and the next night, then it was time to get back on schedule," Sullivan said. "We have to get ready to play on the road against a tough team."

Beating the Bears, Rams, Texans and Packers their final four games gave the Vikings one of two NFC wild-card spots. Sullivan relished the scenario the team found itself in last week at home against Green Bay.

"As a player, you want to be in the position of controlling your own destiny," Sullivan said. "We weren't going to be denied a playoff spot. We executed well right to the end and won a tight game."

Not much was expected from the Vikings this season -- especially after last season's struggles. But the return of standout running back Adrian Peterson from a knee injury, the improvement of Christian Ponder at quarterback and the strong play of the offensive line helped ignite the squad.

"We embraced being underdogs this season from OTAs right through the year," Sullivan said. "Our fan base and coaches knew what we were capable of. It felt really good to prove the experts wrong."

A 2003 Greenwich High graduate, Sullivan has produced his strongest season since taking over the starting job at center from six-time Pro Bowler Matt Birk in 2009. Known as the Vikings' most consistent lineman, Sullivan anchors a strong group that includes tackles Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt and guards Charlie Johnson and Brandon Fusco.

"The offensive line is a position group and we all rely on each other and play for each other," Sullivan said. "We have been able to jell as a group."

One of the perks of Sullivan's job is blocking for the talented Peterson, who rushed for an NFL-best 2,097 yards on the season.

"Adrian's accomplishments throughout his career speak for themselves," Sullivan said. "He's one of the all-time greats."

He also has enjoyed watching Ponder's rapid improvement.

"It's been great to see him grow as a player," Sullivan said. "He had his best game in our biggest game -- Week 17."

Numerous former Greenwich and Notre Dame teammates follow Sullivan's career, and the Vikings center keeps tabs on his old teams as well. He'll intently watch Notre Dame play Alabama in Monday's BCS championship.

"I'll definitely be pulling for Notre Dame to win the championship," said Sullivan, a member of Greenwich's 2001 and 2002 FCIAC championship teams. "Coach (Brian) Kelly has done an excellent job with the team and I'm happy to see them make it to the BCS championship."

david.fierro@scni.com; 203-625-4423

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