When John Sullivan climbed onto the operating table on Sept. 9, he figured the herniated disk that required back surgery was ending his season. But the Vikings center was pleasantly surprised when the doctors briefed him after the procedure.
"I think they were waiting for some more information on how things looked once they got in there," Sullivan said Thursday, speaking to reporters for the first time since the surgery. "And to find out the next day that my season's not over, that it's just delayed, that was great news. And I have something to look forward to and I'm going to be back this year helping this team win."
The Vikings listed him on injured reserve with designation to return, so the earliest he is eligible to play in a game is Week 9. It is still too early for Sullivan to say exactly when he will be back on the field, but he did say he is "progressing pretty fast."
Sullivan started to be bothered by the injury during the second week of training camp in early August. Figuring it was just a sore back and that he could play through the pain, he started the team's first two preseason games. He took a couple of epidurals, but when his recovery stalled, surgery was the only option left.
The herniated disk that required surgery was the first significant back injury of his football career. The 310-pound center said the doctors told him the rest of the disks in his back looked fine and that this shouldn't be a recurring injury.
Sullivan, who had sat out of only three games in his first seven NFL seasons, said it has been hard to watch his teammates play while sidelined.
"There's a measure of guilt," the 30-year-old said. "And I've spoken with my wife and the rest of my family and my support system, the training staff here, and I understand it's completely illogical to feel guilty about being injured, especially in this sport. But you just can't help but feel like you're letting people down."
One silver lining is that Sullivan has been able to spend more time at home with his new baby boy. Sullivan and his wife, Ariel, had their first child last month.
"I can lift a baby, although I haven't changed too many diapers," Sullivan said. "My wife's been awesome, really picked up the slack. It was tough on her, basically taking care of two babies. I was pretty useless there for a while."