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O'Sullivan's travels may have come to a halt

September 14, 2008|Greg Beacham | Associated Press

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- J.T. O'Sullivan is a master of the six-month apartment lease and the temporary gym membership. He can quickly find a health food store or a post office anywhere from New Orleans to Frankfurt, and he has a good restaurant recommendation for you in the areas around a quarter of the NFL's training complexes.

As an itinerant quarterback with nine stints on eight NFL teams over the last seven seasons, O'Sullivan is a wizard with all the tricks to a temporary existence. He could find a new apartment in one afternoon -- maybe sooner in California, because covered parking isn't as important as in Green Bay or Detroit -- but he also knows exactly how long most teams will pay for a hotel room before they expect you to find your own pad.

O'Sullivan has never stayed in one place for long since leaving UC Davis, near his childhood roots in the Sacramento area. He bought a house in San Diego four years ago as more of an investment than a homestead, but he has grown accustomed to spending his adult life with one eye on checkout time and another on the waiver wire.

"I chose to do this, so I really, really enjoy it," O'Sullivan said. "I like everything about it, from the off-season to working out to the classroom stuff, and the competition and the playing is the reward for all that. I approach it as a job, but I have more fun doing this than anything else. That's why I'm still doing it."

Take a deep breath and follow along:

Since 2002, O'Sullivan has moved from New Orleans to Frankfurt, Germany (for NFL Europa); to Green Bay in a trade; to Chicago after being waived; to Minnesota after being signed off the Bears' practice squad; to New England after being waived again; to Carolina after being waived yet again; to Frankfurt once more; to Chicago again for four months; to Detroit for his first significant NFL playing time; and finally to the 49ers, who signed him Feb. 29 as their ostensible third quarterback.

The odyssey's latest turn was its most improbable: O'Sullivan beat out 2005 No. 1 overall draft pick Alex Smith to win the 49ers' starting job in training camp.

After years of running scout teams, eating room service food and hoping for a break, the journeyman with the fat $40,000 signing bonus has been given major responsibilities with a struggling NFL team. He also was given the burden of being the next quarterback in the 49ers' star-studded lineage at the position.

With so much going on, who has time to worry about getting an apartment?

"I'm still trying to find a place to rent here," O'Sullivan said. "I'm going to stay in the hotel until they kick me out. I'm in no hurry to pay for a place myself. They usually give us two weeks into the season, and then we've got to start paying for ourselves. That's usually when I relocate to a more financially beneficial lease."

O'Sullivan surpassed Smith to claim the job last month, outplaying the 49ers' $31-million investment in a result that even seemed to surprise Coach Mike Nolan. Just a few weeks after Nolan indicated his quarterback competition essentially was a two-man duel between Smith and veteran backup Shaun Hill, O'Sullivan roared up from third place to take over a team that probably needs a winning season to save Nolan's job.

Nolan and offensive coordinator Mike Martz are putting their faith in John Thomas O'Sullivan, an intense 29-year-old with few hobbies or interests outside football and fitness.

Though his teammates express confidence in O'Sullivan's abilities, his linear focus didn't create many quick friendships after he joined the 49ers last spring on a one-year, $645,000 contract. Some of them apparently thought O'Sullivan got the job in large part because of his prior connection to Martz during the 2007 season in Detroit, when he got a full year of exposure to the venerated offensive coach's schemes.

Martz lately has insisted that's not the case, claiming O'Sullivan won the job strictly on his work in Northern California.

"I didn't know much about J.T.," Martz said. "In Detroit, he did a real nice job for us as a backup. What he's done so far [in San Francisco] is he's taken an opportunity and made the most of it. To say that I expected him to do this good, I'd be lying to you. I didn't know that."

Martz praised O'Sullivan's performance in his first NFL start in the 49ers' season-opening loss to Arizona, even though his quarterback made three turnovers while passing for 195 yards. O'Sullivan did plenty of the small things that will really matter when the Niners figure out the rest of the problems with an offense that's finished last in the league in two of the past three seasons.

"He's so dang mobile," Martz said. "There were a couple of situations in there where he said 'You know what, I'm not going to make a bad play worse,' so he tucked it and took off with it. Those are the things that say this guy is moving in the direction you want him to, in terms of managing this game and not putting it in jeopardy by trying to make a magic play."

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