It is, without a doubt, one of the greatest names ever found on a college football roster. One of those names that, once you say it, just keeps spinning around and around inside your head. One you’ll remember for a lifetime.
Say it again a few times and you’ll soon realize how easily the former Washington Huskies great’s name really does roll off the tongue. Sonny. Sixkiller.
Close your eyes, and you can easily imagine the native American and record-setting quarterback for the Huskies from 1970-1972 smoothly doing a James Bond impression.
“Sixkiller. Sonny Sixkiller.”
To this day, almost 50 years since he last graced Husky Stadium, Sixkiller is still widely recognized by his distinctive designation, the one his parents gave him when he was born 66 years ago in Tahlequah, Okla.
“I run into people and they hear my name, and they will be like, ‘Oh we thought that was your football name,’” Sixkiller said with a chuckle. “They think it’s my stage name. But I tell them that the Sixkiller name in the Cherokee tribe goes way back.”
Appropriately enough, University of Washington Sports Information put Sixkiller in a No. 6 jersey as a freshman (he wore No. 15 in high school) to attract media attention if he panned out, and he did. As he passed his way into the Washington record books, he inspired a best-selling record, The Ballad of Sonny Sixkiller, 6 Killer T-shirts and even a 6 Killer (fan) Klub. He also made the cover of the Oct. 4, 1971, edition of Sports Illustrated.
Even now, when he sees replica No. 6 jerseys with Sixkiller across the back, he is amazed.
“If anybody embraces what I did in my career, I figure they are embracing the University of Washington football program and the school and that is something to be proud of,” Sixkiller said. “They are supporting the school and the football program through me, and that is very gratifying.”
In his three seasons in Seattle, Sixkiller, who was lightly recruited as 5-foot-10, 160-pound high school senior, completed 385 of 811 passes for 5,496 yards and 35 touchdowns and held more than a dozen UW passing records when he was done.
At 5-11 — Sixkiller always says he was 5-11 ½ — and 188 pounds, he went undrafted in the 1973 NFL Draft. He had tryouts with the Los Angeles Rams and Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League before signing with the Philadelphia Bell of the World Football League in 1974 and The Hawaiians in 1975.
After he’d been cut by the Rams, he got a call telling him that Burt Reynolds, whom he’d met when Reynolds stopped by a Huskies practice one day, wanted to offer him a part in an upcoming football movie he was making called The Longest Yard. Sixkiller said yes and, perhaps not surprisingly for that era, was cast as “The Indian.”
“I’m not sure you could get away with that today, but in 1973 you could,” Sixkiller said. “It was a great opportunity for me. There was several great guys and former players that I got to be tight with. I’m glad I did it.”
That role later led to a small part as a boat captain trying to help someone in the TV series Hawaii Five-O.
“I’ve had some great experiences,” Sixkiller said. “All because I played football at the University of Washington.”
In Sixkiller’s three seasons, the Huskies were 6-4, 8-3 and 8-3 (he missed four games due to injuries his senior year) — still one of the most successful eras in Washington football history.
Sixkiller, who played in the PAC-8 but was inducted into the PAC-12 Hall of Fame in March 2018, remains close to the Huskie athletic program through his work with IMG College, the country’s leading collegiate multimedia, marketing and licensing/brand management company. He also previously broadcast Washington games on the Root Sports Northwest network for 13 years.
He and his wife, Denise, live in Seattle and have three sons and six grandchildren.
“I owe a lot of gratitude to Coach Jim Owens and former quarterback and coach Bob Schloredt,” Sixkiller said. “They saw enough looking at tape and watching me play basketball that they wanted to take a chance on me. If it were not for them having an idea about me, I wouldn’t have played at the University of Washington.”
And the world might never have heard the melodious sound of…Sixkiller. Sonny Sixkiller. H&A
Photos courtesy University of Washington Athletics.