Sixkiller knew how to beat Michigan State – it was quick and deadly

Michigan State will be happy to hear that the great Sonny Sixkiller will be watching today’s game at Husky Stadium from the top of the bleachers rather than stepping out of the group and shooting the ball down the field.

He still looks lean and athletic, like he could run a set or two. However, he turned 71 on September 6. Happy belated birthday, #6.

Fifty-two years ago, Sixkiller and his University of Washington teammates hosted the Spartans in the only other meeting between these teams in Seattle and they won a resounding 42-16 victory. It was close for only half.

It was different times in 1970, but not that different – ​​the UW team at the time had also just had a terrible season and burst in with an all-new quarterback from out of state.

What happened was the unveiling of Sixkiller, a marketing dream that made the quarterback’s most stunning debut in Husky football annals.

Hours before kickoff that day, Michigan State buses stopped at the Hec Edmundson Pavilion, where the old locker rooms were, and the players got off and strolled inside. The Spartans had to pass the Huskies locker room to reach theirs. It was an eye-opening if not deafening experience.

“The doors were open,” Sixkiller said. “We had Jimi Hendrix and Purple Haze up at about 10. The guys were singing and dancing. The Michigan State guys were staring blankly. We were having fun.”

It was a tribute to a Seattle original as well as motivation to play an important football game. Hendrix, originally from Seattle, had died the day before in London, asphyxiated during a drug overdose. The city was a bit in shock at the loss of this icon. UW players used the international rock star’s memory and music to prepare them to play football against the fearsome Big Ten and do it their way. These Huskies have always been a swashbuckling team.

On the pitch, Sixkiller kicked the ball free and he paused to soak up the atmosphere as his first starting assignment quickly approached. It was a perfect day for football. Sixty-seven degrees. Light southwesterly wind. Totally unbridled swagger.

The new UW quarterback felt as loose as can be as he kicked off his Husky debut, especially when legendary Spartans coach Duffy Daugherty passed him.

“I remember standing in the field looking at the sun and the lake, and Duffy Daugherty running in a warmup with all that gray hair,” Sixkiller said. “I yelled, ‘Duffy, you’re going down today! We’re going to kick your ass!’ I may have had a bad word in there, but I don’t remember. Then I thought, ‘Wow, what did I just say?’ That was my attitude at the time.”

The Huskies won the toss, made the kickoff at 22, and then all the fun began.

“It was a quick succession of games,” Sixkiller said. “It’s as if the Red Sea had opened up.”

On the first play, Sixkiller threw a 12-yard strike to Tacoma tight end Ace Bulger in the middle. Speedy tailback Mark Wheeler, another debuting sophomore and from nearby Seattle Prep School, ran over the right guard to pick up 6 more. Fullback Bo Cornell, a veteran of nearby Roosevelt High, had a tough yard around the left end.

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On the third-and-3 of his 41, Sixkiller backed up and threw one for wide receiver Ira Hammon, who collected the ball while weaving through the middle and the Portland player ran towards the end zone. The Husky Stadium crowd of 52,000 exploded in delirium. No one expected this thunderbolt. Only one minute and 51 seconds had been played.

“The crowd was unbelievable, loud and crazy,” the quarterback recalled. “It was something you never forget.”

Of course, the match didn’t end in two minutes. Sixkiller threw a first-quarter interception to Spartans roverback Brad Lee, who returned the ball 80 yards for an even touchdown.

Momentary beep. Minimal damage. A rookie mistake allowed.

Sixkiller responded with two more TD passes, finding Cornell for a 5-yard score for a 14-7 halftime lead and Hammon again for a 37-yard and 21-7 third quarter advantage.

The Spartans dropped Sixkiller in the end zone for a third-quarter safety, but UW came right back with instant scores on Wheeler’s 52-yard sprint to the end zone and interception return from 28 yards from Bob Burmeister, and led 35-9 early in the fourth quarter.

Sixkiller became an instant folk hero as the Huskies, a 1-9 team the previous year and losing 27-11 to Michigan State without him, finished top with nearly four touchdowns. They racked up 598 yards on total offense. The new QB wasn’t perfect, completing 16 of 35 passes for 276 yards and 3 scores, but he did a lot of damage.

Nor was it a unique case. UW went 6-4 and nearly advanced to the Rose Bowl. The supple-armed Sixkiller led the nation through the passage. He appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated the following year and in films such as the original “Longest Yard” thereafter. The Huskies have won 22 of 32 games during his time on the program.

For three years, Seattle lived and died with these players, regularly filling Husky Stadium. They were led so dynamically and successfully by a Native American player with a lot of chutzpah, a pure-blooded Cherokee from Ashland, Oregon, and someone who can identify with new Tampa QB Michael Penix Jr. , in Florida, with his big arm .

All this magic started so long ago with a sound beating from Michigan State, with a shameless beating from the Big Ten, giving Montlake great hope.

“I felt like as a team we were ready for them, but, of course, we had some anxiety-inducing things, the first big game, and mom and dad and siblings all there, rooting for you — and then it all s ‘gone,’ Sixkiller said. . “You have to play the game. I wanted to go there with a lot of confidence. Maybe that’s why I got to say something to Duffy.”

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