Full Boil: Sixkiller Issued a Challenge When Things Were Bleak
The Washington locker room was in chaos. It was halftime in West Lafayette, Indiana, and Husky players were angry and upset.
For two quarters, unruly Purdue fans pelted these guys with soft-drink ice cubes, forcing UW coach Jim Owens to instruct everyone on the sideline to keep their helmets on at all times.
To get off the field field at intermission, Sonny Sixkiller and his teammates were forced to run through the Boilermakers, who responded with middle fingers and lewd comments about the quarterback's Native American heritage.
Worse yet, the Huskies trailed 21-0.
They tanked the first half, this coming after two lackluster games to begin the season, one with Sixkiller and one without.
Frustration had reached a full boil against the Boilermakers.
The Huskies were supposed to be a top 10 team, a Rose Bowl contender, a high-powered group capable of beating everyone they played.
They looked pathetic.
They couldn't tackle quarterback Gary Danielson, who at the break had rushed for an astonishing 206 yards on just nine carries in Purdue's newly installed Wishbone offense. He broke one long run after another on keepers, his longest going for 60. The season before, Danielson led the Big Ten in passing.
UW players pleaded with their coaches to put them back in a base defense. Anything to stop the other guys. Panic consumed this team.
Amid the halftime frenzy, a cool head prevailed. OK, he was a little fired up, too.
Husky reserve running back Tony Apostle turned to Sixkiller and offered a strongly worded suggestion.
"Sonny, you need to say something to this (bleeping) team!"
The senior quarterback, making his first start of the season, agreed. He got to his feet and the room went silent. He challenged everyone. Himself, his teammates, his coaches.
"Hey guys, I'm not flying back to Seattle a (bleeping) loser!" he said, raising his voice. "I'm not, you're not, they're not! This team's not going to (bleeping) do that! Defense, now go out there and get us the ball!"
It took three plays.
Husky linebacker Bob Ferguson, later a Seahawks general manager, intercepted a Boilermakers pass, putting his team on the Purdue 36.
The UW scored in four plays when running back Pete Taggares rumbled into the end zone from 7 yards out.
Still, this wouldn't be easy.
"No, we never thought we couldn't come back," Sixkiller said. "That goes for the whole team and they showed it."
The Huskies caught a big break when Danielson, fighting a severe cold and now having trouble breathing, pulled himself from the game.
Yet an untimely slip, a show of anger and a questionable officiating call denied a possible second UW score.
At the Purdue 13, Sixkiller rolled to his right and threw the ball to Taggares, who had an open lane to the end zone. He fell down untouched at the 4.
Angry at himself, the big back from rural Othello, Washington, slammed the ball to the turf. He drew a 15-yard penalty for spiking, an infraction rarely called in those days. The drive died without points.
Early in the fourth quarter, Purdue fumbled away a punt snap at its 34. This time, Sixkiller got the Huskies into the end zone on his own, pulling them within a touchdown with a 3-yard scoring run. A two-point conversion failed, leaving the UW trailing 21-13.
The clock showed 10 minutes left.
Husky defensive end Dave Worgan next recovered a Purdue fumble at the UW 48. Sixkiller took full advantage, throwing a 14-yard TD pass to the well-utilized Taggares. Another two-pointer failed and the UW was still behind 21-19.
Six and a half minutes remained.
After a change of possession, Sixkiller was at his very best. He calmly drove the Huskies 78 yards for Steve Wiezbowski's 25-yard field goal and the win with 2:04 remaining. Final: Washington 22, Purdue 21.
"We did a couple of ad-lib plays on the final drive, which were amazing," said Sixkiller, completing 17 of 30 passes for 222 yards and a score to offset four interceptions.
Things were so emotional when the game was over, Sixkiller couldn't speak to reporters right away, repeatedly waving them off. He'd now engineered consecutive last-minute comebacks against Purdue, after beating them 38-35 in Seattle the year before.
Cornerback Cal Jones, who had an 81-yard punt return for a touchdown called back in that sorry first half, sat and cried.
Players danced around in celebration, tousling each other's hair and dousing each other with soft drinks. No one got hit by any more ice.
Owens called it one of his greatest victories at Washington. Still leading his team, Sixkiller walked up and presented his emotionally drained head coach with the game ball.
Sonny and his Husky teammates and coaches could now board that long charter jet back home to Seattle as winners, just as he had promised.
Ever the competitor, Sixkiller hadn't forgotten Purdue's midfield obscenities when things were at their lowest. He had to smirk about it.
"I got a lot of fingers pointed at me and a lot of things were said," he reminded. "After the game, I couldn't find any of those guys."