Husky QB Sonny Sixkiller Was the Chosen One and Then He Wasn't
For two days, Sonny Sixkiller waited for the phone to ring.
In late January 1973, the University of Washington quarterback was confined to the North Seattle rental house he shared with defensive back Bill Cahill, wide receiver Scott Loomis and placekicker Steve Wiezbowski, expecting the NFL to claim him.
Of the 442 players drafted by the league's then 26 teams, defensive tackle John Matuszak from the University of Tampa — and later of North Dallas Forty movie fame for basically portraying his wild self — heard his name called first. The Houston Oilers took Matuszak.
Seventeen rounds were spread out over a Tuesday and a Wednesday. The was no ESPN back then, no TV coverage of the draft. Just anxious moments staring at the land-line phone.
Sonny squirmed or paced throughout most of 48 hours, much of it spent in the company of his girlfriend and the future Mrs. Sixkiller, Denise Warner.
Bert Jones of LSU was the first of 21 quarterbacks chosen, grabbed up with the second overall selection by the Baltimore Colts.
"If he was 6 feet, 3 inches, he would have been our No. 1 draft pick," Los Angeles Rams offensive coordinator Ken Meyer said of Sixkiller.
Instead, the Rams, after trading away their first-round selection, drafted quarterback Ron Jaworski of Youngstown State in the second round in the 37th spot.
Nobody questioned Sixkiller's arm strength or poise in the pocket.
The teams took great issue with his height.
Washington listed him at 6 feet. He admitted to 5-11. The scouts measured him at 5-10 and five-eighths.
"The professional people don't want a short quarterback, period," said Norm Pollom, a Rams scout and former UW assistant coach for Jim Owens in 1957-59. "If they find out a quarterback is under 6 feet, they cross him off completely."
Still, that didn't stop people from pestering Sixkiller to become his agent, from telling him all sorts of wondrous things.
"You hear for two years that you're going to be drafted, some say high, some say in the middle," Sixkiller said. "And then you find out you're not even on anything."
When the last name of the 1973 draft was announced, the pros had chosen quarterbacks from such obscure college football outposts as West Chester, Evansville, Grambling State and Whittier, but they wouldn't take a flier on the Husky senior who once led the nation in passing.
Even Washington State quarterback Ty Paine found an NFL home on the second draft day, going to the New York Giants in the ninth round with the 225th pick.
Seven of Sixkiller's UW teammates were drafted, in order, tight end John Brady (third round, 58th, Detroit Lions); safety Phil Andre (sixth round, 148th, St. Louis Cardinals); safety Bill Cahill (seventh round, 158th, New Orleans Saints); wide receiver Tom Scott (12th round, 304th, Detroit Lions); center Al Kelso (153rd round, 330th, San Francisco 49ers); cornerback Calvin Jones (15th round, 373rd, Denver Broncos); and defensive end Kurt Matter (16th round, 394th, Los Angeles Rams).
Even his great protector and loyal friend, Husky offensive tackle Rick Hayes, described by Sonny in the accompanying video, was drafted the following year, as an 11th-rounder by the Rams.
But no Sixkiller.
It was an incredible letdown.
"It's pretty rough," Sonny told reporters. "It was really hard on me because I had my heart set on being drafted. All of a sudden, nobody was there. I was led to believe that I was going to get drafted. Suits had been talking to me for two years. I felt deceived by that."
Sixkiller was at a loss trying to explain the reasons for his draft exclusion.
He questioned himself, wondering if he had worked out hard enough that offseason.
He didn't call his own plays at Washington, which he heard was another mark against him.
Sixkiller also mentioned that disturbing rumors were circulated that he was too much of a partier.
"There are 340 guys in that league right now that live a looser life than I do," he said impatiently. "I think I wasn't drafted because my (senior) season wasn't particularly good."
More accurately, not long enough. Sixkiller missed nearly five of the games because of injury. Or almost half the season.
In the end, the determining factor was nothing more than inches — a general lack of them.
Pollom, who died in 2019 at 93, did the next-best thing. He signed Sixkiller to a Rams free-agent contract.
"The only reason he didn't get drafted was his height," Pollom said. "There are some veterans who have been in this league a long time who don't have his arm."
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