Hollywood Moment: Sixkiller Turns in Leading-Man Performance to Upstage Harmon

Dan Raley

Sonny Sixkiller's final game at Husky Stadium proved as exhilarating and as satisfying as the first.

After missing a month of the 1972 season with a knee injury, the popular University of Washington quarterback returned to the lineup and demonstrated his Saturday magic once last time.

With a crowd of 59,500 roaring its approval, Sixkiller directed the Huskies to an emphatic 30-21 victory over No. 8-ranked and previously once-beaten UCLA, seriously wounding the Bruins' Rose Bowl chances.

It was a true Hollywood moment at quarterback for both teams.

Sixkiller, who appeared in the motion picture "The Longest Yard" and on an episode of the original Hawaii Five-0 TV series, went head to head with the Bruins' Mark Harmon, who became an accomplished actor and counted TV staples NCIS, JAG, West Wing and St. Elsewhere among his camera credits.

On this afternoon, Sixkiller got it done on the first take. 

Absent for three and a half games, he dropped back on his opening series and zipped a pass to Tommy Scott for a 72-yard gainer. He brought the Huskies back from 7-0 and 14-7 deficits. He overcame his own apprehensions after tearing a knee ligament and badly straining a tendon at Stanford.

"I was more nervous coming back off the bad knee than for any game I can remember," Sixkiller said. "Maybe that meant I was up for this one."

His passing numbers weren't that great, 9-for-22 and 212 yards, but his leadership enabled the Huskies to control the tempo, build a lead and put UCLA away. He handed off the ball to fullback Pete Taggares for four short touchdown runs.

Without Sixkiller, the Huskies had dropped consecutive games and captured two more in unimpressive fashion. They went through quarterbacks like rolls of athletic tape, starting four different players at that position in as many outings. 

"We've been playing in hard times," UW coach Jim Owens. "It was kind of like coming out of the Depression and getting a job."

Harmon, a junior-college transfer running the Wishbone offense and turning the Bruins into a force, rushed for 14 times for 107 yards and scored on a 4-yard run against the Huskies. He threw the ball just to change things up, completing 3 of 8 for 52 yards.

UCLA had elusive backs in Wendell Tyler and James McAlister, who snapped off 50- and 14-yard touchdown runs. But it wasn't enough.

The victory was as complete as any for the Huskies, who entered the season ranked in the top 10, were considered a strong Rose Bowl contender and projected by many football analysts to go unbeaten.

All of those heightened expectations disappeared once Sixkiller got injured in the first half of a 24-0 loss at Stanford.

"This was a 1,000 percent different team than the one that lost to Stanford," Owens said. 

Injuries crippled this team all season. For the UCLA game, the Huskies went without All-American cornerback Cal Jones, who had a bruised kidney, and backup quarterback Greg Collins, recovering from a shoulder separation.

Scott was back but he had missed nearly half the season with assorted injuries. He took a moment and reflected what might have happened had this Husky team not lost Sixkiller and everyone else for long stretches.

"If we'd been healthy all year, we could have played like this every time," the wide receiver said of the UCLA victory.

Sixkiller found Scott twice with passes near the goal line and chided him for not scoring.

"He got tackled at the 1 or 2," Sonny recalled jokingly, "and I said, 'God dammit Tommy, you've got to dive.' "

Everyone came away feeling enthused about the Huskies again. The worst thing imaginable had come and gone. They'd been forced to play nearly half the season without Sixkiller, which was unthinkable. Everyone felt better with him in the huddle again.

Even with all of the those roadblocks, the UW boasted an 8-2 record with only the Apple Cup left on the schedule. Beating the Bruins went a long way to making things right for Sonny and his teammates. 

"It just seemed like we had a rash of weird injuries that season and I guess that's part of the game," Sixkiller said. "It was a huge win for us. UCLA was really good."

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Comments (1)
No. 1-1

I don't think that Wendell Tyler was on this 1972 UCLA team. It did, however, have a running back by the name of Kermit Johnson who ran for almost a thousand yards on the season. Great article, nonetheless. Lots of time-tunnel details.

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