When an indie pop band from Philadelphia dubbed itself Sonny
Sixkiller a few years ago, its namesake reacted the way anyone in
his situation would. Wow, the former University of Washington
quarterback recalls thinking, are they any good? Alas, Sonny
Sixkiller the band is defunct. Yet the mere fact that the man's
name still resonates three decades after his salad days with the
Huskies is confirmation that he touched fans throughout the
nation, not just the Cherokee Nation that adored one of its own.
The Sixkiller mystique began in 1970, when he led the country in
passing as a sophomore (230.3 yards per game) and was
immortalized the following year by a Seattle deejay in Ballad of
Sonny Sixkiller. It was a perfect marriage of talent--Sixkiller's
5,496 passing yards rank him fifth in school history--and a
sports name for the ages. "It's been 30 years, but a lot of
people remember that era," says Sixkiller, 52, a sports marketing
executive for Seattle's KIRO radio. "There are a lot of reasons:
name, number [he wore 6], Native American. And we worked hard as
teammates to resurrect the program."
Sixkiller took over a team that had finished 1-9 in 1969 and
guided it to a 22-10 record over the next three seasons. Yet the
reception from unenlightened college football fans wasn't always
pleasant. "I used to go to schools, and they'd have SCALP
SIXKILLER banners on the walls," he says. "Then you had
newspapers saying CHEROKEE CHUCKER SLAYS STANFORD. Would that fly
today? No. I don't know how it flew then."
Though Sixkiller's ancestors are Cherokee from Oklahoma, Sonny
had almost no exposure to Native American culture as a child.
"We're from Oklahoma, but I grew up in southern Oregon, so I
didn't have a lot of Native friends," he says. "I never realized
the impact I would have in the Native American world by playing
college football." Now he knows. For the past five years Sonny
has helped put on a golf tournament to raise money for the
Tulalip Indian Boys & Girls Club in Marysville, Wash., and his
oldest son, Casey, recently spent two years working as a lobbyist
in Washington, D.C., for the Cherokee Nation. "Everything comes
around, I guess," Sonny says with a laugh.
Sixkiller lives in Seattle with his wife of 29 years, Denise, and
they have two other sons, Jesse (a sophomore at Dartmouth) and
Tyson (a freshman at Washington). Though Sixkiller's pro career
never took off--a free-agent signee with the Los Angeles Rams in
1973, he was cut before the season and then spent two years in
the World Football League--he stays close to the game as an
analyst on Huskies telecasts. "The fun part [about
broadcasting]," he says, "is having that teamwork you used to
have when you were playing." --Grant Wahl
The nation's top passer, at Washington, in 1970, Sixkiller
briefly played pro football before moving into sports marketing.