Mark it down that
Alex L. Sixkiller, the junior quarterback sensation at the University of
Washington, has not filled TCU, Purdue and UC Santa Barbara full of arrows this
year. He has helped his team defeat those colleges with his passing. It may be
disappointing to think of a full-blooded Cherokee and the hero of a hot-selling
record entitled Ballad of Sonny Sixkiller as just another Husky, but consider
between different ethnic groups is tricky, but say your name is Rosenbloom and
your great-grandfather was a rabbi. You grew up, however, as a thoroughly
assimilated third-generation Baptist in a small, predominantly Wasp mill town
in Oregon. You went off to Seattle on a football scholarship, became an
overnight star, and all of a sudden fans were yelling "Oyoyoyoy" at you
jocularly and the newspapers were saying: "The Bruins thought they had a
final solution to the Rosenbloom problem yesterday afternoon, but it was proven
once again that a smart Jewish quarterback can get you out of anything."
The headlines were inspired, "There's a Rose in Bloom at Washington,"
and subheads just as blithe, "Rosenbloom Crucifies Oregon."
would react the way Sonny Sixkiller (see cover) reacted last year when, as a
sophomore, he led the nation in passing and kept reading about how he was
making heap good medicine and scalping and massacring people all up and down
the Pacific Coast.
dumfounded," says Sixkiller, shaking his head. "One guy asked if people
gave me any trouble over my name—like I'm supposed to get mad and stab 'em in
the back or set a trap for 'em. Jeez."
history, when you think about it, is not a great mine of surefire yoks and
sprightly references, especially from the point of view of the Indians. So
Sixkiller felt that his being described in print as "the most celebrated
redskin since Crazy Horse" was tasteless and demonstrably reactionary.
Once, questioned was there much folklore practiced at his house, he replied,
"Well, we didn't sit around weaving baskets.
"If I'd been a
black quarterback people wouldn't have been writing that kind of stuff," he
says. "The blacks wouldn't have let them get away with it. Or even if I'd
been a Chinese quarterback." But Sixkiller's bemusement over his image was
heightened by the fact that he had never seriously thought of himself as an
Indian, even a modern one.
certainly looks Indian. He is as bronze, raven-haired and strong-featured as
you would expect the great-grandson of a Cherokee chieftain to look. He sounds
like you would expect any with-it middle-class West Coast collegian to sound.
His grandfather was a Baptist minister and his parents never lived on a
reservation. They did once see a reservation. When Sonny was one the family
moved from Tahlequah, Okla. to Ashland, Ore., and Stella Sixkiller, Sonny's
mother, suggested that they stop by a reservation on the way, because she was
curious to see what one looked like. She was disappointed by the absence of
Ashland is a town
of 12,280, where Sonny's father Alex is a millhand and Mrs. Sixkiller is a maid
in a college dormitory. Sonny grew up as a popular all-round athlete who danced
to rock combos, drank Cokes and occasional surreptitious beers, and scarcely
saw any Indians outside his family. When he was a little kid playing cowboys
and Indians, he says, "It was really strange. I mean, I was a cowboy
sometimes. You got to switch off. That's how far away I was from the real
thing—I didn't think I was an Indian then. I just thought I was a...little
says that before last year nobody ever made much of his last name. He does not
know the derivation of it, and he only knows of his great-grandfather's being a
chief because "that's what my mother told me. I don't even ask her about
it. I just let her go along." The name is evocative enough to make the most
scrupulous sportswriter's mouth water. The Huskies have a hardworking
linebacker named Rich Sweatt (pronounced "Sweet," but that could be
overlooked), a 5'9�" defensive back named Steve Wee, a bomb-catching
receiver named Jim (Blitz) Krieg and a solid, troublesome defensive end named
Kurt Matter. But none of these is a name on the order of Sixkiller. It is easy
to fault the writer who declared last year, without the slightest basis in
fact, that Sonny's surname was "handed down to him by his father—a father
who had accomplished the unusual feat of killing six bison and therefore won
the name the family carries." But considering the broad strain of mortal
imagery running through standard football rhetoric, it is hard to deny the
aptness, or at least the inevitability, of another writer's phrase—that
"Sixkiller's arm is as deadly as his name."
inducement for fans and scribes to go wild over Sixkiller is his style of play.
He is a fine-looking natural athlete who whistles the ball and moves fluidly.
He is not fast or much of a runner (minus 35 yards on the ground last year),
but he scrambles and does wild things. His passes tend to be either 15-yard
lasers into someone's stomach or lofted 25-yarders that just clear two
defenders' hands to hit a receiver in full stride down the sidelines. After he
matched, or perhaps outdid, the passing of Heisman Trophy winner Jim Plunkett
in Washington's 29-22 loss to Stanford last year, Stanford Coach John Ralston
said, "We've faced some fine quarterbacks this season but none of them
presented as many defensive problems as Sixkiller. After studying the films of
him in action, our coaching staff agreed they have never seen a passer as loose
as this kid. He free-lances all over the field and you never know what he's
going to do next. And talk about your gunners, I can't recall anyone who
unloads the ball as fast and as often as Sixkiller. Oregon State intercepted
six of his passes but that didn't discourage him. He just kept on pitching
until he beat them." He very nearly beat Stanford as well, throwing for one
touchdown at the end of a 77-yard drive and later running nine yards for
another and passing for a two-point conversion on two straight busted plays to
put Washington temporarily ahead, 22-21. All that on national television and
with the flu, which kept him out of the early part of the game.