Most impactful UW football players over the last 100 years
These players not only made an impact on the teams they were a part of, but also on the program moving forward.
Last week, I gave you all what I thought to be the greatest moments over the 100 years of Husky Stadium’s existence. But, in order for these moments to occur, there needed to be players that made it happen and brought the UW football program to the national relevance it has today.
To continue the celebration of the centennial, I thought it would be fitting to make a list of the most impactful players to step foot inside of the stadium, donning the gold helmet. It’s important to note that although these players made significant impacts as players with their skills, this is not a list of the overall best players in Husky history. These are the four who I believe left the most lasting mark on the program and helped get it to where it is now.
Hugh McElhenny, 1949-1950
Hugh McElhenny is considered by most to be the first “star” to come out of UW. He was recruited out of Compton Junior College and began his two-year stint at UW in 1949 where we broke multiple school rushing records. After his senior season, he was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers with the ninth overall pick. After 13 seasons in the NFL, he finished with 11,375 all-purpose yards and 58 total touchdowns. He became the first Husky to be inducted into both the pro-football and college football hall of fame.
He is perhaps best known for a two-game stretch at UW where, in the first week, returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown versus USC. Then, in the following week, he kicked nine extra points in a 63-6 win over Oregon. He was a player who could do it all and this was recognized by opposing coaches.
“If you ever watched McElhenny,” said Washington State coach Jim Sutherland, “you’d think he had eyes on the back of his head. I’ve seen him cut away from a tackler that 99 percent of the backs wouldn’t even have seen. It wasn’t instinct — he just saw the guy, out of the corner of his eye.”
Sonny Sixkiller, 1969-1972
Looking back at all the great UW quarterbacks, Sonny Sixkiller was the first to really make a name for himself. He was a star for UW where he finished his career with 5,496 passing yards, 35 touchdowns and held 15 school records at the time. He was inducted into the Pac-12 hall of fame in 2018.
Besides his play on the field, Sixkiller is of great importance to Native American athletes everywhere. He is the great-grandson of a Cherokee Indian chief. His heritage was focused on heavily by the media and may have helped him become a star at UW, even in a time where minority athletes were not as accepted as they are today.
But, even his teammates wanted the media to focus more on his play rather than his race. The team captains even wrote to Seattle media to stop focusing on his race. He even donned the cover of Sports Illustrated at one point.
“I didn’t want to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated,” Sixkiller said, “But when you look back at it, it was a very fortuitous time. I was very lucky to be on the same cover that other great people have been on.”
Warren Moon, 1974-1977
Warren Moon was a player that, while not putting up crazy statistics while at UW, made an impact in a big way. In the 1970s, it was almost unheard of for a team to play an African American at quarterback but UW offensive coordinator at the time, Dick Scesniak, was desperate to sign Moon, who played at West Los Angeles College for a year. Many other schools were planning on converting Moon to a different position and UW was the only one to offer him as a quarterback.
Even after putting together a solid career in college, he went undrafted and moved to the Canadian Football League where he became a star after winning five Grey Cups — the Canadian equivalent of the Super Bowl. After five seasons with the Edmonton Eskimos, he was signed by the Houston Oilers, which was the beginning of a 13 year NFL career where he threw for over 49,000 yards and 291 touchdowns.
Moon is looked at by most as a turning point of African American players playing quarterback and gave many more the opportunity to do so moving forward. He is now a member of both the Canadian and Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Steve Emtman, 1988-1991
Steve Emtman is considered by many to be the greatest Husky of all time. He was a member of the greatest team in program history and won a national championship in 1991. Individually, he won the Outland Trophy, Lombardi Award, the Bill Willis Award and a consensus All-American. He was also a Heisman finalist as a defensive lineman, which is extremely rare and shows how dominant of a player he was. Following 1991, the Indianapolis Colts picked him with the number one overall selection, the only Husky to hold that honor.
Emtman is one of the most decorated UW players of all time. He is the image of the UW teams from the early 90s that was all about physicality and toughness. Injuries brought his NFL career to an early ending, but he will always go down in UW history as one of the most impactful players to step on the field.