Six-man football is a variant of American football that is played with six players per team, instead of 11.
The first six-man game played Thursday, September 27, 1934 in the Hebron Athletic Gridiron (in Nebraska) under the lights with a crowd of almost 1000 watching. This game was played so that coaches all over Kansas and Nebraska could see if they wanted to try this new game of 6 man. The two teams playing in the game were the combined team from Hardy-Chester and a combined team from Belvalex-Alexandria. The two teams had 2 weeks to practice prior to this game. After that night rules for the game were distributed to approximately 60,000 coaches in the United States (Franklin M. Reck, "Play Six Man Football" The American Boy": September 1937 p30).
Notable six-man players
John Perry "Jack" Pardee (April 19, 1936 – April 1, 2013) began his football career as a teenager in Christoval Texas, where he excelled as a member of the six-man football team. He was an All-American linebacker at Texas A&M University and a two-time All-Pro with the Los Angeles Rams (1963) and the Washington Redskins (1971). He was one of the few six-man players to ever make it to the NFL, and his knowledge of that wide-open game would serve him well as a coach. Pardee was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a player in 1986. Following his playing career, Pardee went on to coach becoming the only head coach to helm a team in college football, the National Football League, the United States Football League, the World Football League, and the Canadian Football League.
Edward Alexander Sprinkle (September 3, 1923 – July 28, 2014) played six-man football at Tuscola High School in 1939, and would become known to many as "The Meanest Man in Pro Football" nicknamed "The Claw." Prior to his NFL career, Sprinkle won three letters in football and two in basketball and earned All-Border Conference while at Hardin-Simmons University in the early 1940s. He earned all-Eastern honors in 1943 while attending the United States Naval Academy. He played for 12 seasons with the Chicago Bears of the National Football League and is credited with calling attention to the NFL's defensive players. At first he played on both defense and offense. He caught 32 passes for 451 yards and seven touchdowns during his professional career. His ability to rush opposing quarterbacks, however, soon made him a defensive specialist earning 4 Pro Bowls.
Brandon Blackburn is arguably the greatest to have ever played the game. He is viewed as the Marcus Dupree of six-man football ("the best that never was"). He played 3 seasons for an independent team in Fort Worth Texas that drew it's players from Parker and Tarrant counties. During the 2010 season the infamous #44 was ranked as the number 1 running back in the nation at all levels of football with over 3,000 yards rushing and more than 50 touchdowns. He was recognized as an All-American as well as an ESPN RISE athlete. Blackburn was offered multiple full-ride scholarships to major division 1 universities across the country, to include TCU, Kansas State, and Texas Tech. He ultimately chose to walk away from football to pursue a career of service in the United States military. Most speculate he would have been a collegiate phenom with the abilities to reach the pinnacle of American football at the next level. He attributed his success to "his God, his head coach, and his front line".
Six-man is a fast-moving game played on an 80-yard (73-m) long by 40-yard wide (37-m) field (instead of the normal 100-yd (91-m) by 53 1⁄3-yd (48.8-m) field used in 11-man football). Furthermore, the game specifies a 15-yard distance (14-m) from the line of scrimmage to gain a first down, instead of the normal 10 yards (9 m).
All six players are eligible to be receivers. On offense, three linemen are required on the line of scrimmage at the start of the play. The player to whom the ball is snapped cannot run the ball past the line of scrimmage; however, if the ball is tossed to another player, that player can run or throw the ball and the player to whom the ball was snapped is still an eligible receiver. All forward passes to the player who snapped the ball (center) must travel at least 1 yard (1 m) in flight.
Scoring is the same as in 11-man football, with the exceptions being on the point after touchdown attempt and the field goal. A point-after kick is worth two points, while a conversion made by running or passing the ball is worth one point; this is the opposite of 11-man football. In addition, a field goal is worth 4 points instead of 3. These rule changes were made because of the difficulty of successfully getting a kick off with so few blockers on the line compared to the number of defenders. In both University Interscholastic League and Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools competition, a 45-point "mercy rule" exists to prevent lopsided scoring deficits (no such rule exists in the 11-man game). The game is ended under this rule if a team is losing by 45 or more points at halftime or at any point after. The mercy rule is alluded to in the title of the David Morse film about six-man football, The Slaughter Rule.
Scoring tends to be much higher in the six-man game compared to its 11-man counterpart; games in which one team scores 100 points or more, now extremely rare in 11-man, regularly occur several times a year in six-man.
Six-man football today
As of the 2012–2014 alignments from UIL, TAPPS, and T-CAL the state of Texas has 234 six-man football teams (71 in UIL Division I, 67 in UIL Division II, 57 in TAPPS and 39 in T-CAL); this does not count schools in other high school leagues, or schools playing "outlaw schedules" (schools whose enrollment is too large to play six-man football in a league-sanctioned district, but nevertheless continue to organize a six-man team as opposed to an 11-man team).
Texas Charter School Academic and Athletic League (TCSAAL) held its inaugural Six-Man Football Varsity State Championship on November 20, 2015 at East View High School in Georgetown, TX in which Inspired Vision Academy defeated West Columbia Charter School for the TCSAAL Six-Man Varsity State Championship.
Texas Charter School Academic and Athletic League (TCSAAL) held its second annual Six-Man Football State Championship on November 14, 2016 at Warrior Stadium at South Grand Prairie High School in Grand Prairie, TX. Inspired Vision Academy defeated UME Preparatory 38-0 for their second consecutive TCSAAL Six-Man Varsity State Championship.
The state of Florida has 32 teams playing six-man football in the Florida Christian Association of Private and Parochial Schools. FCAPPS comprises small Christian or private schools and at least one home school cooperative. Teams in the conference are as far south as the keys of Florida to as far north as Jacksonville.
The state of Alabama has eight teams playing as part of the Christian Football Association (www.cfafootball.org) which is a sister organization to the Alabama Christian Education Athletic Association (ACEAA). This will be the third year that the CFA has sanctioned six-man tackle football in the state of Alabama.
The state of Colorado has 23 teams currently playing six-man football with the majority of teams being from small towns located in Eastern Colorado.
As of 2013 Idaho has two teams that play 6 man football; they play against makeshift jv teams or teams in Montana. Idaho has not sanctioned 6 man football but approved it for a pilot program. It was made particularly for schools that were small and too far removed geographically to have a reasonable co op program with a neighboring school. Idaho did play 6 man football in the 1940s.
As of 2013, there are no longer any leagues (professional, semi-pro or amateur) that play the game past the high school level. The last one, the San Antonio, Texas based Texas Sixman Football League (TSFL), converted to eight-man football after the 2012 season. The Central Florida-based Southeastern Christian Association of Sixman Football (SCASF) ceased operations in the late 2000s, and the Pennsylvania 6-Man Football League also converted to eight-man around the same time.
The A-11 offense, the original version of which is now banned in almost all levels of football, could be seen as an adaptation of the six-man offense to 11-man rules, with its wide-open style and the appearance of every player being eligible.
Six-man football in books
In 2005, coach C.H. Underwood authored what is considered to be the definitive strategy and play book for the game, Six Man Football, published by Bright Sky Press. A player during the 1960s and coach of the first Texas State Six-Man Championship team in 1972, Underwood provides a thorough dissertation on the small-town sport from both analytical and historical perspectives.
Another Bright Sky Press book, published in 2003, Grit and Glory: Six-Man Football is a collection of photographs that capture the spirit of the game and its players. Grit and Glory exclusively showcases the work of art photographer Laura Wilson, mother of actors Owen, Luke, and Andrew Wilson.
The newest release on the topic of six-man football is titled Six: A Football Coach's Journey to a National Record. The book was authored by Marc Rasmussen and published by the South Dakota State Historical Society Press. It includes a detailed history of Stephen Epler, the inventor of the sport and follows the life of Willis "Bill" Welsh who led a team from little Claremont, South Dakota to a national record for consecutive wins between 1947 and 1953. More information available on the South Dakota State Historical Society Press webpage www.sdshspress.com.
In 2009 Dee Kelly, wrote a fictional book, "A Good Man's Sin", based on a boy moving from the city to the country and playing 6-man football in Indian Gap, Texas, before making it to the NFL. It explains the rules of the game and small town football. It portrays the mid-1970s 6-man football teams in central Texas consistently to the teams of that time when Cherokee and Marathon were powerhouses.
Six-man football in the movies
The Slaughter Rule, released in 2002, used six-man football as played in Montana as the backdrop for an examination of the relationship between a fatherless renegade football player and his loner coach. The film contains a brief but adequate explanation of how the game of six-man football is played as well as footage of actual game sequences. The title refers to a rule in which a game is called in the second half if one team gains a 45-point advantage over the other. In other states, it is referred to as the mercy rule. When invoked, one team is said to have "45ed" the other.
Six Man, Texas, released in 2008, is a documentary film that explores six-man football as identity in the public high schools of the 160 small towns in Texas that play it.
The Seventh Man, released in 2003, documents two years in the lives of the Panther Creek Panthers, one of the storied programs in Texas six-man football. It features the narration of Val Kilmer.
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