The sultan of six-man
Ken Capps memorializes the six-man legend Jack Pardee.
In the hardscrabble country around West Texas’ tiny town of Christoval, six-man high school football was everything in the 1950's. In the big city high schools, names like Doak Walker and Bobby Layne were household ones from Highland Park to Hidalgo. But out in the truly miniscule corners of the Lone Star State, one Texas legend was just beginning.
For the small-town Christoval Cougars, Jack Pardee labored at first in obscurity — but he was hardly small-time. In the early 1950's, he single-handily personified the program, a rugged harmony of country boy, true grit and athletic prowess that would transform Pardee into the first 'legend' of Texas six-man football. More than a half century later, ask six-man aficionados across Texas who is the greatest player of all-time, and the ready answer is still Jack Pardee.
Christoval sported a population of about 400 in the 1950s, but It may have never added the Pardee family to its rolls had Jack's dad not being diagnosed with severe and chronic arthritis. The family moved from Jack's birthplace in Iowa to San Antonio to San Angelo before settling down in Christoval. The town was known for its mineral baths and Jack's Dad came to 'take the cure.' Jack was still in the seventh grade at the time.
Whether the mineral waters worked or not, the elder Pardee lived another 45 years, enough to see Jack score 57 touchdowns for the Cougars' 1952 regional championship team. And, thanks to Jack, the tiny hamlet known for "the cure" became known for six-man football.
Pardee eventually signed on as one of Bear Bryant's Junction Boys. For a grinder like Jack, that was no hill. Hard practices, hot weather and withering criticism were nothing new for him. He had experienced all that — and then some — as a raw ranch hand and oil field worker in and around Christoval.
In fact, Jim Dent, who authored the best-selling book Junction Boys, calls Pardee the greatest Junction Boy of them all.
“Jack Pardee was the essence of Texas six-man football," says Dent. "Without it, he would have never been a Junction Boy, an All-American at Texas A&M, or one of the longest tenured players and coaches in the history of pro football. No one in the history of football was better served than Pardee with the little six-man team in Christoval. A lot of people think he was the best to ever suit up.’’
But the all-time six-man success story that began in Christoval was far from ending.
When Pardee finished his days in Aggieland, he played for the Los Angeles Rams and, later, played and coached for the Washington Redskins. When he first donned the pads at the LA Memorial Coliseum and put on the headsets at RFK Stadium, he became the first and only six man player from Texas to ever play and coach in the NFL.
Gil Brandt, of Dallas Cowboys fame, who knows just about every player who ever suited up in the state for the past 50 years, calls Pardee's parlay of small-town-athlete into big-time-player/coach nothing short of amazing.
"We faced him many times with the Rams and the Redskins and he was worldly well beyond Christoval," says Brandt. "His knowledge of the game was incredible. He certainly was unique and unusual in the NFL to come from such a very small town. Most small towns are a Metropolis compared to Christoval. And he never forgot where he was from."
Just as he is the only six-man player to make it to the NFL, he is also the only coach to head a team in the NFL, the NCAA, the United States Football League, the World Football League and the Canadian Football League.
And Pardee always remembered where he learned the fundamentals of football: Christoval.
Perhaps his best quote about the six man game was told to Joe Nick Patoski, who put together a fantastic exhibit in 2012 at the Bob Bullock Museum in Austin entitled "Texas High School Football: More than a Game."
"You know, some teams used to call the linemen the hogs cause that’s all you do is get down there and root in the dirt," said Pardee in the exhibit. "Well, there’s not any of that goin’ on in six man football. If you can’t run, if you can’t move, you can’t play the game.”
It takes a lot of Halls of Fame to house Pardee's legend. Fortunately, he was able to enjoy the ride and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, the Texas High School Football Hall of Fame, the Texas Six Man Football Hall of Fame and the Texas Sports Hall of Fame before he died. His letter jacket from Christoval resides at the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in Waco.
"Jack Pardee was one of the finest gentlemen I ever had the pleasure to meet," says Steve Fallon, Executive Director of the TSHF, "and his humility regarding his unmatched accomplishments as a player and coach were a refreshing rarity these days. He certainly put the tiny community of Christoval and the sport of six-man football on the Texas map. The Texas Sports Hall of Fame has lost one of its finest members."
Rest assured Jack Pardee will be honored and remembered across six man football fields in Texas this fall. Heads will bow. Young players will clutch their battle-worn helmets and close their eyes. Longtime coaches and fans will stand in silence, smile and thank Jack for making six-man football in Texas a sport to be respected and reckoned with.
"Jack Pardee made everyone involved with six-man football proud of what we were doing and what he had accomplished," says Kyle Hauk, Information Director of the Texas Six-Man Coaches Association and Athletic Director of the Loraine Bulldogs. "It proved that no matter what size school you graduated from that you could accomplish whatever you set your mind to do, whether that was to be a college football player or coach or an NFL player or coach. Jack Pardee was, simply put, a class act."
Today, the population of Christoval hovers around 500. The Cougars keep on playing. And we will never forget where Jack was from.
Ken Capps is a special contributor to TexasFootball.com.