Chuck Howley 6'3" 228 Linebacker Dallas Cowboys 1958-1973 15 Seasons 180 Games Played 25 Interceptions 18 Fumble Recoveries 3 Touchdowns 6 Pro Bowls Super Bowl V MVP
Charles Louis Howley was drafted in the first round of the 1958 draft by the Chicago Bears. He was the seventh player selected overall.
Howley went to college at West Virginia University. He was a tremendous athlete who starred in five different sports while with the Mountaineers. He was named the 1956 Southern Conference Athlete of the Year and helped his diving team win a championship.
He was used as an offensive lineman on the gridiron,playing guard and center. Three times he all named All-Conference, and his senior year saw him named the Southern Conference Player of the Year. Howley in an inaugural member of the WVU Sports Hall of Fame.
Bill Roehnelt, a 19th round draft pick that year, beat Howley out for a starting job, but the two rookies shared the position during games and Howley picked off a pass. He blew out his knee early in the 1959 so bad that he thought his career was over, so Howley retired.
During the spring of 1961, Howley discovered his knee was healthy again during an alumni game. A former Bears teammate, guard Don Healey, had joined the Dallas Cowboys and told Hall of Fame head coach Tom Landry that Howley could really help a team that won no games in their 1960 expansion year.
Landry took a chance and dealt a second and ninth round draft pick to Chicago to attain Howley's services. Landry, a defensive guru, worked hard to develop the exceptionally athletic Howley and the 10.1 speed he brought.
Howley won a starters job in training camp and would hold onto it the next 12 seasons. While Dallas often used the speedy linebacker on the weak side, Howley was gifted enough to play several seasons on the strong side as well.
He was an excellent blitzer, so nimble that many who saw Howley play swear he could have been a Pro Bowl running back too. Yet Dallas needed him on defense, where he and Lee Roy Jordan were important members of the "flex defense" led by Hall of Fame defensive tackle Bob Lilly.
Jordan, Howley, and Dave Edwards were the starting linebackers until 1972. Howley and Jordan were Pro Bowl players, while Edwards and Howley could man the strong or weak side with ease.
One huge strength of the trio was their ability to defend the pass. The group ended their careers with an amazing 70 interceptions and 52 fumble recoveries for Dallas. Yet it was the athleticism and versatility of Howley that many considered to be the glue that held the unit together.
Landry said "I don’t know that I’ve seen anybody better at linebacker than Howley."
Howley made the first of five straight Pro Bowls in 1965. He made the first of five consecutive First Team All-Pro nods in 1966 after taking a fumble 97 yards fotr a touchdown.
The Cowboys started winning and would go to the NFL Championship Game in 1967, against the Green Bay Packers, in what is now known as the "Ice Bowl."
The 1968 season was one of his best. Howley had a career best six interceptions and returned one for a touchdown. Though he had five in 1970, he was not selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time since 1964.
The Cowboys reached Super Bowl V in 1970 to play the Baltimore Colts. Super Bowl V was the best game of his career. "It was one of those kind of games when I was in the right place at the right time, all the time, said Howley." Even when I made mistakes and was out of position, I was in the right place."
Though Dallas lost the game, often called the "Blunder Bowl" for all of the penalties and turnovers committed, Howley was named MVP after intercepting two passes and recovering a fumble. Not only was he the first defensive player to win this award, he is still the only one on a losing team to garner it.
The 1971 season saw Howley earn his final Pro Bowl honor. Dallas reached the Super Bowl again and won the first championship in franchise history. Howley played well enough to win the MVP Award again, recovering a fumble and returning an interception 41 yards, but it was given to quarterback Roger Staubach instead.
Dallas made a bid for a third consecutive Super Bowl appearance in 1972, but were thwarted by the Washington Redskins in the NFC Championship Game. Howley picked off one pass that season, the last of his career.
Landry asked Howley to spend the 1973 season on the taxi squad so he could try to develop rookie linebackers Rodrigo Barnes and John Babinecz. Though he did suit up for one game that season, he retired at the end of the year.
The career Howley had with Dallas might be best described as a miraculous gift. While he was once content with the fact his football career was over, the knee healed well enough to make him one of the most durable players in Cowboys history.
Excluding the 1973 season, Howley missed just four games his entire 13 seasons with the team. This durability has left his name written all over the Cowboys record books.
Not only is his 97-yard fumble recovery return for a score the longest in franchise history, but his 191 career yards off fumble recoveries is too. The 17 fumbles he recovered is tied with Edwards as the fifth most ever by a Dallas defender.
His 24 career interceptions with Dallas is the tenth most in franchise history and the most ever by a Cowboys outside linebacker. His 395 return yards off of those interceptions is ranked eighth.
His five First Team All-Pro honors are the fourth most in Dallas history, and his six Pro Bowls are the most ever by a Cowboys linebacker. Howley was the fourth player to be inducted into the Cowboys Ring of Honor.
It is quite amazing that he still waits for his induction into Canton. Howley's exclusion, may Dallas fans feel, is proof the voters have a anti-Cowboys bias. Howley, Jordan, and Cliff Harris were members of one of the best defenses ever, and all should have been inducted long ago.
When you talk to his peers, all say how difficult is was to try to block or catch when opposing Howley. His speed allowed him to blanket opponents and his athleticism allowed for him to quickly recover from any mistakes.
He isn't only the most athletic linebackers Dallas ever had, but one of the most athletic players period. Landry asked Howley to punt the ball once in a game, and the linebacker put it 37-yards in the air without a return.
When you see Tom Landry call Howley the best linebacker he ever saw, this must give one pause. Landry wasn't just a legendary coach, but he was a Pro Bowl defensive back as well.
Landry played alongside Hall of Famers like Emlen Tunnel, Arnie Weinmeister, Rosey Brown, and Frank Gifford, then later coached Huff, Andy Robustelli, Bob Lilly, Randy White, Mel Renfro, and many Pro Bowlers on defense.
Not only did Landry play for and against legends, he coached them as well. For him to say Howley was the best should have put the linebacker in Canton years ago. Even without those kudos, the numbers Howley put up is worthy.
As I have stated in other linebackers I have profiled, it is a shame a player as well-rounded as Howley has been excluded to the point of being buried in the deep seniors pool while inferior players have gone in on the regular vote decades later.
When you look at a Ricky Jackson, Andre Tippett, and Derrick Thomas go in ahead of Howley, one has to question of the validity of the voters football knowledge. While all three are worthy, they were one-dimensional players and playing linebacker well isn't just rushing the passer.
With Chris Hanburger finally getting his respect, it hopefully will start a run on outside linebackers long overdue for induction. Men like Howley, Maxie Baughan, Matt Blair, and Robert Brazile are just a few of many well deserving.
It has almost been fourth decades since Chuck Howley hung up his cleats. Hopefully he will not have to wait another decade to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Notable Players Drafted In 1958 ( * Denotes Hall of Famer )
2. John David Crow, RB, Chicago Cardinals 3. Dan Currie, LB, Green Bay Packers 4. Lou Michaels, OT, Los Angeles Rams 5. Red Phillips, WR, Rams 9. Charles Krueger, DT, San Francisco 49ers 10. Alex Karras, DT, Detroit Lions 11. Lenny Lyles, DB, Baltimore Colts 15. Jim Taylor, FB, Packers * 18. Willard Dewveall, WR, Bears 19. Clendon Thomas, DB, Rams 27. Dick Cristy, RB, Packers 31. Bill Anderson, WR, Washington Redskins 32. Billy Krisher, G, Pittsburgh Steelers 36. Ray Nitschke, MLB, Packers * 39. Jerry Kramer, G, Packers 42. Erich Barnes, DB, Bears 45. Wayne Walker, LB, Lions 55. Frank Ryan, QB, Rams 58. Bobby Joe Conrad, WR, New York Giants 59. Billy Atkins, DB, 49ers 61. Jim Gibbons, E, Cleveland Browns 62. Ken Gray, G, Packers 66. Dick Lynch, DB, Redskins 84. Bobby Mitchell, RB, Browns * 93. Floyd Peters, DT, Colts 108. Bernie Parrish, DB, Browns 126. Darrell Dess, G, Redskins 137. Johnny Morris, WR, Bears 141. Tom Addison, LB, Colts 159. Bob Schmidt, C, Cardinals 189. Archie Matos, LB, Colts 218. Sonny Randle, WR, Cardinals 244. John Madden, OT, Philadelphia Eagles * (Hall of Fame Coach) 289. Dave Whitsell, CB, Lions