State Your Case: Why Billy Howton should be in the HOF

Photo courtesy of Dallas Cowboys

When I compiled a story last week on wide receivers deserving of Hall-of-Fame recognition, several readers insisted  I include Billy Howton. Now, I remember watching Howton at the end of his career with Dallas, but, frankly, didn’t know much about him until I followed their suggestions and dug a little deeper.

And hallelujah. I’m glad I did.

All you need to know about Billy Howton is that when he retired from the NFL in 1963 he was the NFL’s all-time leading receiver in receptions and yards, eclipsing records held by … uh-huh, Hall-of-Famer Don Hutson.

So stop right there. That’s good enough for me.

Hutson was one of the two or three best receivers of all time, and if someone could eclipse his records he’s deserving of something more than a footnote in a record and fact book.

And Billy Howton is.

As a rookie second-round draft pick with Green Bay, Howton in 1952 produced a league-best 1,231 yards receiving – a staggering 102.6 average per game – and 234 more than runner-up Bud Grant. He also scored 13 touchdowns that season, a rookie mark that lasted until 1965 when it was broken by Gale Sayers and a rookie touchdown reception record that stood until 1998 when it was broken by Randy Moss.

But we’re just getting started, folks.

Photo courtesy of the Dallas Cowboys

Howton wasn’t just good. He was a marvelous player on an underwhelming team, with the Packers losing twice as much as they won (26-56-2) in his seven years there.

No problem. That didn’t faze Howton. All he did was lead the team in receptions six straight times and in a 1956 game vs. the Los Angeles Rams pull down a franchise-record 257 yards in passes.

But that was Billy Howton. Eleven times in NFL history receivers produced 1,000 or more yards in a 12-game season (including Hutson in 11 and Wes Chandler in nine during the 1982 strike). Billy Howton did it twice.

He led the league in receiving yards twice. He led in touchdown receptions once. He was among the league’s top five receivers four times. He was among its top 10 eight. He was named to four Pro Bowls and twice chosen first-team All-Pro. He scored 43 touchdowns in 80 games with the Packers, which today would translate to 8.6 scores per season. He produced 5,581 yards, too, which would average … average … 1,116.2 yards in a 16-game season. And he set three franchise records that remain today.

What’s more, he’s the only Packer other than Hutson to produce two 200-plus yardage games.

In later years with Cleveland and Dallas, he would lead the Browns in receiving in his only year there (1960) and lead the expansion Cowboys in catches in two of his three seasons with them – including a career-high 56 in 1961.

When he retired, he not only led the league in catches and yards but finished with 61 touchdowns – only four shy of future Hall-of-Famers Michael Irvin, Bobby Mitchell and Charlie Joiner.

But Howton’s success wasn’t confined to the football field. As president of the NFL Players Association, he played a significant role in gaining a pension fund for players, a hot-button issue at the time. Some people believe it was Howton’s union activities that prompted Green Bay coach Vince Lombardi to trade him when Lombardi assumed control. Others think it had more to do with Lombardi wanting receivers who could block, which was not one of Howton’s strengths.

Whatever it was, it was a disservice to one of the finest wide receivers who wore a Packers’ uniform. In 1974 the Packers acknowledged Howton’s accomplishments by enshrining him in their Hall of Fame, but Canton has never called … and probably never will.

And that’s more than disservice, too. It’s an outrage.

There’s been a lot of indignation lately over the exclusion of Terrell Owens from Canton, but tell me: Where are the outcries over the exclusion of Billy Howton? He broke Don Hutson’s records. He was a league leader, both during single seasons and in career production. And he still holds franchise marks, even though he played over 50 years ago when it was a vertical passing game and defenders actually covered receivers.

Yet he can’t get a sniff from Canton? Something is very, very wrong. Billy Howton deserves more … a lot more … from the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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  1. Marc
    February 14, 2017

    Thanks for this article and thanks again for adding him to the previous WR article. Another forgotten player and story in NFL history. Hopefully he gets reintroduced to the already to long of a list of senior candidates.

    • February 14, 2017

      Never would have considered him without you and bachslunch putting me on the case. Have no idea why hes not in Hall. A perfect candidate. Dominating player. Thanks to you guys for giving me the heads-up.

  2. bachslunch
    February 14, 2017

    Excellent article, excellent case made. Agreed 100%, Billy Howton absolutely belongs in the HoF. A prolific standout WR who played on awful teams his whole career, retired as the all time leader in catches and receiving yards, and has a boost for NFLPA work. No idea why he has been passed over.

    • February 14, 2017

      As I told Marc, could not … would not … have looked into him without the help of you two. Many, many thx. Great candidate. Told Ron and Rick, I have no idea why hes not in Canton. Ideal candidate. Really, really sad that he was allowed to slip through the cracks.

      • bachslunch
        February 14, 2017

        Clark, glad I could help.

  3. Jeff
    February 16, 2017

    Agree completely. Way before my time, but a little research puts him really high on my list of HOF travesties. According to Wikipedia, he’s still alive. Would be wonderful to sneak him while he’s still around, but I assume he isn’t on the radar screen.

    • February 16, 2017

      You would be correct. Cannot believe hes not in … but not on radar? Travesty is apt description.

  4. William Howton
    July 12, 2018

    When he got the NFLPA deal done in 1958 with then commissioner Bert Bell he was blacklisted by every team owner in the league. He was immediately traded to Cleveland, which he said was the coldest place he had ever played, much colder than Green Bay. Something about the wind coming off the lake and swirling around the horseshoe stadium. Wanting to return to Texas he ask to be traded to the expansion Dallas Cowboys where every other teams NFLPA representatives were sent. The owners despised the new association, and him being the co-founder and first president he never had a chance. As the years went bye his accomplishments were lost to history. Thank you for your kind words and appreciation for his contribution to the game.

  5. brian wolf
    October 25, 2018

    Great article…Its obvious this guy was shafted from the get-go. Despite great numbers, his union activities definitely hurt his career.
    Its amazing how many HOF players were thrown away by Paul Brown.
    No wonder the Browns couldnt win the big game the last seven years of his career in Cleveland.

    Howton definitely belongs, along with other great older receivers like Carrol Dale, Otis Taylor, Art Powell, Ken Kavanaugh, Drew Pearson, etc. Some people also like Billy Wilson, Del Shofner, Boyd Dowler, Jimmy Orr, Ray Renfro, Buddy Dial and Pete Retzlaff.

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