State Your Case: Chuck Howley


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(Chuck Howley photos courtesy of the Dallas Cowboys)

By Rick Gosselin

Talk of Fame Network

Tom Landry was one of the great defensive minds in NFL history.

Vince Lombardi ran the offense and Landry the defense of the 1950s New York Giants – a team that went to three NFL title games and won a championship. Then Landry built one of the iconic defenses in NFL history – the Doomsday — in Dallas in the 1970s.

Landry played, coached and knew defense from a 40-year NFL career. So he was a voice of authority on that side of the ball.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anybody better at linebacker than Chuck Howley,” Landry said.

His word is good enough for me. But, obviously, not for the Hall-of-Fame selection committee. Howley has been eligible for the Hall of Fame for 38 years now but has never once been discussed as a finalist. His candidacy now resides in the senior pool – and it’s a candidacy that demands greater scrutiny from the committee.

Howley was a heralded player coming out of college at West Virginia, becoming the seventh overall pick of the 1958 draft by the Chicago Bears. He played on the College All-Star team that defeated the NFL-champion Detroit Lions, then intercepted a pass on an 8-4 Chicago team as a rookie.

But Howley tore up his knee in September of the following season. So severe was the injury that it was considered a career-ender, so Howley retired and sat out the 1960 season.

But the expansion Cowboys, winless in their first season in 1960, were desperate for talented players, and Landry, in particular, needed talented defenders. So Dallas traded a second-round draft pick to Chicago for Howley in 1961. He became a walk-in starter and stayed there for the next 12 seasons.

Howley began his career as the strongside backer and went to four Pro Bowls there for the Cowboys in the 1960s. He moved over to the weakside in 1969 and wound up going to two more Pro Bowls over there. He was a playmaker wherever Landry lined him up.

Howley intercepted six passes as a strongside backer in 1968 and five as a weakside backer in 1971. He chipped in a career-best 5-½ sacks in the Dallas flex defense in 1969 and three fumble recoveries in 1970. He returned a fumble 97 yards for a touchdown against Atlanta in 1966 and interceptions of 28 yards against Cleveland in 1967 and 35 yards against Detroit in 1968 for a couple more scores.

But Howley was at his best in the biggest games. In the first Super Bowl appearance by the Cowboys in 1971, he made four tackles and intercepted two passes, one off Johnny Unitas and the other off Earl Morrall, for game MVP honors — in a losing cause. The Colts prevailed, 16-13, on a late field goal.

There have now been 50 Super Bowls, and Howley remains the only player from a losing team selected as the MVP.

The Cowboys returned to the Super Bowl the following year, and this time Howley contributed two more takeaways — an interception of Hall-of-Famer Bob Griese and a fumble recovery of Hall-of-Famer Larry Csonka — in a 24-3 victory over the Miami Dolphins. His two takeaways gave the Dallas offense short fields and paved the way for 10 points.

Howley also returned a fumble 44 yards for a touchdown against Cleveland in the 1968 NFC title game and intercepted a pass against Minnesota in the NFC semifinals in 1971.

Athletic and fast, Howley could blitz and cover, which gave him the ability to make plays on both sides of the line of scrimmage. He collected 43 career takeaways, intercepting 25 passes and recovering 18 fumbles, and had 26-½ sacks. Among NFL outside linebackers, only Hall-of-Famer Jack Ham has been credited with more career takeaways (52).

“He was one of the first linebackers to play bigger than his size,” said Rams Hall-of-Famer Jack Youngblood. “He played above his natural ability.”

Landry saw something special in Howley. It’s puzzling how the Hall-of-Fame selection committee has missed it.

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13 Comments

  1. Rasputin
    September 6, 2016
    Reply

    “He collected 43 career takeaways….Among NFL outside linebackers, only Hall-of-Famer Jack Ham has been credited with more career takeaways (52).”
    That’s a good factoid. Even I didn’t realize that until I saw your quote on NFL.com.
    5 first team AP NFL All Pro selections also puts him in elite company. Every senior era player with more than 5 is in the HoF.
    Every senior era player with 5 AP first team All NFL selections in the Super Bowl era is in the HoF except for Chuck Howley.
    Howley’s 6 Pro Bowls and 5 first team All Pro selections were spread out across 7 different accolade seasons. His career peak straddled the 60s and 70s, perhaps contributing to him being shortchanged on the All Decade list with its arbitrary demarcations, but football historian John Turney and the people at Pro Football Journal selected Mid Decade teams. They named Howley starting OLB on the 1965-1975 team alongside LBs Dick Butkus and Bobby Bell (http://nflfootballjournal.blogspot.com/2016/05/1965-1975-all-mid-decade-teams.html). Howley was also the first defensive player to be Super Bowl MVP, such was his impact. He was an early Ring of Honor inductee and is considered the greatest LB in Cowboys history.

    • Rick Gosselin
      September 6, 2016
      Reply

      His omission is one of the many mysteries the current senior committee inherited. Not only is he not in, he’s never been discussed as a finalist.

      • Rasputin
        September 6, 2016
        Reply

        Why is it a mystery? You’re on the committee. Are there people who argue against him, or does his name just not come up?

  2. bachslunch
    September 6, 2016
    Reply

    Excellent case to state. For me, Howley is the most deserving LB not in, with Baughan, Brazile, and Gradishar right behind. No idea how a player with a 5/6/none profile fell through the cracks, but somehow he did.

    • Rick Gosselin
      September 6, 2016
      Reply

      There are 109 all-decade players currently eligible for the Hall of Fame not enshrined. There’s another wave of 20-30 players like Howley who were not all-decade but belong in.

      • Rasputin
        September 6, 2016
        Reply

        And some of those non All Decade players merit priority over the All Decade players, either because they’re older but still alive and/or because they’re better, especially given the arbitrary nature of All Decade teams running between years ending in zero. A lot of that’s just a timing thing.

  3. ChuckCowboy
    September 6, 2016
    Reply

    As clear a case as there is about a Cowboys non-HOF election bias. Others: Harvey Martin and Cliff Harris!

  4. September 6, 2016
    Reply

    That’s Randy White in the picture, not Howley
    H/T to Jorge Gonzalez

  5. John Porter
    September 6, 2016
    Reply

    Their is no doubt that chuck Howley should be in the hall of fame. Ask Gil Brandt. The only linebacker I would take over Howley is Lawrance Taylor.Watch the tape. Chris Hanburger of the redskins getting in before him is a joke.

  6. Sam Goldenberg
    September 6, 2016
    Reply

    Rick:

    How Jerry Kramer and Chuck Howley are not in the Hall of Fame is a travesty not a mystery. I know you have been supportive of both players and much appreciated. The problem that I have with the Senior Selection Committee is that there is no transparency. I know that Kramer received many letters of support and also received endorsements from at least 30 Hall of Famers. I am sure Howley received similar support. Fans are encouraged to write letters, but are these even considered? Were the Hall of Famers recommendations considered? Did Kenny Easley receive this type of support from fans and Hall of Famers? Who were the committee members that voted this year? How do you decide which players are considered? Nothing against Kenny Easley, he was a fine player, but how does he jump the line in front of deserving players that have waited for years? How is it that the man voted the greatest guard in the NFL’s first 50 years (Kramer) and one of the best LB’s of his time (Howley) are not in the Hall of Fame? I have to tell you that the committee looks foolish. Do they understand the contributions of these players? Yourself, Clark and Ron agree Kramer is the most deserving senior candidate along with thousands of fans, hall of famers and NFL commentators. How does the committee not get this? The process for selection is shrouded in too much mystery, there has to be transparency. Please enlighten me.

  7. Dave
    September 6, 2016
    Reply

    Thank you for the article that many football fans have been waiting for since the first “State Your Case ” was posted.

  8. Jeff
    September 8, 2016
    Reply

    Yeah, I really don’t get it. Chuck Howley oughta be in the Hall of Fame – he’s on my short list of travesties. I do think the Seniors committee has selected some linebackers who were better (like Chris Hanburger) and I might take Maxie Baughan ahead of him…but no doubt the guy belongs. Given that he’s been retired for about 45 years, it’s really puzzling that he’s never even been a finalist. With his honors, a super bowl MVP and a key role on a great (and popular) team, I just find it bizarre that he wasn’t elected a long time ago. I would’ve selected him ahead of several of his HOF teammates. And I have to agree with Sam above: I like Kenny Easley and think he deserves to be elected, but why not have him wait a few more years? I hope they’ll get around to guys like Howley, Kramer and Johnny Robinson while they’re still alive.

  9. bachslunch
    October 11, 2016
    Reply

    Jeff, it turns out Kenny Easley recently underwent triple bypass surgery, and he has a long history of kidney trouble. He may be younger than some Senior options, but he’s not in the best of health, sorry to report. Of course, that doesn’t change the fact that there are so many deserving Seniors of advanced age and some in poor health who really need to be addressed ASAP.

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