Guest columnist: Trying to make sense of why Chuck Howley isn't in the Hall
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Each weekend this offseason a guest columnist weighs with thoughts on the NFL -- past, present or future. Today, historian Ken Crippen, president and former executive director of the Pro Football Researchers Association, makes a Hall-of-Fame case for former Dallas linebacker Chuck Howley who hasn't once been a finalist for Canton.)
Chuck Howley is one of the best, if not the best, senior linebacker not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Looking at honors, he was a six-time Pro Bowler and five-time first-team Associated Press All-Pro. He was also the fourth player to be inducted into the Dallas Cowboys' Ring of Honor (1977).
Moreover, he is still the only player to win a Super Bowl MVP while on the losing team. In that game (Super Bowl V), Howley intercepted two passes and forced a fumble in a 16-13 loss to the Baltimore Colts.
“It was one of those kind of games when I was in the right place at the right time, all the time," Howley told Bob Barnett and Bob Carroll in "Chuck Howley" from The Coffin Corner (Vol. 6, Nos 9 and 10). "Even when I made mistakes and was out of position, I was in the right place.”
Those are just his honors. However, a Hall-of-Fame case is more than just honors.
Howley started his career with the Chicago Bears in 1958, but a knee injury forced an early retirement a year later. According to Howley, “I had satisfied my curiosity that I could play with the pros during the two seasons with the Bears. That and the knee injury encouraged me to retire.”
He returned to West Virginia to run a service station and did not plan to return to football, sitting out the 1960 season. But he missed playing football and during an alumni game at West Virginia realized his knee was strong enough to give the game a second chance.
So, after he was traded to the Dallas Cowboys for second-and-ninth-round draft picks, he returned to the pro football field in 1961 and was a mainstay on the Cowboys' defense for over a decade.
"I went back because I decided there were better things to do than run a gas station," he said. "Also, I thought it would be a unique opportunity to play for Dallas, a team that was just getting started.”
Dallas had gone 0-11-1 in 1960, its inaugural season.
Over his thirteen seasons (he only played one game his last year) with the Cowboys, Howley produced 25 interceptions and 18 fumble recoveries. Sacks were not official then, but it is said he had 26.5 sacks in his career. I can neither confirm nor deny the validity of that statistic.
Similar to honors, Hall-of-Fame cases are more than just statistics.
While writing this article, I sat down to rewatch game film on Howley. He was an effective tackler, but the tackles were not always pretty. He got the job done. On run defense, he showed good speed, especially getting into the backfield to disrupt the play. On pass defense, he had the speed to keep up with the end or back, and he showed very good footwork. On special teams, he was quick off the ball and was able to get good penetration into the backfield to pressure the kicker or punter when rushing from the outside.
In general, he showed good speed and quickness. He could shed blocks but would get caught up with bigger linemen. He was able to overpower backs and disrupt their blocks. He would occasionally over pursue, but was able to quickly recover to get into the play. Overall, a Hall-of-Fame grade based on what I saw on film.
While this does not speak to his accomplishments on the field, I thought I would add a personal message from Howley’s grandniece Alison Guzman: “I remember visiting my great uncle Bunny (his nickname) in 2013 at his home in Dallas. I saw his MVP trophy in person and wondered then as I do now how he still isn’t in the Hall of Fame. His achievements and love of football are wildly impressive and run through the blood of our entire family. We all hope he finally gets the honor of being inducted into the Hall of Fame.”
According to Hall-of-Fame selector Rick Gosselin, “[Tom] Landry saw something special in Howley. It’s puzzling how the Hall-of-Fame selection committee has missed it.” (See Rick’s “State Your Case” on Chuck Howley: https://www.si.com/nfl/talkoffame/nfl/state-your-case-chuck-howley-oaFLec13v0uKiOg0YNc97Q)
To date, he has never been a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Looking at the totality of his career, Chuck Howley deserves to have his case heard.
Unfortunately, Chuck’s health is declining. I spoke with him briefly back in 2014, but he politely declined a formal interview due to his health. Let’s hope that he gets inducted while he can still appreciate the honor.
You can follow Ken Crippen on Twitter @KenCrippen.