Guest columnist: Trying to make sense of why Chuck Howley isn't in the Hall

Clark Judge

(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.

Comments (11)
No. 1-5
brian wolf
brian wolf

Thanks, Ken and Clark ...

A true injustice, even if Howley's stats could be discounted, the Cowboys defense was strong for years and put them in position for Çhampionships from 1966 to the end of his career and he deserves some credit for that.

Like his teammate George Andrie, Howley stepped up in the biggest games as well ...

WMcCoy
WMcCoy

Great story...I was completely shocked that Howley wasn't even a finalist for the centennial class...though there were a few surprises, that was one of the biggest to me...that's why going forward I hope that if 2 seniors are selected at least 1 is alive...Both Howley & Gradishar are long overdue.

Plawren2
Plawren2

I (along with many others) have been strong advocates for Howley for many years but I fear his prospects get dimmer each year. Perhaps senior committee members will take a look at him again soon-has been my understanding that he has been senior finalist considered by that committee repeatedly, so they have interest in his case. However, my concern is that the remaining centennial class members, and all decade team members, are going to be focus on that committee in coming years. And if Hall decides to go with only 1 senior per year it will push him further down the list.

Clark Judge
Clark Judge

Editor

Don't disagree with anything you said.

Rasputin
Rasputin

How did I miss this article? Thank you Ken and Clark for writing/publishing it. I've argued for at least a decade that Howley is the most deserving senior candidate period. I'm glad to see that over the years more and more people have expressed their agreement with that.

It should be added for the record that Howley did WIN Super Bowl VI the following year, lest anyone assume he's hurt by not having a ring. In fact he accounted for two timely turnovers in that dominant defensive performance by Doomsday against a truly great Miami team, Dallas being the only team to hold its SB opponent without a TD until the Patriots recently duplicated the feat. His big plays set the tone early and stopped a potential comeback drive late to put the game away. Though they gave that MVP to Staubach, Howley was considered again and would also have been a legitimate choice.

If you watch the SB VI broadcast Pat Summerall says in the intro that he asked the Dolphins which Cowboy they respect the most, and the most frequently given answer was "Chuck Howley".

I was extremely disappointed that the "Blue Ribbon Panel" failed to even include Howley in the top 20. I was pleased to see Howley make that appearance a few months ago with other SB MVPs though. I strongly agree with your last sentence.


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