DALLAS (AP) — Chuck Howley brought home a cowboy blue Dodge Charger after being named MVP of Super Bowl 5 — still the only losing player to earn the honor all these years later.
The son of the former Dallas Cowboys linebacker was sure his dad would give him that car when he was old enough to drive, which would have put him on a short list of coolest teenagers in Dallas.
“I guess my mom got a hold of him, and the next day in its place was parked a wood panel-sided station wagon, and I was just crushed,” Scott Howley said. “And I asked him, ‘What’d you do?’”
Younger Howley tells the story
The younger Howley enjoys telling that story with his 87-year-old father headed to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, something more significant to go with his quirky Super Bowl claim to fame.
The answer for a devastated son about the disappearing Charger was simple, of course.
NFL contracts then weren’t what they are today, and Howley was the father of two. Cars needed a practical use, even for a football star who had just intercepted two passes and forced a fumble in a 16-13 Super Bowl loss to Baltimore.
“That’s just the way it was,” Scott Howley said. “And that’s the way he was. He was very quiet and never really talked much about anything.”
A year after the loss to the Colts that prompted star defensive tackle Bob Lilly to fling his helmet in frustration, Howley had an interception and a fumble recovery when the Cowboys finally broke through for their first championship to cap the 1971 season.
Quarterback Roger Staubach was the MVP in a 24-3 victory over Miami, but Lilly and Howley anchored the “Doomsday Defense” when the Cowboys were on their way to becoming “America’s Team” in the 1970s.
The first of Howley’s two standout Super Bowls capped the last of his five consecutive All-Pro seasons, and he was a six-time Pro Bowler. He made the Hall of Fame in the senior category, for players who have been retired at least 25 years.
The choice was long overdue in the eyes of Gil Brandt, Dallas’ personnel chief for the franchise’s first 29 seasons and a Hall of Fame inductee four years ago.
“I don’t think there was ever a better pound-for-pound player in the National Football League than Chuck Howley,” Brandt said. “As a pass rusher, as a linebacker, as a defensive lineman, as a person.”
The Chicago Bears drafted Howley — still the only athlete to letter in five sports at West Virginia, where he played offensive line — in the first round in 1958. He retired after sustaining a serious knee injury his second year, returning to his home state to run a gas station.
He wasn’t out of the NFL for long.
After playing well in a Mountaineers alumni game, he decided to try again, and Brandt acquired his rights in exchange for draft picks in 1961. Howley spent 13 years with the Cowboys, and his 24 interceptions with Dallas are second among linebackers in club history behind Lee Roy Jordan.
“If he saw a slot receiver doing something, he could catch most of them,” Lilly said. “He had the ability and he obviously had a good mind for it. He was probably looking at it from a notch above most of us.”
Hall of Fame coach Tom Landry, who led the team along with Brandt and general manager Tex Schramm for the franchise’s first 29 years, was a stickler for the scheme. Howley was one of the few he let get away with freelancing.
Scott Howley said that while his dad is in great shape physically for his age, dementia has affected his ability to communicate. The former linebacker’s neurologist doesn’t believe the cognitive issues are a result of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, according to Scott.
The condition can’t be diagnosed until after a person dies, and Scott Howley said his dad doesn’t want to have his brain screened for the presence of CTE.
Howley ran an industrial laundry business while still playing for the Cowboys, a career that continued after he retired in 1973. Lilly said Howley often disappeared as soon as practice was over while teammates went to the locker room and made plans for dinner or racquetball.
“Sometimes he was still combing his hair,” Lilly said. “But he was gone shortly thereafter.”
Howley and his teammates in the locker room didn’t know what to do when they were told he had be named MVP after the loss to the Colts. He was the first of 10 defensive players who have won it.
“He thought they were kidding when they came into the locker room and told him he’d gotten the MVP,” Scott Howley said. “He thought, ‘I’m on a losing team. That never happens.’”
For 52 years and counting since then, Howley has been right.