Continuing on with our 100 day countdown to WVU’s season opener against the Alabama Crimson Tide, we have reached day 66, the number once worn by Mountaineer legend, Chuck Howley.
Howley, a native of nearby Wheeling, WV, was a three year starter in the WVU football program from 1955 to 1957. He was a two way starter during his time in Morgantown, splitting time between center and guard on the offensive line, while holding the rope at linebacker on the defensive side of the ball.
Howley was a bit of a folk hero in West Virginia University athletics as he participated and lettered in five different varsity sports during his time in Morgantown (football, track, wrestling, gymnastics, and swimming). He stands today as the only athlete in school history to accomplish such a feat.
During his football career, Howley helped the Mountaineers win their third and fourth straight SoCon conference championships in his sophomore and junior seasons. In 1957, the Mountaineers finished with another perfect record in conference play (3-0), but lost out on a fifth straight title to VMI who went 6-0 in the Southern Conference.
Although Howley never got a chance to play in a bowl game during his time in Gold and Blue, the team finished with a 21-8-1 mark during his playing career, which in turn helped bolster the resume of then WVU head coach, Art Lewis.
Howley finished his college career as a three-time All-Conference selection, earning first team honors his junior and senior seasons. He earned conference player of the year honors from the Southern Conference his senior season, was named a third-team All-American by the Williamson Ratings System, and went on to be drafted 7th overall by the Chicago Bears in the 1958 NFL Draft.
Following his selection to the pros, Howley went on to 14 seasons in the NFL for the Bears and the Dallas Cowboys. Howley retired from the league briefly in 1959 following a severe league injury suffered during training camp. He came back in 1961, and was then traded to the Tom Landry led Cowboys where he went on to have legendary pro career.
Howley was named to the league’s All-Pro team on five occasions, played in six Pro Bowls, and helped the team reach two NFL championship games, and two Super Bowls. In his first appearance in the “big game”, Howley intercepted two Johnny Unitas passes in a 16-13 losing effort to the Baltimore Colts. Howley was named Most Valuable Player of the game, making him the first and only member of a losing side to have won the honor. He was also the first defensive player to win Super Bowl MVP honors during the modern era.
The following season, the Cowboys went back to the Super Bowl, this time facing off with Don Shula’s Miami Dolphins. Howley and the “Doomsday Defense,” came out swinging, holding Bob Griese, Larry Csonka, and the rest of the Dolphins offense to just 185 total yards, and a field goal. The Dolphins turned the ball over three times, two of which ended up in the hands of Howley.
Howley took a Brian Griese pass 41 yards down field the other way to set up Roger Staubach and company in prime real estate to put the contest out of reach. The Cowboys won 24-3 with the Dallas quarterback earning MVP honors, although the WVU alum was under heavy consideration for his efforts.
Howley is amongst the elites in NFL history, being a part of the 20/20 club with his 26.5 career sacks, and 25 career interceptions. He holds the league record for most interceptions by a linebacker in a season with 5, which was set in the 1968 season.
Following retirement, Howley was inducted into the team’s “ring of honor”, holding the distinction at that time of being the team’s longest tenured player. Although he still awaits induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Howley is currently inducted into the West Virginia Sports Hall of Fame, the WVU athletics Hall of Fame, the Ohio Valley Atheletic Conferece (OVAC) Hall of Fame, and the WVU Academy of Distinguished Alumni.
All countdown profiles of numbers 100-67 are still available here at wvupros.com.