With the Green Bay Packers recently releasing long-time great wide receiver Jordy Nelson, it got me thinking about who was comparable to No. 87 in the annals of team history. The first player who jumped into my head was Boyd Dowler.
Both players had size and speed working for them. Nelson is 6’3″, 215 pounds, while when Dowler played in the 1960s for the Packers, he went 6’5″, 225 pounds. Plus, both Nelson and Dowler had a track backgrounds.
Both Nelson and Dowler were early draft picks by the Packers. Nelson was a second-round pick in the 2008 NFL draft and was the 36th player taken overall, while Dowler was a third-round selection in the 1959 NFL draft and was the 25th player taken overall (there were only 12 teams in the NFL back then).
Nelson went to one Pro Bowl in 2014, plus was named second-team All-Pro that same season.
Dowler went to two Pro Bowls (1965 & 1967) and was named second-team All-Pro in 1967. Dowler was also named the 1959 NFL Rookie of the Year by UPI and was also on the All-Decade team of the 1960s.
In terms of the Green Bay record book, both Nelson and Dowler appear prominently in the receiving records for the Packers.
In the nine years he played with the Packers (2008 through 2017), not counting the 2015 season when he tore his ACL in the preseason, Nelson had 550 receptions (third) for 7,848 yards (fifth) and 69 touchdowns (second). Nelson also had a 14.3 yards-per-catch average.
In the 11 years he played with the Packers, who were then a run-first team, Dowler had 448 catches (sixth) for 6,918 yards (sixth) and 40 touchdowns (11th). Dowler had a 15.4 yards-per-catch average.
Both Nelson and Dowler also came up big in the postseason.
In 13 games for the Packers in the playoffs, Nelson had 54 catches (first) for 668 yards and five scores (tied for third).
In 10 games with the Packers in the postseason, Dowler had 30 catches for 440 yards and five touchdowns (tied for third).
The teams Nelson played on were 7-6 in the postseason, played in three NFC title games and won Super Bowl XLV.
The teams Dowler played on were 9-1 in the postseason, won five NFL titles, including three straight (1965, 1966 & 1967), plus won Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II.
Nelson caught a 29-yard touchdown pass in Super Bowl XLV, while Dowler caught a 62-yard touchdown pass in Super Bowl II.
In Super Bowl XLV, not only did Nelson catch a TD pass, but he caught nine passes overall for 140 yards, which is tied for the all-time lead in team history in terms of receptions in a postseason game.
Dowler caught all five of his postseason touchdowns in championship games, either in a NFL title game or in a Super Bowl.
I had a chance earlier this week to talk with Dowler, and although he doesn’t personally know Nelson, he definitely tracked his career, even before he became a member of the Packers.
“I don’t know Jordy, but I followed him very closely,” Dowler said. “I read his bio coming out of Kansas State. He went to a small Kansas high school and what I couldn’t get over was that he wasn’t offered a scholarship. He was a walk-on at Kansas State.
“I read about what he did in high school. He was all-state in football at two positions, receiver and safety I believe. He was an all-state point guard in basketball. Plus he won the 100 meters in the Kansas high school track meet. I ran track in college (Colorado), and kids from Kansas or Kansas State were always good. It was a good track state.
“He did all those things and Kansas State didn’t offer him a scholarship. He was allowed to walk-on and he did and he earned a scholarship.
“I’ve really liked him as a player. He’s 33 years-old now. I was ready to retire about then. He’s a big guy with good speed. He was probably faster than I was.”
I mentioned to Dowler that he had a better yards-per-catch average than Nelson, but he responded with a great observation.
“Jordy did a lot of work inside the 20 or the red zone,” Dowler said.
The player who reminded Dowler of Nelson was Max McGee.
“Max was a college halfback,” Dowler said. “Max was real good run after catch. Max was pretty big, about 6’3″, about the same size as Jordy. Max went about 215 pounds (same weight as Nelson). He could run too, and he was in track as well in high school, I think maybe high jumping. Max was an awfully good athlete.”
As we talked about Nelson’s release by the Packers and he subsequent signing by the Oakland Raiders for $15 million over two years, Dowler was not shocked by the money.
“I’m not surprised,” Dowler said. “They have a former Green Bay person (GM Reggie McKenzie) in management. And I’ll bet Edgar Bennett was right there when Jordy first came out to Oakland.”
Bennett had spent most of the last 25 years in Green Bay, either as a player (five years, 1992-1996 and a member of the Super Bowl XXXI team), player development (four years, 2001-2005) or a coach (as running backs coach, wide receivers coach and offensive coordinator for 13 years, 2005-2017) .
When head coach Mike McCarthy hired Joe Philbin to become his new offensive coordinator in 2018, he left open a possibility that Bennett could return to the team in a different coaching role. Bennett declined however and instead took over as the wide receivers coach of the Raiders when he was hired by new head coach Jon Gruden, who had previously coached the Raiders from 1998-2001.
Obviously, Bennett had worked closely with Nelson in Green Bay, so that certainly had to be a plus with Nelson signing with the Raiders. Bennett had also been Nelson’s position coach for four years in Green Bay.
“The Raiders have a pretty good idea who they are getting,” Dowler said. “Plus, they are coached now by Jon Gruden (runs a similar offense that McCarthy runs in Green Bay).”
Like Nelson, Dowler did not finish his career in Green Bay as a player, as he played with the Pack from 1959 through 1969. The former Colorado Buffalo explained to me why he decided to move on.
“After the ’68 season, after Vince [Lombardi] left, we just didn’t play the way we had played before in the ’60s,” Dowler said. “We just weren’t the same football team. We had some of the same players, but the nucleus of the team all got old at the same time. The defense was still pretty solid, but we had a lot of young guys on offense.
“We weren’t able to match up with the Colts in ’68 and the Vikings in ’69. Anyway, after we finished the ’68 season and went to camp in ’69, I just felt down deep that this team had gone through it’s great years and it was about over. In ’69, we were out of the race with like three games to go in the season.
“I kind of decided at that point that I was going to get into coaching.”
Dowler tried to hook up with his old coach in Washington, as Lombardi was now the head coach of the Redskins starting in 1969.
“I called Vince on the phone and told him what I was thinking of doing,” Dowler said. “He said, ‘I just hired Lew Carpenter as my receivers coach. If I had known you were available, I would have brought you here to Washington.’ But that wasn’t an option.
“So I called Don Shula, because he had coached me in the Pro Bowl one year. He told me, ‘I think you would be a good coach, but I just hired Howard Schnellenberger from the Rams, who was George Allen’s receivers coach.’ Shula told me that he would call George Allen and give me a recommendation.
“As soon as I got off the phone, I called George Allen myself.”
Allen quickly hired Dowler to be his receivers coach that year, but the entire coaching staff of the Rams was fired after the 1970 season. But Allen was soon hired to become the new head coach of the Redskins in 1971, as Lombardi has not been able to coach in 1970 due to the colon cancer which took his life on September 3, 1970.
Lombardi had led the Redskins to a 7-5 record in 1969, which was Washington’s first winning season in 14 years. After Lombardi’s illness and eventual death in 1970, the Redskins were coached by Bill Austin, but the team slumped to a 6-8 record. That led to the hiring of Allen, which also led to Dowler coming to Washington as well as the receivers coach.
But that role soon became that of player-coach due to injuries at the receiver position. Dowler wore the same No. 86 which he wore in Green Bay and had 26 receptions for 352 yards in 1971, as the team went 9-4-1 and made the playoffs as a wild card team.
In 1972, Dowler strictly was the receivers coach for the Redskins, as the team went 11-3 and went to the Super Bowl, where they lost 14-7 to the undefeated Miami Dolphins.
Dowler stayed in coaching for the next decade or so, as he was receivers coach for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1973-1975, the offensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals from 1976-1979, wide receivers coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1980-1982 and then quarterbacks coach for the Bucs in 1983 and 1984.
Dowler later worked as a scout for the Carolina Panthers when they became an expansion team in 1995. By 1996, the team had improved to the point where they ended up playing the Packers in the 1996 NFC title game at Lambeau Field, in which the Packers won 30-13.
The bottom line is not all the players that fans of the Packers grow to love over the years stay in Green Bay to end their careers. They move on to new locales.
It also happened with the legendary coaching icons of the Packers, Curly Lambeau and Lombardi.
Having a great player like Nelson move on to another team certainly is crushing to many in Packer Nation, especially since he was cut. But when the dust clears, Nelson will retire as a Packer and end up in the Packers Hall of Fame.
Just like Dowler did, when he was inducted in 1978.