When Jerry Kramer of the Green Bay Packers was finally enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame last month, that meant that there are now just two players who were on the NFL 50th anniversary team who do not have a bust in Canton.
Those players just happened to be teammates of Kramer’s on the Packers as well. Those players are wide receiver Boyd Dowler and tight end Ron Kramer.
I’ll be writing a future story about Kramer, the multi-talented athlete who played at Michigan, but this piece is about No. 86, Dowler.
Dowler was on the second team of the 50th anniversary team (named in 1969) and he was joined on that squad by the likes of Sammy Baugh, Bronco Nagurski, Harold “Red” Grange, Forrest Gregg, Raymond Berry, Mike Ditka, Danny Fortman, Mel Hein, Len Ford, Ernie Stautner, Joe Schmidt, Jack Butler, Jack Christiansen and Ernie Nevers.
All but Dowler are now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
When Dowler retired from the NFL after the 1970 season, he was 10th in all-time receptions in the NFL and 12th in receiving yardage.
Those landmark statistical achievements for Dowler have obviously changed over the years. Especially since the rule changes after the 1977 season which has made the NFL a pass-happy league.
Rule changes like allowing defenders to make contact with receivers only to a point of five yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Previously, contact was allowed anywhere on the field, unless the ball was thrown by the quarterback.
Nobody was more physical down the field with receivers than Dick “Night Train” Lane. Dowler matched up against him on several occasions while Lane was with the Detroit Lions.
The NFL also allowed offensive linemen to use extended arms and open hands after the ’77 season.
I’m sure Jerry Kramer would have appreciated having rules like that while he was blocking the likes of Merlin Olsen and Alex Karras in the 1960s.
Besides being named to the 50th anniversary team of the NFL, Dowler was named to the NFL 1960s All-Decade team.
Being named to a NFL All-Decade team usually gets a player strong consideration for getting a place in Canton.
In his 11-year career with the Packers, Dowler had 448 receptions for 6,918 yards and 40 touchdowns. In the postseason, Dowler also had 30 receptions for 440 yards and five scores.
Also, in his rookie year in 1959, Dowler was named Rookie of the Year by UPI (United Press International).
The former Colorado star was also named to two Pro Bowls in his career.
So with all the honors that Dowler received, especially being named to the NFL’s 50th anniversary team, as well as being named All-Decade in the 1960s, Rick Gosselin, a Pro Football Hall of Fame voter and a member of the Seniors selection Committee, wonders why Dowler has not been considered for a place in Canton.
Gosselin feels the same way about Ron Kramer.
This is what Gosselin said in a Talk of Fame Sports Network podcast from back in February after Jerry Kramer was named to the Class of 2018 for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“Can you enshrine too many players from one franchise in the Hall of Fame? That’s the question that came up last week when those of us on the Hall of Fame selection committee enshrined the 12th member of the 1960’s Packers. That’s guard Jerry Kramer.
“That’s more than half of the starting lineup, plus the head coach from one team. A team that won five championships in a span of seven years. And went to six title games in a span of eight seasons. No team of any era, has more players in Canton than those 1960’s Packers.
“They have indeed been rewarded for their success. Should the committee now draw the line there with the Lombardi Packers? Well, ponder this. In 1969, this same Hall of Fame selection committee was commissioned to pick the greatest players in the game’s first 50 years.
“There were 45 players selected to that team. And 43 are now enshrined in Canton. Only two are not. They both played for the ’60’s Packers, split end Boyd Dowler and tight end Ron Kramer. Dowler was selected to the 1960’s All-Decade team as well and Kramer would have been had the committee selected more than one tight end.
“Yet neither of those players has ever been discussed as a finalist for the Hall of Fame. If you were chosen as one of the best players in the game’s first half-century, don’t you deserve a spin through the room as a finalist to determine if you are indeed Hall of Fame worthy.
“It took [Jerry] Kramer 45 years to get in. It took teammate Dave Robinson 34 years and Henry Jordan 21. The Hall of Fame is a process. Maybe Dowler and Ron Kramer deserve to be Hall of Famers. Maybe they don’t. But they certainly deserve a few minutes in that room to start the process and have their cases heard, regardless how many teammates have been enshrined.”
I most definitely agree with Gosselin.
So does No. 64, Jerry Kramer.
“Boyd was so precise and so mature his rookie year,” Kramer said. “He started taking care of business right out of the gate. He rarely dropped a pass. He would catch it over the middle, catch it on the sidelines and catch it wherever the hell you threw it. He was consistent throughout his career.”
Plus, Dowler was very confident and also very smart from Kramer’s perspective.
“I think Boyd’s confidence was one of the big reasons why he was accepted so quickly and completely,” Kramer said. “There were no excuses from Boyd. If he screwed something up, he would be the guy to tell you. But he very seldom screwed things up and made very few mistakes.”
Dowler was one of only three rookies on the Packers to ever start for Vince Lombardi. The others were center Ken Bowman in 1964 and center Bob Hyland in 1967.
Dowler’s career in the NFL matches up very well with Lynn Swann of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who played on a team which won four Super Bowls in six years.
Dowler can relate to that, as he played on a Green Bay team which won five NFL titles in seven years, including the first two Super Bowls. Plus, Dowler was part of the only team in NFL history, at least in the playoff era, to win three straight NFL championships.
Dowler brought that comparison up to me during one of our conversations.
“Probably the most significant statistic that I can come up with in my career was the fact that I caught five touchdown passes in championship games,” Dowler said. “The guy who sticks out to me who is sort of similar as far as statistics are concerned is Lynn Swann. He probably got inducted because of his play in playoff or championship games.”
In terms of regular season numbers in his career, Dowler had 448 catches for 6,918 yards and 40 touchdowns, while Swann had 336 catches for 5,462 and 51 touchdowns.
In the postseason, Dowler had 30 receptions for 440 yards and five scores in 10 games. One of those games was Super Bowl I, when No. 86 missed almost the entire game due to a shoulder injury.
After that injury, Dowler was replaced by Max McGee, who went on to have the best game of his career, as he had seven receptions for 138 yards and two touchdowns, as quarterback Bart Starr looked for No. 85 early and often in the first Super Bowl.
Swann had 48 catches for 907 yards and nine touchdowns in 16 postseason games.
So if you compare the two, Dowler and Swann each caught three passes per game in the postseason. Plus, each caught a touchdown pass in every other playoff game they played in.
The only real difference between the two is that Swann is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, while Dowler is not.
The best postseason Dowler had was after the 1967 season.
“The highlight for me was the two touchdown catches in the “Ice Bowl” and I got another score in the Super Bowl, the second Super Bowl,” Dowler said.
“I always seemed to come up with something against Dallas. I always seemed to come up with big plays against the Cowboys. I can’t really explain why. We just kind of operated that way.
“We never went into a game thinking that I was going to get the ball a lot this week. We just never did that. We just went along and Bart ran plays on how the game developed. We didn’t game-plan those things or that I was going to catch two scores in the “Ice Bowl” game.”
The second touchdown pass that Dowler caught in the “Ice Bowl”, was one of the favorite calls for Starr throughout his years in Green Bay. It was third and short and on a play-action fake, Starr hit Dowler on 43-yard post pattern.
Dowler talked about the way Starr liked to use play-action on third and short and also about that particular play.
“It almost always worked,” Dowler said, talking about the play-action calls by Starr. “On the long touchdown pass from Bart in the “Ice Bowl”, I kind of went, ‘oh oh’, because he was throwing into the wind. But I was pretty sure I could get to it and the wind held it up just a little.
“On that play, I was a little bit off the line like I was going to block and my eyes met Mel Renfro about the time we got even. He was still facing the line of scrimmage and I was pretty sure I could get by him, even though he was pretty fast, as he was a world-class sprinter. Renfro was an awful good football player and had a lot of speed, but it was the play-call that got me open.”
Bottom line, in the 1967 postseason, Dowler caught nine passes for 183 yards (20.3 yards-per-catch average) and three touchdowns.
When I mentioned to Gosselin that I would be writing a series of articles about former Green Bay players who deserve consideration in terms of having a bust in Canton, he made sure that I mentioned Dowler, Ron Kramer and Gale Gillingham.
None of those players have received their due in terms of being considered for a place among the best of the best in Canton.
That doesn’t bother Dowler though.
“I don’t really have a problem with that,” Dowler said. “I’m real happy with the fact that we won five world championships. I never thought throughout my career or since, that I’ve never been nominated. It really doesn’t surprise me. And it doesn’t upset me.
“That’s just the way it is and that’s the way our team was put together. I was happy that they kept putting out there in the huddle for 11 years.”
But something might soon change for players like Dowler. Gosselin has put out his “amnesty proposal” which will allow several seniors to get inducted in the 100th anniversary of the NFL, as opposed to the one or two per year as it stands now. That proposal is strongly being considered by David Baker, the President/Executive Director of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
When I talked to Gosselin in Canton when Kramer was being enshrined on August 4, he told me that he believes he can get 10 seniors in on the centennial anniversary of the NFL.
Perhaps one of those players might be Dowler.
“If a guy [Rick Gosselin] is going to take the ball and run with it for a bunch of old guys for the 100th year of the NFL, that’s fine by me,” Dowler said. “If he wants to put me in that mix, I’m all for it. I’m not going to discourage him from doing that. I think that’s a great idea.”