In the 12 seasons that Boyd Dowler played in the NFL, 11 of those seasons with the Green Bay Packers, No. 86 was 10th in all-time receptions in the NFL and 12th in receiving yardage when he retired.
The game was different in the era that Dowler played in, as the running game was featured much more often, plus the rules in those days allowed defensive backs to pretty much mug a receiver running down the field and not see a flag thrown.
The Packers utilized the running game more than most in the NFL, especially in the early years when Vince Lombardi became head coach. Both Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor put up big numbers between 1959 through 1962. Hornung was the NFL MVP in 1961, while Taylor was the NFL MVP in 1962, when the Packers won back-to-back NFL titles.
Still, Dowler put up some nice numbers himself, which was recognized, as he was named to the NFL 1960’s All-Decade team, as well as the NFL 50th anniversary team (second team).
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), plus was named to two Pro Bowl teams in his career.
That is why I believe Dowler deserves a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
There are very few quarterbacks in the Pro Football Hall of Fame who do not have at least one receiver or tight end from their team in Canton with them.
One of those quarterbacks is Bart Starr.
Starr passed away in May and is going to be honored in Green Bay this weekend, which also just happens to be alumni weekend for the Packers. A number of former teammates will be on hand, as well as players who were coached by Starr during his tenure in Titletown.
One of those teammates is Dowler. Another is a guy who used to hang with Dowler and Fuzzy Thurston after practice and have a few beers. They called themselves the Three Muskepissers. I’m talking about Jerry Kramer, who will be one of the speakers to honor No. 15 this weekend.
I had a chance to talk with Dowler recently and we talked about what it was like playing with Starr.
“Let me give you an example about how smart Bart was and how he trusted guys like me,” Dowler said. “In the ‘Ice Bowl’, when I scored my first touchdown, it was not a play called in the huddle. It was an audible at the line of scrimmage.
“We had never, ever talked about running that play or pattern from that formation with me in tight. We never practiced it either. We never did anything close to what we did on that play. It was the first time we ever did that.
“Bart called the ’86 audible’, which had nothing to do with my number. The play was designed for the split end to run a post in a blitz situation. But normally it was called when the split end was out wide, not in tight like I was. Bart called the play because Mel Renfro was near the line of scrimmage. Now Renfro didn’t blitz, but it didn’t matter because he was already committed to the line of scrimmage.
“So when Bart called that audible, I knew I was supposed to run a quick post, even though I was inside. I had the linebacker on my outside shoulder and the cornerback on my outside shoulder, which is not sound coverage. So all I had to do release inside and look for the ball. It turned out be an easy pitch and catch and we were up 7-0.
“Bart and I laughed about that play after the game. I knew that particular audible was used with the split end on the left side of the formation to run a post. But I was in tight, like a tight end would be. I knew I couldn’t call a timeout. I couldn’t shout out to Bart and say, ‘Do you want me out wide?’
“The bottom line is Bart had enough confidence in me to figure out what I was supposed to do in that situation. The thing that made it so great, is that Bart called that audible, even knowing that we had never run it from that formation in nine years. Even in practice. And Bart called it in a NFL championship game!
“That is a capsule comment about Bart Starr.”
No. 86 continued.
“Bart did things like that,” Dowler said. “And you know the funny thing about plays like that he called? They always worked! Just like the sneak in the ‘Ice Bowl.’
I wrote about how well thought out that sneak was in this piece. Starr carried the ball in his left arm as he crossed the goal line and not in his right, as outside linebacker Chuck Howley of the Cowboys tried to strip the ball from his empty right arm.
“When you start talking about doing a tribute to Bart Starr, just look at he ‘Ice Bowl’ game,” Dowler said. “I’m talking about making big plays count or making big plays work. You can look at both my touchdowns in that game, you can look at the give play to Chuck Mercein and you can look at the sneak.
“You can take four, five or six plays alone from that game and hang an MVP award around Bart’s neck. Not just because of the plays, because they were good plays. But because when they were called. It was the brain of Bart Starr that made those plays work.”
It wasn’t a coincidence that Dowler was in tight on his first touchdown pass against the Cowboys in the 1967 NFL title game. No. 86 started playing tight end on passing situations beginning in 1965 and continued to do that through his last year with the Packers in 1969.
That meant the Packers could basically use three wide receivers on third down.
“After Ron Kramer left and Marv Fleming was in his second year I believe, Coach Lombardi started using me at tight end on third down or in passing situations,” Dowler said. “When we were going to play the Bears or the Colts, I would be Mike Ditka or John Mackey on the scout team for our defense.
“So I got quite a bit of work at tight end. I was big enough and I could get off the line. I was able to run the tight end patterns pretty well. Coach noticed that and said to me, ‘You look pretty good in there.’
“Anyway after Ron left, even though Marvin was a fine player and a fine blocker at tight end, he didn’t have wide receiver quickness and speed to get down the field. He basically wasn’t much of a threat in the passing game as I would be. It came down to Max McGee getting in the lineup when I would play tight end instead of Marvin. Max had been a backup after Carroll Dale arrived in 1965.
“Vince wanted to get Max in the games and thought that would be a good way to do it. I slid in to tight end and Max took my spot at split end with Carroll on the other side. The first game we did it in was the ‘Fog Bowl’ in Baltimore in late 1965 and I caught a pass for a first down from the tight end position, plus caught a touchdown pass as a tight end. We scored six touchdowns in that game (a 42-27 win) and Paul had five of the TDs while I had the other one.
“Vince was very proud about that, as it was his idea to move me to tight end in passing situations. It gave us a little more downfield speed. I think it helped us. I was all for it. It kept me mentally sharp. I thought it was kind of fun.
“In Super Bowl II, one of my two catches that day came while I was playing tight end. My touchdown came when I was at split end, but the other catch came while I was at tight end.
“Bottom line, me playing tight end gave us a lot more flexibility. I really enjoyed playing the position too.”