MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The West Virginia University Department of Intercollegiate Athletics will retire football’s No. 66, in honor of Pro Football Hall of Famer Chuck Howley, during the Brigham Young game on Nov. 4.
Competing in track, swimming, men’s gymnastics, wrestling and football, Howley was the first, and likely the last, Mountaineer student-athlete to win letters in five different sports. He was a sprinter and weight man on the track team, a trampolinist in gymnastics, won the Southern Conference 1-meter diving championship in swimming and competed on Steve Harrick’s Mountaineer wrestling team as a heavyweight.
His greatest accomplishments, however, were on the gridiron where he excelled as a guard and center on offense and linebacker and middle guard on defense for coach Art “Pappy” Lewis. During Howley’s three years playing with the varsity, WVU compiled a 21-8-1 mark including a 21-7 victory over Penn State in 1955 – the last time West Virginia defeated the Nittany Lions until 1984.
As a sophomore in 1955, Howley was the team’s starting left guard on offense and middle guard on defense. He switched to center and linebacker in 1956 before moving back to guard for his senior season in 1957. He also kicked off and was occasionally used as a punter as well.
Howley received All-America recognition as a senior, captained the All-Southern Conference team and was awarded the Jacobs Blocking Trophy, presented to the top blocker in each college football conference.
He out-polled West Virginia All-American basketball player Hot Rod Hundley and nationally known amateur golf champion Bill Campbell to be named the state’s Amateur Athlete of the Year for 1957.
Howley played in three college all-star games — the East-West Shrine Game, the College Football All-Star Game and the Senior Bowl, where he caught the eye of the Chicago Bears. The Bears selected Howley in the first round of the 1958 draft (No. 7 overall), making him just the third Mountaineer football player at the time to be selected in the first round by an NFL organization.
He played one season for the Bears before a serious knee injury during training camp in 1959 caused him to miss most of the next two years. He spent that time on the NFL’s inactive list while recuperating from the injury.
In 1961, however, the newly formed Dallas Cowboys and their young coach, Tom Landry, decided to take a chance on Howley and it paid off in a big way. Howley became the Cowboys’ regular outside linebacker for the next 12 years as an important piece to the team’s famous “Doomsday Defense”.
He was named All-Pro six times while teaming with Lee Roy Jordan and Bob Lilly to give the Cowboys one of the most feared defenses in the NFL. Howley played in the 1967 NFL championship game against the Green Bay Packers, known as the “Ice Bowl” and considered one of the most memorable games in NFL history.
A tackling machine who also excelled in pass coverage, Howley has 25 inceptions. He also recovered 18 fumbles in his pro career for 191 yards, which ranked seventh on the NFL’s all-time list, and made 26 quarterback sacks.
His greatest professional moment, however, came in Super Bowl V in 1971 playing against the Baltimore Colts. Although Dallas lost the game 16-13, Howley still won game MVP honors. It was the first time and only time in Super Bowl history a player on a losing team won MVP honors.
In 1972, the Cowboys again reached the Super Bowl, this time defeating the Miami Dolphins. Howley had another outstanding game with a 41-yard interception return, but quarterback Roger Staubach won the MVP award that year.
After retiring in 1973, Howley, for years, owned and operated a lucrative uniform rental business in Dallas and was involved in a foundation dedicated to breeding quarter horses at his Happy Hollow ranch in Wills Point, Texas.
He is a member of WVU’s inaugural 1991 WVU Sports Hall of Fame class, joining the likes of Sam Huff, Ira Rodgers and Jerry West in that famous first class. He is also an inaugural member of the Mountaineer Legends Society, which began in 2016, and was also enshrined in the famous Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor in 1977.
On August 5, 2023, Howley reached the pinnacle of his illustrious career when he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
When describing Howley, Landry once remarked, “I don’t know that I’ve seen anybody better at linebacker than Chuck. He could handle any assignment.”
And when teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Bob Lilly gave the induction speech for Howley at the Pro Football Hall of Fame ceremony in August, he remarked, “There wouldn’t have been a Doomsday Defense without Chuck.”
“It’s an honor that’s well-deserved. He was a fantastic linebacker,” added Staubach on Howley’s Hall of Fame selection. “He did everything. He could run, hit, drop into coverage, rush the passer. It’s such a thrill because it brings back so many memories.”
Howley now becomes the sixth WVU football player in history to have his number retired. His No. 66 joins Major Harris (9), Ira “Rat” Rodgers (21), Sam Huff (75), Bruce Bosley (77) and Darryl Talley (90) as retired football numbers. Redshirt junior offensive lineman Ja’Quay Hubbard currently wears No. 66 for the Mountaineers, and he will finish his career in that number before it goes into permanent retirement.
The WVU Athletics Council approved the retirement of Howley’s’ number in August as he now meets the full qualifications that include an undergraduate degree from WVU (attained in 1970 while still playing for the Cowboys), induction into the WVU Sports Hall of Fame, induction into the Mountaineer Legends Society and induction into a national collegiate or professional hall of fame.
An on-field presentation with Howley’s son, Scott, and his family is planned during the BYU game, and his No. 66 will permanently be displayed on the façade of Milan Puskar Stadium’s Diversified Energy Terrace with the other five retired numbers.