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The first really Super Cowboy

For his MVP performance in Super Bowl V, Chuck Howley received a shiny, new 1971 Dodge Charger.It was gunmetal metallic. And fast.

"Back then," said Howley, "they put a lot of horsepower under the hood."

Howley loved that sports car. So, why did he keep it only a month?

"Because you'd squeal the tires every time you put a little too much gas on it," Howley recalled. "My wife, Nancy, got a kick out of it. She couldn't go out and play cards with the girls without squealing her tires.

"So, we traded it in for a Suburban ... which was a lot better for both of us."

If nothing else, Howley is your sensible ol' Cowboy.

He was a favorite of Tom Landry.

Landry once said: “I don’t know that I’ve seen anybody better at linebacker than Howley.”

Those words still resonate with Howley, although he doesn’t take himself — or compliments — too seriously — even ones from high places, like Mt. Landry.

“I think if you go back to that particular article,” said Howley, “Coach Landry felt I did some things, too, that I wasn’t supposed to do.”

I mean, who busts himself after 35 years?

Howley does.

He was voted to six Pro Bowls and became the fourth inductee into the Cowboys’ Ring of Honor. And he was a Super Bowl MVP.

He doesn’t need to embellish his résumé.

“Chuck Howley was the total package,” said Jack Pardee, a Howley contemporary with the Rams and Redskins. “I really thought he was an underrated player for the Cowboys.”

Bob Lilly, Lee Roy Jordan and Mel Renfro grabbed more headlines. But for 13 seasons in Dallas (1961-73), Howley was in the middle of almost everything, or so it seemed.

“I don’t know the reason, but I always seemed to have a good game in a big game,” Howley said. “It was just a characteristic of mine.”

He embraced the switch from strongside linebacker to weakside linebacker when it was decided that Dave Edwards (1963-75) had more upper-body strength.

And with that move came 25 career interceptions for Howley. (There are cornerbacks today who don’t finish their careers with 25 INTs.)

“But that’s what happens over on the weakside,” said Howley, modestly. “In the Landry system, you got to cover that halfback, man-to-man, on passing routes. Of course, most [opposing] coaches believed their halfback could beat a linebacker ... so that put a lot of balls in my area.”

In Super Bowl V against the Colts, Howley had an end-zone interception and a fumble recovery.

All told, the Dallas defense came up with seven take-aways that day in what was the sloppiest Super Bowl ever played (11 turnovers, both teams).

Howley, 71, now operates his own Dallas-based uniform sales company — Uniforms Inc. — that employs more than 40 people and has a clientele that includes most local law enforcement, security workers and DART bus drivers.

But he’s at a loss when asked to explain the outcome of Super Bowl V.

“We’re still trying to figure out how we lost that game,” Howley said.

It ended 16-13 on a 32-yard field goal by Colts rookie kicker Jim O’Brien, who was out of the league three years later.

Duane Thomas’ third-quarter fumble at the Baltimore 1 (the Cowboys’ lone fumble of game) proved to be a dagger.

“Fate, or the gods, or whoever decides these things,” wrote Frank Luksa in the Star-Telegram the next morning, “applied a macabre touch to every Colt point.”

It was a bitter loss for the Cowboys.

When the game ended, Lilly “yanked off his helmet and sailed it left-handed 50 yards upfield,” Luksa wrote in his game story.

“I don’t have that kind of temper,” said Howley, with a laugh. “Lilly was pretty frustrated. In fact, I’d seen him do that only one other time, and that was chasing Fran Tarkenton, who scrambled left, then right, then back to the left,

"Finally, Lilly said, 'Hell with you. Go ahead and run.' "

Super Bowl V became a line drawn in the sand for these Cowboys. The organization has now appeared in a record eight Super Bowls — five wins, three losses.

Howley, who plans a trip abroad with Nancy for their 50th wedding anniversary this summer, still gets asked about being a Super Bowl MVP on a losing team.

“I get a lot of fan mail, even today, asking me how it made me feel,” Howley said. “I tell ’em it felt great. It was a tremendous honor.”

Howley came to Dallas in 1961 from the Chicago Bears in exchange for a pair of ’63 draft choices.

He thought his career was done in the summer of ’59 — his second year in the league — when he tore up his right knee during Bears training camp in Rensselaer, Ind.

So, he opened a Sunoco station back home in Wheeling, W.Va., and pumped gas until the upstart Cowboys came calling to acquire his NFL rights.

Howley made up his mind to un-retire faster than you could go from 0 to 60 in a Dodge Charger. He turned the keys to the Sunoco station over to his brother-in-law ... and headed for Dallas.

Of all his accomplishments, Howley is most proud of having played for Tom Landry.

“I don’t think there was a finer gentleman going,” he said.

And, of course, two Super Bowls appearances — one a loss that brought an MVP; the other a win that brought a ring — rank right up there.

The Star-Telegram, in its Jan. 18, 1971 editions, played up the angle of "Cowboys Bobble Away Super Chances” but failed to even mention Howley’s MVP honors.

"We lost the game,” Howley explained it. "When you lose the game, you don’t make a big deal out of who’s MVP."

The next year, the Cowboys were back in the Super Bowl. This time, they beat Don Shula’s Dolphins 24-3 at Tulane Stadium.

Howley was up to his old tricks with an interception and a fumble recovery. But this time, Roger Staubach was named MVP — and a much more traditional choice was he.

Quarterbacks on winning teams represented five of the first six Super Bowl MVPs: Bart Starr (twice), Joe Namath, Len Dawson and Staubach.

The exception: Howley.

Yep, Landry’s Howley.

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