By Mickey Furfari
For The Register-Herald
Old-timers among West Virginia sports fans will remember Charles Louis “Chuck” Howley.
He’s the only five-sport letterman in the school’s history. That’s right, he competed in football, gymnastics, diving, wrestling and track.
The Wheeling native then went on to excel as a linebacker in the National Football League. He was a first-round selection of the Chicago Bears in the 1958 NFL draft.
No one will ever participate in five sports at the college level because of this era’s overlapping seasons.
Oh, there could be competition for runners in track and field — indoor and outdoor — along with cross country. But Howley had to squeeze in his five sports in bunch fashion.
I can remember when numerous athletes lettered regularly in football, basketball and track and field. That was because one sport ended before another began.
There are no breaks between seasons now, though. So you rarely see much more than a two-sport letterman, if that.
But Chuck Howley was a player — and a great athlete — for all seasons. In football, he was a guard and center in 1955-56-57.
He made the All-Southern Conference first team all three varsity seasons and was named Southern Conference Player of the Year in 1957.
Howley was a major contributor to a three-year record of 21-8-1 for coach Art “Pappy” Lewis. That mark ended a 21-7 victory over Penn State — the last in the series until 1984.
He played in three college all-star games — the East-West, College Football All-Star and Senior Bowl games. He also won a Southern Conference title in diving.
He is a charter member of the WVU Sports Hall of Fame.
It was in the NFL that Howley became a legend. He played just two years with the Bears, before suffering what appeared to be a career-ending knee injury. But a couple years later, he returned to the NFL as a player.
The Bears traded him to the Dallas Cowboys, and for some 13 years, he achieved superstar fame as a highly successful linebacker.
Tom Landry, the Cowboys’ head coach, thought Howley’s chief physical attribute was speed; that he probably could have played running back. But his linebacking was too valuable for him to play another position.
Howley played 165 games for the team’s 13 seasons. He came up with numerous interceptions and fumble recoveries. He helped the Cowboys win two NFL championships and play in two Super Bowls.
Howley was voted MVP in one Super Bowl, despite the team’s 16-13 loss to the Baltimore Colts. He is the only player from a losing team to win the award.
He was noted as a big-play producer who performed best in the toughest games. He was named All-Pro six times and also earned other honors during his incredible college and pro careers.
Now 75, Howley has his number in the Cowboys’ Ring of Honor. He makes his home on a ranch in the Dallas area.