Boyd Dowler was cut from a different cloth than most NFL receivers of his day if for no other reason than his size. But he was more than just big. He was a special athlete blessed with sure hands, a gift for running every route on the passing tree with precision and unusual speed for someone 6-foot-5 and 224 pounds.
As a senior at Colorado, Dowler qualified for the NCAA Track & Field Championships in the 120-yard high hurdles, ample evidence that even if there were plenty of shorter, faster receivers in the league during his era, he, too, possessed an extra gear to separate from cornerbacks on fly patterns and other deep routes.
Having doubled as a quarterback and receiver in college, Dowler also had a keen understanding of the passing game and used it to his advantage. Likewise, he was the son of a high school football coach and like most coaches’ sons grasped better than others the subtle nuances of the game.
“When Boyd said something to you about how he was going to do it or what he could do in a game, he was telling you exactly the way it was,” said former quarterback Zeke Bratkowski. “He wasn’t fishing, looking for statistics. He was looking to move the football.”
Consistency was Dowler’s trademark. He started on all five of Vince Lombardi’s NFL championship teams and either led the Packers in receptions or tied for first in seven of his 11 seasons. At the same time, he made his share of big plays, many of them succinctly described by Lombardi-era broadcaster Ray Scott’s signature call, “Starr. Dowler. Touchdown!”
Two of Dowler’s biggest plays were his two TDs in the first half of the Ice Bowl on receptions of 8 and 43 yards, which allowed the Packers to jump ahead of Dallas, 14-0. Two weeks later, in Super Bowl II, Dowler caught a 62-yard touchdown pass as the Packers took control, 13-0, en route to a 33-14 victory over Oakland.
Dowler also was the Packers’ punter on Lombardi’s first two championship teams in 1961 and ’62, averaging 44.1 and 43.1 yards per punt. In 1959, Dowler led the Packers in receiving as a rookie and was named NFL Rookie of the Year by United Press International, although he didn’t become a starter until the second half of the season.
“As far as I’m concerned, he’s the most underrated receiver in the league,” Lombardi said of Dowler after the 1965 NFL Championship Game.
The Packers selected Dowler in the third round of the 1959 NFL Draft after he had led Colorado in passing three straight years and in receiving as a junior and senior, playing in a multi-set offense.
He played quarterback when Colorado lined up in a wing-T and blocking back in single-wing formations. That also was during the one-platoon era of college football. Thus, Dowler played in the secondary on defense and as a senior led the Buffaloes in interceptions with five. He also punted and averaged 43.3 yards.
Legendary NFL quarterback Sammy Baugh spent five days working with Dowler in spring practice before his senior season and wrote a scouting report on him for the Packers, dated Nov. 18, 1958, where he said, “This boy has all the tools to be a pro quarterback.” While Lombardi invited Dowler to his first quarterback camp in late June 1959, he told him he was going to be a receiver.
As a rookie, Dowler took over as a starter in the seventh game when Lombardi scrapped his three-back formation in favor of a three-receiver set. A week later in his second start, Dowler caught eight passes for 147 yards against the defending NFL champion Baltimore Colts and the job was his for the duration of the Lombardi era.
At first, Dowler was listed as a right halfback, although he lined up exclusively as a split receiver. Next, he was listed as an end, but played almost exclusively on the right side through 1964 opposite left end Max McGee. In a strong right formation, Dowler was considered the flanker; in a strong left formation, he was the split end. In 1965 when the Packers acquired Carroll Dale, they started flip-flopping their outside receivers, with Dowler playing split end on the weak side and Dale playing flanker on the strong side. That same year, following Ron Kramer’s departure, Dowler also started lining up at tight end in certain passing situations. In today’s game, Dowler would be called a wide receiver, but he wasn’t listed as such in the official lineups until his last season in Green Bay.
In 11 years, Dowler never missed a game with the Packers, although he missed considerable practice time in 1961 when he was called up for Army duty during the Berlin Crisis. Dowler reported to Fort Lewis, Wash., in early November and received weekend passes in order to play the remainder of the season.
In all, Dowler played in 150 games for the Packers, finishing with 448 receptions for 6,918 yards, a 15.4 average per catch. He also averaged 42.9 yards as a punter.
Dowler retired from the Packers and joined the Los Angeles Rams as an assistant coach under George Allen on March 4, 1970. After sitting out the 1970 season, Dowler went to Washington with Allen and served as a player-coach there in 1971. In exchange, the Packers received a fifth-round draft choice in a draft-day deal on Jan. 28, 1971.
Dowler spent 15 years as an assistant coach in the NFL with five different teams and then scouted for more than 10 years with Carolina and Atlanta.
Born Oct. 18, 1937, in Rock Springs, Wyo. Given name Boyd Hamilton Dowler.
- End: 1959-69
- Height: 6-5; Weight: 224
- College: Colorado, 1956-58
- NFL All-Decade Team: 1960s
- Pro Bowl Selection (game played since 1950): 1965, ’67
- Packers 50th Anniversary Team: 1969
- Packers All-Modern Era Team: 1976