His Final Plays: Chuck Howley

This is a series that focuses on the last games and/or (when possible) the last plays of various members of the Cowboys. The final plays for a few of these players, such as Roger Staubach, Troy Aikman, and Michael Irvin, are well known. Others may be more difficult to research, but I will do my best.

The Dallas Cowboys hosted the Washington Redskins on Saturday, December 9, 1972. Despite pulling out a 34-24 win over the Redskins, Dallas lost one of the franchise’s greatest players. Washington’s Charley Taylor executed a crackback block on Dallas linebacker Chuck Howley. The MVP of Super Bowl V fell to the ground, and it appeared that his career ended right there.

Howley worked hard to come back, and his off-season physical performance seemed to indicate that he could return for the 1973 season. On June 1, 1973, however, the Dallas Morning News reported that Howley had called it quits.

The retirement did not last. By the middle of September, the Cowboys were down to five healthy linebackers, and head coach Tom Landry convinced Howley to rejoin the squad, albeit on the inactive list. According to Landry, the Cowboys only needed Howley for insurance and would only activate him if another linebacker was injured.

Chuck Howley ended his  short retirement in 1973 to help a depleted linebacker squad.  He retired for good after that season.

Chuck Howley ended his short retirement in 1973 to help a depleted linebacker corps. He retired for good after that season.

He did not record a tackle or any other statistic that year. In fact, according to his profile on NFL.com, he was active for only one game—a 45-10 win over the St. Louis Cardinals on September 30.

Howley retired for good after the season. He joined the Ring of Honor in 1977 and has been a finalist to join the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

His Final Plays: Bob Lilly

This is a series that focuses on the last games and/or (when possible) the last plays of various members of the Cowboys. The final plays for a few of these players, such as Roger Staubach, Troy Aikman, and Michael Irvin, are well known. Others may be more difficult to research, but I will do my best.

Michael Irvin’s last play ended with him suffering a spinal injury on the concrete floor of Veterans Stadium Philadelphia. Many of us remember that play, and we can find replays of it easily.

Troy Aikman’s last play ended with him suffering a concussion against Washington in 2000. Many of us remember that play, and we can find replays of it easily.

Bob Lilly’s career ended at some point against the Oakland Raiders on December 14, 1974. I have no idea who would remember that play, and I cannot find any record indicating which play might have been his last.

Bob Lilly (#74) played his last game against the Raiders on December 14, 1974. The team honored him with "Bob Lilly Day" on November 23, 1975.

Bob Lilly (#74) played his last game against the Raiders on December 14, 1974. The team honored him with “Bob Lilly Day,” shown here, on November 23, 1975.

Mr. Cowboy made ten consecutive Pro Bowls between 1964 and 1973. He was named an all-pro seven times. He was a member of the 1960s and 1970s all-decade teams.

The 1974 season, however, was one for Lilly and the rest of the Cowboys to forget.

Although Dallas won its first game against Atlanta, the Cowboys lost four consecutive games to fall to 1-4. Dallas eventually rebounded to improve to 8-5, including the team’s famous win over the Washington Redskins on Thanksgiving Day. But the Cowboys finished with an 8-6 record and missed the playoffs for the first time since 1965 (not counting the Playoff Bowl after the 1965 season).

The Cowboys were out of the playoff race when they traveled to Oakland for the season finale. The game was a special on Monday Night Football, and copies of the game (like many of other MNF games) are readily available.

I just don’t have a copy. And given that I was three years old at the time, I don’t remember the game.

(So, can anyone help me out here?)

Dallas was unable to hang on to an early lead against the Raiders and lost 27-23. We know that Lilly started and played, given that he started and played every game—196 consecutive games—during his 14-year career. Other than that, I have no idea what he did during that game, given that official statistics regarding tackles and sacks did not exist at the time.

Dallas Morning News articles after the game said nothing about Lilly contemplating retirement. Tom Landry left the door open for Lilly to come back and even tried to convince Lilly to return. But then Lilly received medical reports indicating that because of bone spurs in his neck, he risked permanent injury. After that, Landry suggested that Lilly call it a career.

Here is one of Lilly’s comments after he announced his retirement in July 1975:

There was no question that the pain would come back. I was prepared for that. The possibility of permanent damage…I wasn’t prepared for that.

Lilly was 35 years old at the time of his retirement. He was named to the Hall of Fame in 1980.

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