ATLANTA, Ga. – Nestled in southwestern Wyoming, the tiny town of Rock Springs was once home to one of the most famous of all outlaws in Wild West history. Another of the city’s famous sons made history in a much more noble fashion by becoming one of the brightest stars in the National Football League.
Robert Parker, better known as Butch Cassidy, left his home in Utah as a teenager in 1880 and eventually found work as a butcher in Rock Springs, hence the nickname. Not long after, his crime spree got its start when he broke into a local clothier’s shop and took a suit. He also took a pie, but left a note telling the owner he would be in the next day to pay for the items.
The owner would have nothing to do with such shenanigans and pressed charges. Parker was arrested but later acquitted on the charges by a jury. But the criminal exploits of Parker were underway.
More than 50 years later Boyd Dowler was born in Rock Springs, where his father, Walter, was coaching high school football. His father later took a coaching job at Cheyenne (Wyo.) High School, where the young Dowler starred in football, basketball and track. Dowler was a Wyoming high school state champion in the high hurdles while in Cheyenne.
Dowler later went on to a brilliant career at the University of Colorado and was drafted in 1959 NFL Draft (25th overall pick) by the Green Bay Packers. Dowler spent 11 seasons with the Packers (1959-69) and closed his pro career by spending the 1971 season with the Washington Redskins.
Dowler’s brother, Joe, who was also an outstanding athlete in his own right, would go on to a storied career as wrestling coach at the University of Wyoming where he posted a 104-64-1 dual record and led the Cowboys to four straight Mountain Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (MIWA) team titles and three consecutive Western Athletic Conference (WAC) championships in 14 seasons (1973-87).
The versatile and talented young Dowler had several colleges interested in obtaining his services after graduating from high school in 1955.
University of Utah coach Jack Curtis, who had developed the Utes into a powerhouse in the old Skyline Conference during his tenure in Salt Lake City, heavily recruited Dowler and two of his Cheyenne teammates.
“The first time I ever rode in an airplane was on my recruiting visit to Utah,” Dowler recalled.
Curtis, who spent eight seasons as coach at Utah and lost just nine games against conference foes, wanted Dowler to play quarterback.
Dowler, however, wanted to try his hand at his two other sports while in college while staying close to his home in Cheyenne.
“Salt Lake City was 500 miles from home and I wanted my parents to be able to come to see me play,” said Dowler of his decision to play just 90 miles from Cheyenne in Boulder.
It helped that the Buffaloes were pretty good in football.
“Dal Ward was a great coach and had put together some really good teams at Colorado,” Dowler said.
Plus, Dowler was given the opportunity to compete in basketball and track at the school.
Ward, according to Dowler, was a master of the single-wing and T-formation as the staples of CU’s offense. That played well into Dowler’s wide array of talents.
“The offenses we ran really gave me an opportunity for me to do a lot of things,” Dowler said of his football mentor in Boulder.
As a freshman in 1956 Dowler helped Colorado to an 7-2-1 record during the regular season and a berth in the Orange Bowl.
The Buffaloes opened the season at home in a 35-0 loss to Oregon before reeling off five straight wins before seeing their winning streak snapped by visiting Oklahoma 27-19. Colorado would tie Missouri 14-14 the following weekend.
A 27-21 win over the Tigers in the Orange Bowl gave CU its first-ever bowl victory in school history.
Dowler finished the season with 42 yards rushing on 15 carries and two touchdowns. He also completed 13 of 26 passes for 136 yards and three touchdowns. He also caught five passes for 94 yards and an additional score.
Dowler and Howard Cook shared the team lead with three interceptions each that season.
The Colorado standout continued to see time at quarterback over the next two seasons, but it was as a receiver where he began to blossom and set the stage for a future in the National Football League.
In his second season he led the Big Seven Conference by catching 26 passes for 380 yards, an average of 14.6 yards per reception, and two touchdowns as the Buffaloes finished with a 6-3-1 record. Two of those losses came against Kansas (35-34) and Oklahoma (14-13). The other setback was a 9-6 loss to Missouri.
Dowler caught just 10 passes for 154 yards (15.4 ypc) in his final season as Colorado finished 6-4-0. He spent most of that season back at quarterback and completed 35 of his 77 passes for 320 yards and one touchdown.
Dowler finished his Colorado career with 63 completions on 200 passing attempts for 727 yards and six touchdowns from his quarterback position. He was also credited with 98 rushing yards on just 41 carries and three TDs.
He caught 41 passes for 628 yards and scored six touchdowns and added 10 career interceptions. He also punted 33 times for and average of 45 yards in his final season in Boulder.
Dowler saw limited time in basketball and track while at Colorado before eventually turning his focus to football full time.
Dowler’s first season in the NFL coincided with the arrival of Vince Lombardi as coach of the Packers in 1959.
The iconic coach quickly set the tone for Green Bay’s return to prominence in the league.
“I learned very quickly that you don’t slack off at any time,” said Dowler of Lombardi’s drive that quickly became a trademark of the organization.
“He insisted that if mistakes were made, we were expected to be accountable for them and to not let them happen again,” Dowler added.
Things worked out well for Lombardi, Dowler and the Packers.
Lombardi guided Green Bay to a 7-5-0 record, its first winning season since posting a 6-5-1 record in 1947. The five losses all came in succession midway through the season. Despite the losing skid, Lombardi was voted the league’s coach of the year in his first season roaming the sidelines for the Packers.
Dowler, meanwhile, led the team with 32 receptions and finished second on the squad with 549 yards and four touchdowns. Max McGee (30 receptions) led the Packers with 695 yards that season.
Dowler was later voted the NFL’s rookie of the year.
SUPER BOWL I and II
Dowler was injured on a late hit by Dallas’ Mike Gaechter in the end zone after a 16-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter of the 1966 NFL Championship Game against the Cowboys at the Cotton Bowl. The Packers would go on to win the game 34-27 after Dallas scored late to close the gap.
The shoulder injury was aggravated early in the game two weeks later when Green Bay and Kansas City met in what is now known as Super Bowl 1.
Dowler left the game before catching a pass and that opened the door for McGee to shine as he caught seven passes from Bart Starr for 138 yards and two touchdowns. Starr, meanwhile, would be named the MVP of the game after completing 16 of 23 passes for 250 yards and the two scoring passes to McGee.
Green Bay would win the game 35-10.
The following season Dowler would return at full strength and had his own moment to shine in Super Bowl II as Green Bay defeated Oakland 33-14 in Miami.
The six-foot, five-inch, 200-pound Dowler caught a 62-yard pass from Starr for a touchdown in the first half and finished the game with two catches for 71 yards.
Dowler, who helped Green Bay to five NFL championships, would spend 11 seasons with the Packers and led Green Bay in receiving seven times. He was a Pro Bowl selection in 1965 and 1967 and is a member of the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame. Dowler was also selected to the NFL’s 1960s All-Decade Team.
He retired following the 1969 season and spent the 1970 season as an assistant on George Allen’s staff with the Los Angeles Rams. When Allen resigned from the Rams to take over at Washington Dowler followed and came out of retirement as a player-coach for the Redskins in 1971.
He retired for a second time following the 1971 season and ended his playing career with 474 receptions for 7,270 yards and 40 touchdowns in 162 games. He also punted 93 times for 3,987 yards as a professional.
Dowler remained as an assistant with Allen in Washington for the 1972 season and later worked as an assistant at Philadelphia (1973-75), Cincinnati (1976-79) and Tampa Bay (1980-84). He moved into front office positions with Carolina and Atlanta after his coaching career before retiring in 2007 to close a career of 30 years as a coach and executive in the NFL.
“The Green Bay experience was the best of them all,” the NFL legend said.
A native of Bismarck, N.D., Ray is a graduate of North Dakota State University where he began studying athletic training and served as a student trainer for several Bison teams including swimming, wrestling and baseball and was a trainer at the 1979 NCAA national track and field championship meet at the University of Illinois. Ray later worked in the sports information office at NDSU. Following his graduation from NDSU he spent five years in the sports information office at Missouri Western State University and one year in the sports information at Georgia Tech. He has nearly 40 years of writing experience as a sports editor at several newspapers and has received numerous awards for his writing over the years. A noted sports historian, Ray is currently an assistant editor at Amateur Wrestling News.