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Hall of Fame Class of 2023

Spagnola: A bittersweet HOF shoutout to Chuck


OXNARD, Calif. – "Hello, Chuck!"

How appropriate. Simple. Two words. Very concise.

Hopefully, from 1,169 miles away, Chuck Howley, back in Dallas, heard those words. Understood the celebration and congratulations he received Saturday at his Pro football Hall of Fame induction in Canton, Ohio. That the final two words of son Scott's acceptance speech struck a chord.

Hopefully Chuck's wanning attention span sabotaged by late stages of dementia allowed one of the greatest linebackers in the Dallas Cowboys rich history to sit still long enough to understand and enjoy this long overdue honor being bestowed upon him 50 years – that's right, a half century – after this 87-year-old man last played for the Cowboys during the 1973 season.


Maybe Chuck understood the meaning and the significance of his son Scott Howley's words, standing in for his father who physically could not withstand the rigors of traveling to Canton for his rightful induction, nor having the strength and cognitive ability give thanks to all those Scott did for him, from his high school coach in Wheeling, West Virginia, to West Virginia University where he earned letters in five sports, to the Chicago Bears for selecting him in the first round of the 1958 draft and to the Dallas Cowboys for giving him the opportunity to revitalize a career he thought a gruesome knee injury back in those days had ended after two seasons in the NFL.

A stellar 13-year career with the Cowboys (1961-73) that included six Pro Bowl selections, five First Team All-Pro selections, that MVP of Super Bowl V honor – his performance so outstanding the Cowboys losing the game 16-13 to Baltimore mattered not – and of course hoisting that Super Bowl VI Lombardi Trophy the next year after the Cowboys' 24-3 victory over Miami.

And now, finally, a bust in the Hall of Fame rotunda displayed into perpetuity.

Must admit, never met Chuck Howley. Never interviewed him. Closest contact with one of the Cowboys greats occurred during the 2017 Ring of Honor Walk christening out at The Star in Frisco, Texas, when Chuck stood tall on a second-level walkway with his fellow Ring of Honor members for a memorable picture and then also posing for another photo in front of his No. 54 adorning one of the sidewalks.

But after researching his career and conducting a lengthy interview with son, Scott, for our upcoming Deep Blue documentary, titled "Howley Fame," to air Aug. 12, 11 p.m. on CBS 11 in Dallas, feel as if I know him. Just listening to Bob Lilly talk about him, knowing what his next-door neighbor, friend and teammate Roger Staubach thought of him. And that several of his Ring of Honor members thought enough of his induction announcement that they came over to his home to deliver the good news in person.

Just knew Chuck was somebody special.

Scott told me he wasn't sure if "Dad" understood what the guys were telling him, but later that afternoon said his caregiver, who had turned into sort of a Chuck Howley whisperer, continued trying to explain that after all these years – after son Scott had even written a letter to the Hall of Fame back in his middle school days promoting his dad's induction – this long-awaited honor, thanks to the Seniors Committee selection, was coming his way.

And according to Scott, Chuck Howley, with a twinkle in his eyes, said, "Guess I'll need a new suit."

Enough to make you laugh; enough to make you cry. True definition of bittersweet.

So, a very emotional day for the Howley family in attendance. For Scott, who delivered so well his dad's acceptance speech, and for sure the Cowboys family past and present, especially since DeMarcus Ware, also inducted into the Hall of Fame this Saturday in Canton, so eloquently and emotionally delivered his acceptance speech too. Why, Ware was presented by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, a Hall of Famer himself.

We watched out here DeMarcus' acceptance speech, which was taking place right when head coach Mike McCarthy arrived for his 10:15 a.m. (PDT) press conference. When McCarthy saw what we were doing watching off an iPad, he too, watched. Thought it important enough to delay the start of his press conference until Ware was finished, knowing the start of practice was no more than 45 minutes away.

"To hear him express his gratitude and humility, definitely that's what it's all about," McCarthy began his press conference. "He's at the pinnacle of being recognized and I really enjoyed his speech."

Good day for the Howleys. Good day for the Wares, DeMarcus at one point in his speech, while giving thanks to mom, sister, dad and aunts, saying of his upbringing in Auburn, Ala., "Then Wares were everywhere." And good day for the Cowboys.

Might have made some of us, when Scott Howley asked those at Tom Benson Stadium in Canton at the count of three to shout out "Hello, Chuck!" in his dad's honor, to do so quietly to ourselves.

Just praying a good day for "Chuck" too.

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