Ranching big part of life for former WVU football star Howley
DALLAS -- "The thing about quarter horses," West Virginia University Sports Hall of Famer and Super Bowl MVP Chuck Howley said from behind his desk, "is there are so many facets and various ranges of where you set your level. Mine is just dealing with the cow horse, selling them for ranching, farming, weekend riding, you name it."
This conversation with Howley, who was a five-sport letter winner at WVU, the first defensive player to be named Super Bowl MVP and the only MVP from a losing team, happens in an office adorned with photographs from his ranch.
Yet the office here is inside his clothing retail store some 60 miles west of his Happy Hollow Ranch in Wills Point, Texas. Ranching and raising the horses is merely Howley's sideline hobby, something that takes two or three days a week of his time.
Howley knew nothing of ranching growing up in Wheeling and then starring at WVU. He didn't have time for it when he was playing with the Chicago Bears in 1958 and 1959 or even when he thought his career had ended with a knee injury in training camp before his second season.
He later played 13 seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, though, and was an All-Pro player six times.
He helped Dallas win the Super Bowl in 1972, the year after the Cowboys lost to the Colts despite Howley's two interceptions and a fumble recovery.
It was in Dallas where he became friends with linebacker Lee Roy Jordan, who introduced Howley to ranching. Howley later discovered the quarter horses and how much they mean to the livelihood of Texans.
"I loved it right away," he said. "If my wife would live there, we'd have moved there by now."
The rest of Howley's time is spent overseeing operations at Uniforms Inc., the residual part of the business Howley and a friend started at the end of his playing career.
"We rented clothes for a number of years to the general public - car dealerships, manufacturing - and we laundered them, pressed them, everything. Picked them up and delivered them," Howley said.
Howley bought all of what started as a partnership and the business expanded into a rental and retail operation. Howley sold it years later, but the buyer wasn't interested in the retail side, so Howley started one of his own that now sells clothing and uniforms to the police and public alike.
This past year, he intended to hand off operations to his son-in-law and, at long last, actually retire. Idle time was not a good fit, though.
"I think I found that out real quick this past year when he was supposed to take over this deal, but I figured the checkbook wasn't quite right to me, so I said, 'I'm just budging in,' " he said. "I still sign all the checks, but that's really all it is. He's running a lot of the business."
Howley, 76, has lived in Dallas since the Bears traded him to the Cowboys in 1961, that after he decided to make a professional comeback after an alumni game at WVU. It was one of only a few times he's returned to his alma mater.
Howley was back on campus as part of WVU's inaugural Hall of Fame class in 1991 and then again in the summer of 2011.
"I think I'm going to get involved in it highly here soon," Howley said.
His latest visit explains why. Not long ago, Howley accompanied his granddaughter, Sarah, on a visit as she considered playing soccer at WVU. It must have been a good trip - she was part of women's soccer coach Nikki Izzo-Brown's most recent recruiting class and will be a freshman in the fall.
Soccer is as new to Howley as is being a spectator. He took part in football, track, wrestling, gymnastics and swimming and diving at WVU, the root of his restless behavior.
"I'm the type of guy that likes to play the game, so I wasn't tuned into soccer very much," he said. "I'd rather participate to enjoy something."
Howley has an attachment to it now. Sarah is a 5-foot-9 defender who played goalie for the Highland Park High team that won the Texas Class 4A state title in 2012. She was the state championship MVP and saved four straight shots in the penalty kick shootout that decided the final game.
"She's tough," Howley said. "She's dedicated. She knows what she wants. She's not somebody who loses her head, but she'll step up to somebody who will, and we all like that in football."
Howley plans on catching soccer games in person in Morgantown and will double up by fitting in some football games. He said he hasn't been able to pay much attention to the Mountaineers until just recently when they joined the Big 12 Conference. His brother-in-law is "very much involved in going to games and I'm sure he'll get me involved."
It's going to be a different type of involvement for Howley, who will finally settle into the role of a spectator after all these years.
"This," he said, his hands near the checkbook, his office walls decorated with reminders of his ranch, "isn't retirement."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.