Whenever lists are made about the greatest athletes in Wyoming history, Boyd Dowler is at the top or close to it.
How much sports fans appreciate Dowler’s achievements depends on the sharpness of their memories.
Born in Rock Springs and a high school football, basketball and track star in Cheyenne in the 1950s, Dowler was a member of the Green Bay Packer championship teams of the Vince Lombardi era, made two Pro Bowl teams as a receiver and spent a quarter of a century as an NFL assistant before shifting to scouting.
Dowler, 81, who lives in Georgia in the suburbs of Atlanta, was an inductee in the first Wyoming Sports Hall of Fame class, and he doesn’t outright claim to be the best athlete ever from Wyoming. He kind of sidesteps it.
“There are not a lot of people in Wyoming,” Dowler said in a recent interview. “And there have been some good athletes, but most didn’t play beyond high school.”
Others highly rated on the best-ever lists from the state are John Godina, an All-American football player who was a world champion shot putter and Olympic medalist from Cheyenne, Olympic wrestler Rulon Gardner, and Kenny Sailors, the two-time University of Wyoming All-American basketball player who led the Cowboys to an NCAA title and is credited with inventing the jump shot.
Dowler was a member of the dynastic Packer teams that won three NFL titles and the first two Super Bowls. During his pro career he caught 474 passes for 40 touchdowns and was an excellent punter.
“I never played the receiver position until I got into the NFL,” said Dowler, who was listed at 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds.
His journey was an intriguing one.
Dowler’s father Walt was a football coach and that led the family to Cheyenne. Boyd played tailback in a single wing. In that formation, that was the position for the passer, not quarterback, who mostly blocked.
“Sometimes we didn’t throw five times a game and not over 12,” Dowler said.
Coming out of high school, Dowler said his best college football options were Wyoming, Utah and Colorado, and there was some pressure on him to stay in state. But the longtime Wyoming record-holder in the high school hurdles, felt Colorado was a better fit.
“Some people weren’t really happy with it,” Dowler said.
His brother Joe made up for that defection by spending 14 years as the Cowboys’ wrestling coach.
The world of pro football was quite different when Dowler was coming out of school in 1959. Scouting was less sophisticated. The NFL draft was not conducted on television. Sometimes the limited staff front offices heard about you by word-of-mouth. The league had 12 teams, not 32, as it does now and the league was just beginning to get buddy-buddy with network TV.
An athlete all his life, Dowler wondered if there was a place for him in the pro game.
“Really, I started thinking about it junior year,” he said.
The Packers claimed Dowler with the first pick of the third round. He was not notified by telephone, text or tweet when it happened, but was called a day after the draft.
People outside of Wisconsin forget the Packers were an awful team in the 1950s, but Lombardi energized them immediately with a 7-5 club in 1959. Dowler caught 32 passes as a rookie and read the tea leaves.
“It didn’t take very long to realize we were going to be good,” Dowler said.
He was surrounded by future Hall of Famers like Paul Hornung, Jim Taylor, Bart Starr, Forrest Gregg, Ray Nitschke, Herb Adderley and others.
The Packers of the 1960s were one of the greatest NFL teams, if not the greatest.
“I was blessed to be there,” Dowler said.
Dowler returns to Green Bay for team reunions and he visits Wyoming once a year – he has a sister in Cheyenne.
Playing one last season for the Washington Redskins, working 27 years as an assistant coach with five teams, and then scouting for two more, including the Atlanta Falcons, his last stop, Dowler has ties to a number of teams. But he has a deep-felt allegiance to only one.
“I’m a Packer,” Dowler said.