Billy Howton
A drawing of Howton catching a football on a football card. Text says "Billy Howton - Rice".
1952 Bowman football card
No. 86, 81
Personal information
Born: (1930-07-03) July 3, 1930 (age 91)
Littlefield, Texas
Career information
High school:Plainview (TX)
NFL Draft:1952 / Round: 2 / Pick: 15
Career history
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics
Receiving yards:8,459

William Harris Howton (born July 3, 1930) is a former American football player, an end in the National Football League (NFL) for 12 seasons with the Green Bay Packers, Cleveland Browns, and expansion Dallas Cowboys.[1]

Howton caught a total 503 career passes for a total of 8,459 yards. In doing so, he surpassed then leader Don Hutson to become the all-time leader in receptions and yardage. (Since then his ranking has fallen to below 50.) Despite this, he has yet to be named a finalist in Pro Football Hall of Fame balloting. He retired after the 1963 season, after four years with Dallas.[2] In 2004, he was named to the Professional Football Researchers Association Hall of Very Good in the association's second HOVG class.[3]

Early years

Howton attended Plainview High School, where he lettered in football, basketball, and track and field.

Howton played college football at Rice Institute in Houston,[4] where he was nicknamed "Red Fox" not only for his hair color, but also for the way he ran pass patterns, which made him a great offensive end, establishing a season record for average yards (22.6) on pass receptions.

At the 1948 track and field regional meet in Lubbock, he had a time of 14.3 in the high hurdle event, setting a record that stood for several decades. In 1951, he won the high hurdle event in a track meet against the Texas A&M Aggies. He was also a notable runner in the low hurdles.

In 1951, he finished his college football career with 64 catches for 1,289 yards and 12 touchdowns, on his way to earn the following honors:

In 1971, he was inducted into the Rice Athletic Hall of Fame.

Professional career

Green Bay Packers

Howton was selected in the second round of the 1952 NFL draft, 15th overall, by the Green Bay Packers. As a rookie, he earned immediate comparisons with hall of famer Don Hutson, with his speed, sure hands, and big-play ability. He established himself as one of the best wide receivers in the NFL, with a league-leading 1,231 receiving yards.[4] He also set a rookie record with 13 touchdowns, which would last until 1965 when the total number was broken by Gale Sayers. His touchdown reception mark lasted until 1998, when it was broken by Randy Moss.

Howton became one of the most successful wide receivers in Packers history, while playing seven seasons in losing teams (26–56–2). During his seven years in Green Bay, he led his teams in receiving yards for six straight seasons (195257), led the league in receiving yards 2 times (1952 and 1956) and touchdown receptions once (1956). He caught 303 passes for 5,581 yards with an 18.4 yard average, scored 43 touchdowns and earned All-Pro in two seasons (195657) and Pro Bowl honors in four seasons (1952 and 195557).[5]

He caught 13 touchdown passes in his 1952 rookie season. In his fifth season in 1956, Howton caught seven passes for a total of 257 yards against the Los Angeles Rams.

He set team records that still stand today:

Howton was named the Packers' player representative and president of the NFL Players Association in 1958, and played a major role in establishing a pension fund for players, which was a debated topic with club owners at the time.

In January 1959, the Packers hired Vince Lombardi as head coach and general manager after the team's worst record ever (1–10–1) in 1958. In April, Lombardi traded Howton to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for defensive end Bill Quinlan and halfback Lew Carpenter.[6][7][8] Lombardi desired receivers who could block, which was not Howton's strength.[1][9]

Through the years, there has been speculation that his NFL Players Association ties were the real reason behind the trade.

Howton was inducted into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame in 1974.

Cleveland Browns

Howton played only one season in Cleveland, leading the team in receptions with 39, and experiencing what would be the only winning campaign of his NFL career. At the start of the 1960 season, he notified the Browns his intentions to retire.

The expansion Dallas Cowboys convinced him to play in his home state and traded a draft choice to the Browns in exchange for his rights.

Dallas Cowboys

Howton was acquired by the expansion Dallas Cowboys in 1960. That season the Cowboys recorded only a tie, which came against the New York Giants at Yankee Stadium on December 4, when a late touchdown pass from Eddie LeBaron to Howton finalized a 31–31 comeback, against a team that had made championship game appearances in three of the previous four years. Following the season, Howton signed a three-year contract.[10]

The first win in franchise history came during the 1961 season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers, 27–24, with Howton contributing a game-high 138 receiving yards and a touchdown.

During his time with the Cowboys, Howton remained a key starter in a league-leading offense, that was composed by Eddie LeBaron, Don Meredith, Don Perkins, Frank Clarke, Dick Bielski, and Lee Folkins. He led the Cowboys in receiving in 1961 (with a career-high of 56 catches) and again in 1962.

On September 29, 1963, Howton became the NFL's all-time receiving leader, after breaking Don Hutson's record for career receptions and receiving yards. He retired after playing in 12 seasons with 503 catches, 8,459 yards and 61 touchdowns. Howton was also the top receiver from those players in the 1952 NFL draft including hall of famers Frank Gifford, Ollie Matson, and Hugh McElhenny. His 61 TDs are only two less than leader Matson.


  1. ^ a b Hendricks, Martin (November 22, 2007). "Howton sparkled during 'Forgettable '50s'". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Archived from the original on December 23, 2011. Retrieved March 1, 2016.
  2. ^ "Howton, LeBaron will quit football". Milwaukee Journal. Associated Press. December 6, 1963. p. 13, part 2.
  3. ^ "Hall of Very Good". Archived from the original on October 5, 2016. Retrieved July 13, 2016.
  4. ^ a b "Bill Howton signs Green Bay pact". Victoria Advocate. Texas. United Press. June 30, 1954. p. 9.
  5. ^ Christl, Cliff (November 28, 2018). "Billy Howton". Green Bay Packers, Inc. Archived from the original on February 6, 2020. Retrieved February 6, 2020.
  6. ^ Lea, Bud (April 25, 1959). "Howton goes to Browns". Milwaukee Sentinel. p. 3, part 2.
  7. ^ Johnson, Chuck (April 25, 1959). "Packers trade Howton to Browns for Bill Quinlan and Lew Carpenter". Milwaukee Journal. p. 10.
  8. ^ "Bill Howton joins Browns". Toledo Blade. Ohio. Associated Press. April 25, 1959. p. 8.
  9. ^ Johnson, Chuck (March 6, 1959). "Blockers first need of Packers, movies tell Vince Lombardi". Milwaukee Journal. p. 6, part 3.
  10. ^ "Howton signs with Dallas". Victoria Advocate. Texas. Associated Press. March 6, 1961. p. 11.