With scouts and general managers gathering here in Indianapolis for the start of the NFL Scouting Combine this week, legendary Packers receiver Boyd Dowler has some words of wisdom.
In a 14-plus-minutes answer to a question about whether his quarterback, Bart Starr, should be considered with Brett Favre as one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, Dowler emphatically said yes. Dowler, who coached for five NFL teams and retired in 2007 after a dozen years as a scout for the Atlanta Falcons, said teams make mistakes when they fail to look beyond physical attributes.
"With the draft coming up, you'll hear, ‘Well, he's bigger. Well, he's faster.' It doesn't mean he's better, and it certainly doesn't mean he's smarter. There's a whole lot of difference," Dowler said in a phone interview last week to help promote a Buckets for Hunger fund-raiser in Madison, Wis., that will feature about a dozen Packers and Cowboys players who played in the Ice Bowl."
Dowler talked for about a half-hour about his life and how the Glory Years Packers stack up against today's model franchises. But Dowler pounced when asked why Starr never is included in conversations about the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history.
For those outside of Green Bay, Starr's greatness – five championships notwithstanding – is all too easy to not appreciate. In 16 seasons with the Packers, Starr completed 57.4 percent of his passes for 24,718 yards with 152 touchdowns and 138 interceptions. Favre, in his 16 seasons in Green Bay, completed 61.4 percent of his passes for 61,655 yards, with 442 touchdowns and 286 interceptions.
Forget the numbers, though.
"The thing that people don't take into consideration, they look at statistics, and anyone can look at statistics. It doesn't mean you can evaluate," Dowler said. "If all you do is evaluate by looking at statistics, you're not getting it. The greatness of Bart Starr was not necessarily wrapped up in height, weight and speed. I scouted for years, and the first thing you look at in a player is how tall is he, how much does he weight and how fact does he run. And if you're talking about a quarterback, you say, ‘What kind of arm strength does he have?'
"If you're picking your players based on height, weight and speed – and arm strength with a quarterback – you're going to make a ton of mistakes. How does he play the game? What does he do when it was time to play championship games? How did he do when he had to take the team down the field in the Ice Bowl? After all of that, the fact that he called every single play from the time he got into the lineup to the time he left. Vince Lombardi never called a play. Bart Starr called all the plays. Now, Bart would listen and talk about things on the sideline, and Vince might suggest to Bart a call, but he never ordered him to do anything. Bart might have ordered Vince. He would tell him what he was going to do. He didn't ask him, he told him.
"That's the difference. All these guys now … they say Peyton Manning calls all of his own plays. Well, he makes the final decision on all of those plays. He's in a system where they give him a package of plays and he looks at the defense and decides what to call. But as far as calling the whole game, he's got Tom Moore over there as the offensive coordinator. Why do you think they have the headset on?"
Starr's greatness was evident in the postseason, where his record is an NFL-best 9-1. In 213 postseason passes, he was intercepted just three times. A big reason for that, Dowler said, was Starr's ability to almost always call the right play.
"I don't know that he ever made a bad call. I don't remember people ever second-guessing him," Dowler said. "Think about it! When they talk about these great quarterbacks, what was one of the things back in those days that you had to be really good at? Calling plays, making decisions. Mental things. You still have to make the right decision today. It's complicated. Defenses are complicated. Formations are complicated. You have to make sure you're in the right pass protection. Now, nobody ever talks about that. All everyone ever talks about is how many yards and how many touchdowns. Brett Favre certainly matches up in all that sort of stuff, so he's got to be in the argument. Well, so does Bart Starr and Johnny Unitas. How in the world can you eliminate them? How can you not consider five world championships in seven years by a guy who called all the plays? Nobody ever talks about that anymore."
Starr, the MVP of the first two Super Bowls, hit Dowler on touchdown passes of 8 and 46 yards to give the Packers a 14-0 lead in the second half of the Ice Bowl. The Cowboys rallied to take a 17-14 lead before Starr's legendary last-minute drive that he punctuated with his unforgettable quarterback sneak in the final seconds.
"Look at the Ice Bowl. All the big plays that were made were a feature of the guy calling the play," Dowler said. "He had to execute it, but the play-call was so perfect that they worked. Both of my touchdown catches were a feature of the call that was made by Bart. They worked so easily because they were the perfect time to call what he called. It was easy. The plays got me open both times. Wide-ass open. I didn't have to do anything but run. Well, I had to catch it. It was kind of cold.
"But the point is, people don't appreciate that. People don't understand. Now they look at, ‘Marino threw 30,000 touchdown balls and he threw for 47 million yards.' Come on. Tell me Bart Starr isn't just as good as the other guys. I know the numbers, but here's one number: five world championships in seven years.
"So, to answer your original question, yes, he should certainly be in the argument. He sure should be. And I just gave you 27 reasons."
Buckets for Hunter is holding a fund-raiser called "The Ice Bowl Cometh" on April 16 at the Marriott West in Madison, Wis. It will feature about a dozen Ice Bowl players, including Dowler, Jerry Kramer and Dave Robinson, as well as four members of the Cowboys. Paul Hornung will be master of ceremonies. For details, contact Wayne Bisek at email@example.com or visit www.bucketsforhunger.com.
Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Lambeau Level forum.