86 days to football: Billy Howton

With 86 days left until the start of the NFL season, our countdown to the big day, Thursday, Sept. 4, when the Green Bay Packers travel to Seattle to take on the Super Bowl Champion Seahawks will focus on the the number that represents the number of days remaining … today it’s #86.

We highly recommend “Packers by the Numbers: Jersey Numbers and the Players Who Wore Them,” by John Maxymuk. The book, which chronicles every Packers jersey number was published in 2003, so it may be a bit incomplete, but it provides a strong background of information about Packers players and their jersey numbers up to that point in time.

Yesterday, we focused on Hall of Famer  Willie Davis.

Billy Howton

Today, we highlight a player that many of you my have heard of, but only from afar. You see, there have been some really good players to have worn #86, including Boyd Dowler and Antonio Freeman – heck even Ed West and Donald Lee had pretty good success wearing the uniform for the Packers.

Today we focus on Billy Howton who was one of those really talented players doomed to play their entire career on bad teams.

But that didn’t mean their individual successes didn’t overshadow their misfortune in the wins and losses categories.

But like yesterday’s number, there were those failures who wore #86, such as Kent GaydosJessie Green, and J.J. Moses. No, I had never heard of those guys either.

So, how can we not focus on Antonio Freeman, who spent 1995-2003 with the Packers? Or why not Dowler? Their statistics are undeniable; the fact that Freeman rose from the depths of the Packers roster and earned his way into stardom was a great feat. The fact that Dowler played on some pretty good teams and benefitted from the talent around him is undeniable.

Freeman and Dowler were great players.

How can we forget how Freeman made that Miracle Monday Night catch against the Vikings in overtime and helped lead the Packers to two straight Super Bowls? How can we not forget Dowler’s role in the Packers passing game with that 1960s dynasty.

We can’t and we shouldn’t.

We focus on Howton today not only because he was one of the best receivers of his era and posted statistics that are comparable to what Freeman and Dowler were able to post – and did it while playing on one winning team, the Cleveland Browns.

Howton caught 303 passes with the Packers over the course of seven season in Green Bay. In all, he had 5,581 yards (18.4 yard per-catch) and 43 touchdowns with the Packers. In fact his rookie season in 1952 was one to remember as Howton held the record for most touchdowns (13) in a 12-game season that stood for four decades.

In his career, Howton caught 503 balls; Freeman had 477. Howton accumulated 8,459 yards; Freeman had 7,251. As a Packer, Howton averaged 69.8 yards per game; Freeman averaged 57.3.

See the list below to see the players who have worn #86 over the past 50 years … most of these guys you may not remember – no, neither do I.

And if we don’t remember Howton, we should. His speed and shiftiness was well known at the time during the 1950s and it was players like he and “Crazylegs” Hirsch who helped set the NFL up for its rise as the prominent American sport in the 1960s.

Here is how Maxymuk describes Howton:

Billy Howton

“Billy Howton was a fast and shifty end who was a two-time collegiate team MVP at Rice. He was selected in the second round by the Packers and reunited in Green Bay with Tobin Rote, who had graduated two years ahead of Howton at Rice. Bill burst into the NFL with flair. As a rookie, he caught 53 passes for a league-leading 1,231 yards and 13 touchdowns.

The 13-touchdown receptions in a 12-game season was a league rookie record not broken until Viking Randy Moss caught 17 in a 16-game season in 1998.

Howton quickly was called the “new Don Hutson,” and he would end his Green Bay career , seven yers later, second only to Hutson in most team receiving categories.

In 1956, he caught seven passes for 257 yards in one game against the Rams. He was a master of the deep pass and would be named to two All Pro teams and four Pro Bowls in his 12-year career, but the team around him was awful. When Lombardi arrived, one of his first moves was to trade Howton to Cleveland for halfback Lew Carpenter and defensive end Bill Quinlan … [according to Packers defensive coordinator] Phil Bengston noted that Lombardi felt that Howton was slipping and should be traded while his value was still high. Furthermore, Howton was not that big and was not noted for his blocking, which was something at which Lombardi’s ends needed to excel.

Here are Howton’s career statistics as provided by Pro Football Reference:

Provided by Pro Football Reference, here is the list of players over the past 50 years who have worn #86.


Brandon Bostick201320131
Mike Donohoe197319740
Boyd Dowler1959196973
Antonio Freeman1995200360
Kent Gaydos197519750
Jessie Green197619760
Tori Gurley201120110
John Hilton197019703
Billy Howton195219580
Chris Jackson200220020
Pete Lammons197219720
Donald Lee2005201015
J.J. Moses200220020
Bill Schroll195119510
Don Summers198719871
Ed West1985199417