Deacon Dan Towler: a Man for All Seasons and Reasons
Known as “Deacon Dan,” he was one of pro football’s premiere runners three decades ago.
Although Dan Towler abruptly ended his football career after just six years to become a Methodist minister, he’s still on the run.
Towler, a four-time All-Pro fullback for the Rams from 1950-55, recently was elected to an unprecedented sixth term as president of the Los Angeles County Board of Education. He had been appointed to the board by County Supervisor Michael Antonovich.
Towler also serves as a senior director of the National Board of Education, traveling extensively throughout the nation for that group.
He’s director of the Wesley Foundation and is campus minister at Cal State Los Angeles, and also coordinates community relations for the university’s development office.
He is one of the original directors of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He has made numerous trips behind the Iron Curtain as part of his religious ministry.
On weekends during the football season, Towler works USC and Ram games as a statistician for the Associated Press.
And, in his “spare time,” he recently founded the Dan Towler Educational Foundation to provide financial assistance to needy college students.
“I want to put something back in,” Towler said. “I was blessed as an athlete and football put me through college at Washington & Jefferson and graduate school at USC. I consider myself a debtor.
“I hope I can make a difference, make things a little better.”
Recalling his career with the Rams, Towler said it was a relative blur, since getting his master’s degree in theology was his first priority.
“I was a full-time student, a part-time football player. I had an agreement with Dan Reeves (the late Rams owner) that I would play football for him if I didn’t have to miss any classes,” Towler said. “I used to go to class early on the first three days of the week, practice in the afternoon, then go back to class.
“I missed most of the team meetings, and anytime there was a conflict, I was excused by the Rams to attend class. On a road trip to the East, when the team stayed over a week to play in another city back there, I’d fly back to Los Angeles right after our game Sunday, get in at 6 in the morning and rush to my 8 o’clock class.
“Then I’d fly back to the East overnight on Wednesday and usually go from the airport straight to practice. I was really on the run.”
Nevertheless, Towler gained 3,493 yards in 672 carries during his six years with the Rams, helping the team win the NFL title in 1951 and being named the Pro Bowl Player of the Game that same year.
His career rushing total still is good enough for No. 4 on the Rams’ all-time list, and his average of 5.2 yards per carry is tops among the club’s all-time leading runners.
Although he appeared to be at the peak of his career in 1955, he walked away from the game as soon as he finished his master’s degree.
“I got my degree in June and became minister of a United Methodist Church in Pasadena in July,” he recalled. “That had been part of my agreement with the Rams. I never really spoke to them after that.
“My salary with the team was about $16,000 for that final season, counting the playoffs, quite a bit of money back then. I went to $3,600 a year as a pastor.”
Towler, who went on to earn his doctorate in education in 1972, said he has never regretted quitting football when he did, but added that he has wondered how much better he might have been if he had concentrated solely on the sport.
“I was always worn out,” he said. “It’s always been a question to me how good I would have been if I’d had the time and energy to concentrate on football as the number one thing, like the other guys. A lot of times, I didn’t even know the plays.”
Towler said that, since football wasn’t the central focus of his life, he has trouble--unlike most of his former teammates--remembering specific games or plays. But he does remember an afternoon in Baltimore in 1953 when he gained 205 yards on 14 carries (a 14.6 yards per carry average) against the Colts.
“Our right halfback was hurt, so I was moved from fullback to right half, and wasn’t familiar with it,” he recalled. “I was taking tosses from the quarterback and going every which way but the right way. I ran the wrong way on practically every play . . . and it was the best running game I ever had.”