Catch Up with the Jets Legend from Grambling Jim Gehman
Delles Howell is as Louisiana as a fleur-de-lis.
Raised in Monroe, he went to Grambling where he started on the football team as a freshman, and was then drafted by and played for the New Orleans Saints.
So, it would have been understandable if the veteran cornerback experienced a degree of culture shock when he was traded to the Jets with defensive end Richard Neal for two draft picks in 1973. Fortunately for Howell, however, he knew someone who had taken that trip north 10 years earlier.
"My older brother, Lane, played with the New York Giants when Y.A. Tittle and Del Shofner and all those guys were there. I think he might have played one year with Frank Gifford," Howell said. "So, the city of New York, I kind of had gotten a glimpse of what was going on. I had been there and knew that it was a larger franchise than New Orleans was.
"Richard Neal, he was my best friend at the time in New Orleans. I was really glad when the trade took place. And then I found out that Eddie Biles was the defensive backs coach. He had coached me when I was a rookie in New Orleans. So, I was glad about that."
A three-year starter for the Saints, Howell arrived in New York credited with nine interceptions. Did head coach Weeb Ewbank, who was in his 11th and final season with the Jets, and on his way to the Hall of Fame, expect him to provide veteran leadership?
"He didn't really tell me. I guess maybe he wanted to see how the trade was going to work out itself," Howell said. "Of course, Ewbank was an experienced coach and his personality was great. He was on his way out, but it was really, really good to be around him and just get a change of pace.
"That was my first time leaving the south, and to go to a city like New York with a coach like Coach Weeb Ewbank, it was a great honor to be in the Jets organization. That was the early '70s, so the Super Bowl (III victory) was still fresh, and Joe Namath was still there. It was an exciting time."
In his first season with the Jets, Howell and Ralph Baker co-led the team with five interceptions each. He seemingly could not have had a much better start in front of New York's fans.
"Well, I could have. I could have picked a better way because I think I had my hands on six or seven other interceptions that year that I should have made," Howell said. "But basically, there's an old rule that the receivers really worked on a lot, and that's catch the ball, look it in before you try to run.
"And so, when I look back on it, I was trying to make the play, trying to get my hands on the ball because I loved to run back with the ball once I made an interception. If I could do it over again, I definitely would be looking those balls in because I dropped some sure interceptions that year."
With the Jets for three seasons and in the league for six, Howell retired in 1976 with 17 career interceptions. What makes him most proud of his career?
"The fact that I was the youngest of three brothers that played in the NFL," Howell said. "My oldest brother, Lane, he played seven years. With the New York (Giants) for two years, and then he went on and played five more years with the Philadelphia Eagles.
"And the middle brother, Mike, he played with the Cleveland Browns for seven years and finished up his career with Miami, the year that they went undefeated. And so, my proudest thing was to follow them to Grambling, and then leaving Grambling to go and make it in the NFL. To have a good career and represent my family well."
Following his playing days, Howell and his wife, Shelia, made their home in Monroe and raised a family. For 29 years, he was the city's director of recreation before choosing to make a career change.
"Before I ever retired from football, we had a great church choir, and I sang for, I guess, 25 years. My wife and I had six children, so we tried to raise them up in the church the same way we were raised in the church," said Howell, who also has 19 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
"I've been the pastor at the New Light Baptist Church in Wisner for 12 years. Before then, from 1997 to 2008, I was the associate pastor at the New Light Baptist Church in Monroe. That was my home church. I was baptized in that church when I was eight years old.
"When you're a pastor, you get a call from the Lord. I really had a call from the Lord when I was playing with the Jets, but I was trying to finish my career and didn't accept the call to preach right at that time. And so that calling got stronger on me, and I was 49 years old when I accepted the call. But I had already been in the choir, and I was a deacon in the church."