"Deacon" Dan Towler, a famed Los Angeles Rams running back of the early 1950s who abruptly ended his football career to become a Methodist minister, died in his sleep early Wednesday. He was 73.
In apparent good health and active, Towler had attended the Dodger game Tuesday night against the Cincinnati Reds before returning to his Pasadena home.
He was retired from the campus ministry at Cal State Los Angeles and was a six-term president of the Los Angeles County Board of Education, on which he served for 26 years. He also headed the Dan Towler Education Foundation, which helps needy students.
Towler also directed both the National School Boards Assn. and the California School Boards Assn. In 1987, he was appointed to the Child Abuse Task Force of the California Senate.
Towler first made a name in the Southland as a major figure on the great Rams teams in their early years in Los Angeles.
The 1951 Rams won their only world title in Los Angeles, with a team replete with stars up and down the lineup.
Tom Fears and Elroy Hirsch were two of the best receivers in the NFL and Bob Waterfield and Norm Van Brocklin were the quarterbacks. And the "Bull Elephant" backfield was made up of Towler, Tank Younger and Dick Hoerner--all 225-pound-plus runners who created fearsome collisions with would-be tacklers.
In 1950, the Rams took the Cleveland Browns into the last minute of the NFL title game before the Browns won by a field goal. In the 1951 championship game at the Coliseum, Towler scored a third-quarter touchdown to give the Rams a 14-10 lead.
The next season, Towler led the NFL in rushing with 894 yards. He also scored 10 touchdowns.
A four-time All-Pro fullback, Towler abruptly ended his football career in 1955 to become a Methodist minister. During his playing years, he had studied at the USC graduate school of religion and earned a master's degree in theology. He later added a PhD in education.
Daniel Lee Towler was born in the western Pennsylvania town of Donora, the same town that produced baseball great Stan Musial.
In his senior year, Towler led Donora High to a state football championship by scoring 24 touchdowns.
He went to Washington and Jefferson College in Washington, Pa., where he graduated cum laude. In his junior year he led the nation in scoring in his division.
Towler was one of the great steals in NFL draft history. In 1950, he was the 324th player taken in the draft, when the Rams selected him in the 25th round.
He asked to lead the Rams in pregame prayer as a rookie, quickly earning the "Deacon" nickname.
He was proud of his role on the team, saying in a 1991 interview: "I asked Coach [Joe] Stydahar if I could have the players pray, and he said: 'It sure wouldn't hurt anything, and who knows? It might help.'
"We were the first NFL team to pray before each game. Now it's a common thing. I think it helped with the team's camaraderie and fellowship, bringing us together."
Towler is survived by his wife, Rosalind, and daughter, Roslyn.
Funeral arrangements are pending.