AKRON (AP) -- As the end of his 32-year career as a federal judge, David Dudley Dowd Jr. often thinks about what might have been in life if not for one play on the football field.
It was his sophomore year at Massillon High School in 1944. About 100 guys were trying to make the team, and Dowd felt he didn't have much of a chance as a fifth-string guard on the offensive line.
But then his coaches moved him to defense in a scrimmage against the thumpers on the Tigers' first-team offense.
Someone missed a block, "and I went sailing through. The tailback was under center, got the snap, went back to throw," Dowd said, "and I just creamed him. Nobody touched me. It was like shooting fish in a barrel."
Looking out the windows of his fourth-floor chambers at the federal building in early July, with a magnificent view of the cityscape, Dowd recalled the play as if it were yesterday.
It changed his life -- and ignited a personal drive that became the hallmark of what many have called a brilliant legal career.
After that one play, Dowd said the coaches took notice, asked him what his name was, moved him to center where the talent was thinner, "and the rest," he said, "is history."
He went on to play three years on the Massillon varsity squad and four more years at the College of Wooster.
"I've often thought: 'God, life really could have been different if those guys had made their block," Dowd said.
July 11 was his last day on the job. He was appointed to the federal bench by President Ronald Reagan in August 1982, replacing Judge Leroy J. Contie Jr.
Dowd's work ethic was immediately tested with the sternest of tasks.
Deborah Mattie, his courtroom deputy who has been with him from the start, recalled how he inherited some 600 cases when he was commissioned to the bench the following September.
Mattie said Dowd's determination was such that he took on his caseload in two sessions -- from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., then starting up a new case at 1 and often working through 6 at night.
It earned his court the nickname "rocket docket," Mattie said.
"He's serious, hard-working, but very easy to get along with, just a joy to work for," she said.
Summit County Probate Judge Elinore Marsh Stormer called Dowd "an amazing man, a judge's judge. He is unflappable and hard-working."
When Stormer was in private practice in the 1980s, she recalled having a bench trial before Dowd on the same day after he had already wrapped up his work on a jury trial, which lasted 10 weeks.
"I couldn't believe it," Stormer said, "but he did it, and he rendered a timely decision. There's no fooling around in his court. He wants you there at 6, you're there at 6. And you finish when he tells you."
Attorney James L. Burdon, who began his legal career in 1967, said there is a "consensus" opinion about Dowd among lawyers on both sides of the courtroom table.
"And that is, that he's brilliant, thoughtful and diligent in virtually every decision he made. He probably has as much or more respect than any jurist I can remember in my relatively long career," Burdon said.
He, too, marveled at Dowd's dual trial sessions. "What's amazing," Burdon said, "is that even though he did that and everybody else was weary, he never was."
"I think the only thing he recesses for, is Massillon football games," he joked.
With so many cases over parts of four decades, Dowd still remembers the smallest details about how long a case lasted, or how long the jury was out before reaching a verdict.
"I've been very, very fortunate to last as long as I have. This is a marvelous job," he said, stressing that he could not have done it without "great parents, a wonderful wife and a great family."
In an hour-plus discussion of his career, Dowd said he wouldn't know "how to write the story any better than the way it unfolded" -- starting so long ago on a football field in Massillon.
It was an invaluable lesson, he said.
"You didn't play because of your social standing in the community, or because of who your parents were," Dowd said. "You played because the coaches knew you deserved to play."
One of his favorite stories, was a game against Muskingum in a pouring rain. Massillon was backed up on its 5-yard line, and he was suddenly sent in as the third-string center.
"I hadn't touched the ball all day, I had to center a wet ball to the kicker in the back of the end zone, but I got it back there," Dowd said, "and he got it away."