DETROIT (BVM) – Desmond Howard entered into legendary status on Nov. 23, 1991. The University of Michigan junior wide receiver returned a punt against rival Ohio State in a 31-3 victory. When he got to the end zone, Howard struck the “Heisman Pose,” cementing his legacy before he even won the award, something that came just a month later.
On this date in 1991, Michigan’s Desmond Howard scored a punt return TD and struck the iconic Heisman pose in the end zone as the Wolverines beat Ohio State 31-3.
He won the Heisman Trophy that season. pic.twitter.com/My6o5pn7sX
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 23, 2021
Today, Howard is still around the game where he became an icon, working as a college football analyst on ESPN’s popular game coverage team “College Gameday.” Though a college star, Howard didn’t have that same success at the NFL level, but that never stopped him from becoming one of the more popular broadcasters in football today.
Early life and high school football
Howard grew up in Cleveland, Ohio and attended school at Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School. Initially more focused on playing basketball for the school’s prestigious program, after having a multi-touchdown first game on the gridiron he began to put more focus into football. By the end of his tenure, he lettered in football, basketball and track.
Once Howard was finished, he would be one of the top football players in the state and the country. As a senior, Howard earned All-Ohio honors at both running back and defensive back, setting school records in touchdowns, rushing yards and interceptions in a season. He was inducted into the school’s Hall of Champions in 2015.
The star wideout decided to stay in the Midwest, committing to the University of Michigan. Over the next three seasons with the Wolverines, Howard embarked on one of the best collegiate football careers ever seen. After a freshman season where he played in all 12 games and caught just nine passes for 136 yards and two touchdowns with 13 kick returns for 295 yards. In his sophomore year, Howard became a more integral part of the Wolverines’ offense, recording 63 catches for 1,025 yards and 11 touchdowns with 17 kick returns for 504 yards and a touchdown which helped establish him as a national threat.
Then came his junior campaign and Howard entered national star status. During his final season in the Maize & Blue, Howard caught 62 passes for 985 yards and a whopping 19 receiving touchdowns while returning 15 kickoffs for 412 yards and a touchdown and 20 punts for 282 yards and another score.
He became the first receiver in Big Ten history to lead the conference in scoring with 138 points and he set or tied five NCAA records and 12 single-season Michigan records including most touchdowns (23) and most consecutive games with a touchdown reception (19). That season, the All-American was named the Heisman Trophy winner, earning the award by the second largest margin of victory in the trophy’s history.
Howard finished his Wolverines career with 134 catches, 2,146 receiving yards, 32 receiving touchdowns, 23 carries for 249 rushing yards and two scores, 45 kick returns for 1,211 yards, two touchdowns, and 26 punt returns for 337 yards and a score, giving him a career 37 touchdowns scored.
With such a successful junior year, it came as no surprise that Howard entered the 1992 NFL Draft. The decision was a wise one for the college football star as he was selected with the No. 4 overall pick by the Washington Redskins. In Washington, Howard would be utilized more as a return man over his first two seasons, returning 43 kicks for 867 yards while only recording 26 catches for 306 yards. His third year, Washington moved Howard to exclusively receiver and he put up decent numbers with 15 starts, 40 catches, 727 yards and five scores.
The Jacksonville Jaguars selected Howard with its No. 28 pick, the 55th pick overall in the 1995 NFL expansion draft. Howard only played one season with the Jaguars but left his mark as he scored the team’s first game-winning touchdown. In 13 games and six starts, Howard recorded 26 catches for 276 yards and his lone score.
In the 1996 offseason, Howard signed with the Green Bay Packers. Though only registering 13 catches for 95 yards as a receiver, Howard became an elite returner–leading the league with 58 punt returns for 875 yards and three touchdowns.
Howard saved his best for last as well as in Super Bowl XXXI. As the returner for the Packers, Howard registered 244 total return yards including a then-Super Bowl record of 90 punt return yards and a Super Bowl record 99-yard kickoff return touchdown. This performance earned Howard Super Bowl MVP honors, becoming the first specialist to ever win the award.
The timing couldn’t have been better for the star return man. In the 1997 offseason, Howard signed a four-year, $6 million contract with the Oakland Raiders. Howard did not play the duration of the contract, playing just two seasons returning 72 punts for 751 yards and two touchdowns and returning 110 kickoffs for 2,358 yards and no scores. He was released following the 1998 season.
Howard re-signed with the Packers before the 1999 season but only played in eight games before injuries gave Green Bay reason to release him. The Detroit Lions signed the returner and that is where Howard spent the final four years of his career. In Detroit, Howard played in 41 games with 155 kick returns for 3,732 yards and 68 punt returns for 821 yards and two touchdowns. In 2000, Howard earned his first Pro Bowl honors as a returner with the Lions at age 30.
Retirement and broadcasting
The electric return man retired in 2002 after 11 NFL seasons. Shortly after retirement, Howard used his degree in mass communications from Michigan to land a job as a contributor with Fox Sports. In 2004, he worked with ESPN2 as a correspondent for the network’s Super Bowl coverage. In 2005, Howard officially joined ESPN as a college football analyst where he has worked for numerous programs including College Gameday Live, SportsCenter and Get Up! Howard signed a multi-year deal with ESPN to remain part of the College Gameday broadcast, keeping one of the most popular college football analysts on TV.
Howard, who was inducted into the Michigan Hall of Honor in 2008 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 2010, stays around the college football experience on Saturdays, being one of the most recognizable analysts in the business. With a multi-year extension, expect to continue seeing Howard on college football Saturdays for years to come, decades after his own legendary college career.