Desmond Howard
refer to caption
Howard in 2018
No. 80, 81, 18, 82
Position:Wide receiver
Return specialist
Personal information
Born: (1970-05-15) May 15, 1970 (age 54)
Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.
Height:5 ft 10 in (1.78 m)
Weight:188 lb (85 kg)
Career information
High school:St. Joseph (Cleveland, Ohio)
College:Michigan (1988–1991)
NFL draft:1992 / Round: 1 / Pick: 4
Career history
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics
Receiving yards:1,597
Receiving touchdowns:7
Kickoff return yards:7,959
Punt return yards:2,895
Return touchdowns:8
Player stats at PFR

Desmond Kevin Howard (born May 15, 1970) is an American former football wide receiver and return specialist who played in the National Football League (NFL) for 11 seasons. He played college football for the Michigan Wolverines, where he was a two-time All-American, including a unanimous All-American selection in 1991, winning the Heisman Trophy. He was selected fourth overall in the 1992 NFL Draft by the Washington Redskins. Howard spent most of his career on special teams as a return specialist and holds the NFL single season record for punt return yardage. With the Green Bay Packers, Howard was named Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl XXXI after setting an NFL record for punt return yards and returning a kickoff for a 99-yard touchdown, the longest return in Super Bowl history at the time. To date, he is the only special teams player to receive the award. He was inducted to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2010.

High school career

Howard was born in Cleveland, Ohio and earned All-American and All-Ohio honors as a tailback during his senior season at St. Joseph High School in Cleveland, Ohio, scoring 18 touchdowns with a record-breaking 5,392 rushing yards, as well as 10 interceptions on defense. He earned three varsity letters each in track and football, as well as one in basketball.

College career

Howard posing with the Heisman Trophy in December 1991.
Howard celebrating a touchdown against Notre Dame in September 1991.

Howard played college football at the University of Michigan. During his time there Howard set or tied five NCAA records, and twelve school records, including 19 receiving touchdowns in a single season, the program’s current all-time record.[1] In 1991, Howard caught 62 passes for 985 yards and scored 23 total touchdowns, while also rushing for 180 yards and gaining 694 yards on special teams, with an average of 27.5 yards per kickoff return and 14.1 yards per punt return.[2] He won the Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award, and Walter Camp Award, earning unanimous All-American honors. Howard captured 85 percent of the first-place votes in balloting for the Heisman, the largest margin in history at that time. Howard also earned a bachelor's degree in communications in 1992. In 2010, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame[3] and he was honored as the inaugural Michigan Football Legend, a program honoring former players equivalent to a retired jersey number. Each Michigan player to wear Howard's No. 21 jersey was to wear a patch recognizing Howard, and dress at a locker bearing a plaque with his name and time of tenure at Michigan.[4] Howard finished his three seasons at Michigan with 249 rushing yards, 134 receptions for 2,146 yards, 1,211 kickoff return yards, and 339 yards returning punts, while also scoring 37 touchdowns.

Howard had come to Michigan as a tailback and initially struggled for playing time. He met with Michigan counselor Greg Harden, who helped him to build his confidence and achieve success on and off the field.[5] Howard told 60 Minutes in 2014: "If Greg Harden wasn’t at the University of Michigan…I don’t win the Heisman."[6]

On December 12, 2014, the Big Ten Network included Howard on "The Mount Rushmore of Michigan Football", as chosen by online fan voting. Howard was joined in the honor by Charles Woodson, Tom Harmon, and Anthony Carter.

On November 28, 2015, Howard had his #21 officially retired along with Gerald Ford (48), Tom Harmon (98), Ron Kramer (87), Bennie Osterbaan (47), and Albert, Alvin, and Whitey Wistert (11) at a ceremony before the Michigan game against Ohio State.[7] Howard commented afterward, "Any time you have your name mentioned along with Gerald Ford, you've done something right."

The Heisman pose

Born and raised in Cleveland, Howard was, he later said, "very, very familiar" with the Michigan–Ohio State football rivalry.[8] During the 1991 season, after he became a Heisman contender, Howard decided that he would do "something special" during the Ohio State-Michigan game "as a little shout-out to the people back in Ohio".[9]

Ohio State coach John Cooper ordered his team to avoid giving Howard chances to score. The punt that Howard returned for a touchdown in the game was supposed to go out of bounds, so the Ohio State special teams players were unprepared for him.[8] In the end zone, Howard wanted to do a backflip but, Howard later said, "chickened out"; instead he imitated the pose of the football player on the Heisman trophy bust, immediately receiving much media attention. Comparing his act to Muhammad Ali's taunting of opponents, Steve Rushin observed that although Howard's pose did not closely resemble that of the statue, "that looks more like the Heisman Trophy of our imagination than the Heisman trophy itself ... thousands of people must have instantly picked up some object and tried to do the same thing". Howard later said that "all of a sudden, everyone was doing it"; many have imitated the act, including fellow athletes, celebrities, and Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.[9] Howard said that the pose has become a greeting for fans meeting him, but he avoids doing it himself "because the more I do it, it kind of cheapens it".[8]

Professional career

Pre-draft measurables
Height Weight Arm length Hand span
5 ft 9+78 in
(1.77 m)
184 lb
(83 kg)
30+38 in
(0.77 m)
8+78 in
(0.23 m)
All values from NFL Combine[10]

After college, Howard was selected by the Washington Redskins in the first round, fourth overall in the 1992 NFL Draft.[11] The pick was considered a luxury for the Redskins, who had just won Super Bowl XXVI and had receivers Art Monk, Gary Clark, and Ricky Sanders on the roster. The Redskins, worried that the Green Bay Packers were going to draft Howard in the fifth spot, leapfrogged above them by dealing their two first-round picks - 6th and 28th - and their third-round choice (84th) to the Cincinnati Bengals for their first-round pick (4th) and their third-round pick (58th).[12] Howard was the highest Redskins draft pick since they took Hall of Fame receiver Charley Taylor with the third pick in 1964.[12] Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs remarked of Howard "This guy doesn't have any flaws. We're excited."[13]

Howard's performance as a receiver was secondary to his skills as a punt and kickoff returner throughout his 11-year career. Though he recorded 92 receptions in his first four seasons, he excelled as a punt and kickoff returner throughout his career.

Howard played one season for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 1995, having been selected in the 1995 NFL expansion draft with the 55th pick.[14] He had 26 receptions and one touchdown, with 10 kick returns.

Howard in 2014 while attending a Michigan game

His most notable professional season was in 1996 for the Green Bay Packers. He led the NFL in punt returns (58), punt return yards (875), punt return average (15.1), and punt return touchdowns (3), while gaining 460 kickoff return yards and catching 13 passes for 95 yards. His 875 punt return yards were an NFL record, easily surpassing the old record of 692 yards set by Fulton Walker in 1985. During the 1996 NFL postseason, Howard had a punt return for a touchdown in a game between the Packers and the San Francisco 49ers, and 46-yard punt return that set up another score. However, he did have an odd blunder in the second half, in which he failed to come out of the locker room in time for the start of the third quarter. No one on the team noticed, so the Packers had only 10 men on the field for the second-half kickoff, with no one in the returner position. As a result, San Francisco ran down the field and recovered the kickoff, leading to a 49ers touchdown. Still, the Packers won the game and eventually reached Super Bowl XXXI against the New England Patriots.

Desmond Howard's 99-yard kick return touchdown in the Superdome in Super Bowl XXXI
video icon Howard returns Adam Vinatieri's kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown in Super Bowl XXXI, January 26, 1997

The Packers led 27–14 at halftime, but Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe led his team on a short drive that ended with Curtis Martin's 18-yard touchdown run to pull the Patriots within six points late in the third quarter. The Patriots boomed the ensuing kickoff to the one-yard line, but Howard effectively shattered the Patriots' hopes for a comeback with a 99-yard kickoff return for a Packers touchdown. His return and the Packers' subsequent two-point conversion closed out the scoring of the game, and the Packers eventually won 35–21. Bill Parcells, the Patriots' head coach, commented after the game: "We had a lot of momentum, and our defense was playing better. But [Howard] made the big play. That return was the game right there. He's been great all year, and he was great again today." Howard totaled a Super Bowl record 90 punt return yards and 154 kickoff return yards with one touchdown; his 244 all-purpose yards also tied a Super Bowl record. His performance won him the Super Bowl MVP award, making Howard the only player to ever win the award based solely on a special teams performance. His kickoff return touchdown in the Super Bowl ended up being the only one of his career.

Howard became a free agent after the season and signed with the Oakland Raiders. He led the NFL in kickoff returns (61) and kickoff return yards (1,381). Howard spent the 1998 football season with the Raiders before re-joining the Packers in 1999.

In the middle of the 1999 season, Howard was cut by the Packers after subpar performance and multiple injuries.[15] He was signed by the Detroit Lions four days later, where he spent the rest of his career until his retirement after the 2002 season. In a special homecoming, he scored a special teams touchdown in his Lions debut. In February 2001, he made his first and only Pro Bowl appearance as the NFC's kick returner.

In his 11 NFL seasons, Howard caught 123 passes for 1,597 yards, rushed for 68 yards, returned 244 punts for 2,895 yards, and gained 7,595 yards returning 359 kickoffs. He also scored 15 touchdowns (7 receiving, 8 punt returns). Overall, Howard gained 12,155 all-purpose yards in his professional career.

NFL career statistics

Super Bowl MVP
Won the Super Bowl
NFL record
Led the league
Bold Career high

Regular season

Year Team Games Receiving Punt returns Kick returns Fumbles
GP GS Rec Yds Avg Lng TD FD Ret Yds Avg Lng TD FC Ret Yds Avg Lng TD Fum Lost
1992 WAS 16 1 3 20 6.7 8 0 1 6 84 14.0 55 1 3 22 462 21.0 42 0 1 0
1993 WAS 16 5 23 286 12.4 27 0 17 4 25 6.3 13 0 0 21 405 19.3 33 0 0 0
1994 WAS 16 15 40 727 18.2 81 5 33 0 0
1995 JAX 13 6 26 276 10.6 24 1 15 24 246 10.3 40 0 8 10 178 17.8 24 0 0 0
1996 GB 16 0 13 95 7.3 12 0 4 58 875 15.1 92 3 16 22 460 20.9 40 0 2 1
1997 OAK 15 0 4 30 7.5 9 0 0 27 210 7.8 31 0 20 61 1,318 21.6 45 0 2 0
1998 OAK 15 1 2 16 8.0 10 0 2 45 541 12.0 75 2 13 49 1,040 21.2 42 0 4 2
1999 GB 8 12 93 7.8 20 0 7 19 364 19.2 31 0 0 0
DET 5 6 115 19.2 68 1 3 15 298 19.9 35 0 0 0
2000 DET 15 0 2 14 7.0 10 0 0 31 457 14.7 95 1 24 57 1,401 24.6 70 0 2 1
2001 DET 14 1 10 133 13.3 36 1 5 22 201 9.1 34 0 19 57 1,446 25.4 91 0 1 1
2002 DET 7 9 48 5.3 14 0 5 26 587 22.6 70 0 0 0
Career 156 29 123 1,597 13.0 81 7 77 244 2,895 11.9 95 8 118 359 7,959 22.2 91 0 12 5

Broadcasting career

Chris Fowler and Desmond Howard conducting postgame coverage for College GameDay

Howard currently works for ESPN as a college football analyst. He appears as an in-studio personality and, in 2005, began traveling with Chris Fowler, Lee Corso, and Kirk Herbstreit to marquee matchup sites during the season for the pregame show ESPN College Gameday.

He is also currently the color commentator for Detroit Lions pre-season games on the Detroit Lions Television Network. He called games for the NFL on Fox for one season with former ESPN colleague Carter Blackburn.

Personal life

Howard served as the cover athlete for the college football video game NCAA Football 06.

Howard has 2 sons: Desmond Howard Jr. and Dhamir Howard and daughter Sydney Howard.

See also


  1. ^ "Single Season Leaders and Records for Receiving Touchdowns". Sports-Reference: College Football. Sports Reference LLC. Retrieved July 28, 2014.
  2. ^ "Desmond Howard College Stats".
  3. ^ "ESPN's Desmond Howard Named to College Football Hall of Fame Class of 2010". May 28, 2010.
  4. ^ "Howard Earns Inaugural Designation of Michigan Football Legend - MGOBLUE.COM - University of Michigan Official Athletic Site". Archived from the original on October 1, 2011. Retrieved January 15, 2022.
  5. ^ "Tom Brady's Guru", by Eric Adelson, January 11, 2011.
  6. ^ "60 Minutes Sports" (Interview). YouTube. Archived from the original on January 16, 2016. Retrieved November 19, 2015.
  7. ^ "Michigan retires Howard's number, nixes 'Legends' jerseys | NCAA Football | Sporting News". Archived from the original on November 2, 2015. Retrieved January 15, 2022.
  8. ^ a b c Dinich, Heather (2021). "How Desmond Howard pulled off the most memorable Heisman pose in history". ESPN. Retrieved November 23, 2021.
  9. ^ a b 2016 Heisman Trophy Presentation (Television). ESPN. December 10, 2016.
  10. ^ "Desmond Howard, Combine Results, WR - Michigan". Retrieved February 6, 2022.
  11. ^ "1992 NFL Draft Listing". Retrieved May 7, 2023.
  12. ^ a b Stellino, Vito (April 27, 1992). "Redskins land trophy pick Washington gets Howard by trading for No. 4 choice".
  13. ^ George, Thomas (April 27, 1992). "FOOTBALL; Extra! Extra! Redskins Get Howard, Dickerson Dealt". The New York Times.
  14. ^ "NFL Expansion Draft". Tampa Bay Times. February 16, 1995. Retrieved November 2, 2023.
  15. ^ "Lions Sign Desmond Howard". Los Angeles Times. December 5, 1999.