Desmond The Poser

Michigan wide out sealed Heisman win with end zone pose

Sept. 26, 2007

By Adam Caparell



Adam is's football editor and national football writer.
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There have been 71 different men to win the Heisman Trophy since 1935 and each one of them had their own special Heisman moment.


But none can quite compare to Desmond Howard's.


After all, the 1991 Heisman Trophy winning wide receiver from Michigan put a cap on his campaign by striking the pose - the Heisman Trophy pose - after returning a punt 93 yards for a touchdown against his arch-rival for all the nation to see.


One of the leading candidates to win the award heading into the season, Howard already had a big moment that fall, hauling in Michigan's version of "The Catch" from Elvis Grbac that allowed the Wolverines to beat Notre Dame for first time in five seasons.




But the hardware was essentially his once Howard authored arguably the most famous end zone celebration college or professional football has ever seen one November afternoon in Ann Arbor. And he did it against none other than Ohio State.


But for a while it didn't look like Howard, in his final regular season game in the Big House, would get his chance to shine. The Buckeyes entered the game determined not to let the dangerous Howard, the most explosive player in the game, beat them deep. So naturally, Ohio State lined its safeties deep what seemed like every passing situation.


"It was like he was about to catch a punt that's how deep he was," Howard remembered.


It left Howard a little frustrated and little did he know he'd soon have his moment.


Michigan had forced Ohio State to punt the ball and Howard was sitting in his customary spot, deep and just waiting and hoping for a chance to make a big play. He wanted to make a play so bad, he went against what he was taught.


The hardened rule for any punt returner is if the team punting is kicking toward your end zone you don't want to put your heels inside the 10 yard line. You let the ball sail over your head if it looks like its going to travel inside the 10 yard line because chances are it's going to bounce into the end zone for a touchback.


As Ohio State boomed the ball high into the sky, Howard remembers the ball beginning to sail over his head when he had to make a decision. The ball was definitely going to land inside the 10 yard line. His feet were drifting further and further inside the 10 yard line and he wasn't backing off. He was breaking one of the cardinal rules and something inside Howard told him to go after it.


"I'm going to take a gamble," he said. "I'm going to take a risk."


And just as the ball was about to settle into Howard's arms, as his feet hit the 7-yard line just a few feet shy of the number 10 painted onto the Michigan Stadium turf nearest the north end zone, Howard knew he had to do something special.  


"If you catch it on the seven you better do something with it because if you don't you're going to catch an earful when you go to the sidelines," Howard said.


And the rest, of course, is history.


Immediately upon fielding the ball, Howard shifted to his right and then juked one of the first Buckeyes down the field right out of his shoes.


"You have to make the first guy miss," Howard said.


With another quick move to his left, Howard had some room thanks to a great job of blocking by his teammates and he saw his first glimpse of daylight. He split two more Ohio State defenders, who nearly crashed into each other trying to tackle the speedy Howard, who then beelined for the sidelines. The Ohio State sideline.


And from then on it became a foot race between him and the punter.


"I didn't think I was going to lose. I was pretty confident I was going to score," Howard said.


Once Howard got to midfield, the Buckeyes were in his rearview mirror and there was nothing but pay dirt in front of him. As he raced down the sidelines, clear of everyone, speeding past a stunned and helpless Ohio State sideline, a thought popped into Howard's head.


"Should I do the pose, should I not? Should I do it? Should I not?"


The idea of striking the pose wasn't entirely Howard. A teammate had actually brought up the idea to Howard earlier in the season, but Howard has just shrugged it off. He knew he was a legitimate Heisman candidate, but he didn't want to jinx himself by doing the pose prematurely.


And everything Howard was about growing up told him not to do it. Howard was raised and coached to put the team first. You don't celebrate the individual.


"Especially at Michigan," Howard said.


But in those few brief seconds, as Howard hit the 20-yard line and raised his finger high in the sky toward the Michigan faithful, he wrestled with idea. He didn't want to come off selfish, didn't want to be perceived as an individual. That was the last thing he wanted to do.


But 20 yards, later, Howard's mind had been made up.


"Once I crossed that goal line I said, `Forget it. I have to do it.'"


So as Howard ran past the goal line, entering the end zone just to the side of the far hash mark, Howard slowed up and came to a stop almost perpendicular to the goalpost.


Predictably, the crowd went wild. Howard had just scored his 23rd and final touchdown of the season and the decibel levels soared to ear-drum shattering proportions. Then, as if to defy all logic, the Big House got louder as they witnessed Howard give the stiff arm, his left leg lifted in the air, and brimming ear to ear he had just returned the longest punt in Michigan history.


"They loved it. They thought it was great," Howard said. "They thought the timing was perfect. It was like seizing the moment. So I had a lot of positive feedback."


His teammates swarmed him, tackling him in the end zone. And the celebration spilled onto the Michigan sidelines where the congratulations didn't stop.


Over 100,000 people had just witnessed one of the signature moments in Wolverines history, everyone except for coach Gary Moeller. After Howard had run across the goal line, Moeller turned his back to prepare for the upcoming kickoff. He never saw Howard strike the pose and only found out after the Sports Information Director told Moeller about it


Needless to say, he wasn't the biggest fan of the celebration, but Moeller could live with it. After all, Howard's return helped carry the Wolverines to a rousing victory over the Buckeyes and a few weeks later he was in New York where he became the 56th winner of the Heisman Trophy, handedly beating Florida State's QB Casey Weldon and the previous year's winner, BYU QB Ty Detmer.


It was a dream come true for Howard. He had grown up in Cleveland idolizing Tony Dorsett, the 1976 winner of the Heisman Trophy, and now he was part of one of the most exclusive groups in sports.


"I feel so honored and privileged to be part of a fraternity of just exceptionally talented players, players I grew up admiring," Howard said.


But no one before him, not Dorsett or two-time winner Archie Griffin from Ohio State, could ever claim a moment like Howard's. And arguably no one has since.