Howard's Heisman pose lives on
ESPN GameDay analyst declines to re-create moment so as not to 'cheapen' it
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The ball hung in the air. Before Desmond Howard even caught the punt against Ohio State in 1991 that would eventually change his life, he thought about what he was going to do.
As Howard burned through the entirety of Ohio State's coverage -- literally splitting through three Buckeyes and outrunning at least four more before coasting the final 10 yards to the end zone -- he debated it even more.
What Howard did once he reached the end zone 93 yards later, completing the longest punt return for a touchdown in Michigan history, has lived on forever.
"It changed my life, yeah," Howard said this week. "Had I not struck the pose, chances are I would have won the Heisman, I think, still, because it wasn't a close vote. But just would people still remember me or recognize me because of a signature moment? That moment pretty much changed my life."
It turned Howard from a Heisman Trophy winner to a Heisman legend. The pose ended up on the cover of EA Sports' NCAA Football game in 2005. It is still shown during highlight packages of the greatest plays in college football history.
A season doesn't go by without Howard's Heisman pose showing up on TV.
On the play, as Howard reached the end zone, ABC broadcaster Keith Jackson bellowed "Hello, Heisman."
A month later, Howard officially greeted the trophy at the Downtown Athletic Club in Manhattan.
"To be completely and totally honest with you, it was never a goal of mine. I don't know if it was of Charles or not," Howard said, referring to fellow Wolverine Charles Woodson, who won the Heisman in 1997.
"Once it becomes attainable, you want to win it because you are competitors by nature. But I never came into that season thinking 'Man, shoot, after the season I had last year, I should win the Heisman.' It wasn't even a thought because that year, David Klingler, the quarterback at Houston, was on the cover of Sports Illustrated and was like a bundle of dynamite, and it was a foregone conclusion this kid was going to win the Heisman."
He didn't. Howard did.
Howard will talk about the return. He'll talk about winning the Heisman. He'll be recognized for all of his accomplishments, just as he was when inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in July and as he will be when honored in a pregame ceremony tonight before the Michigan-Notre Dame game.
But don't ask him to do one thing. Don't ask him to repeat the pose.
"It's the No. 1 thing people ask when they see me. Do the Heisman pose. You know, do the Heisman pose. It just follows me," Howard said. "It was something that, at the Hall of Fame enshrinement in South Bend, Jon Gruden asked me to do it and tried to get the crowd behind him.
"You guys probably read what I said, that I don't do that anymore because if I do it, everywhere I go, people ask me to do it. If I do it, then it cheapens that moment so I refuse to do it now and just leave it for those who experienced it in Ann Arbor."
When he is on the field Saturday night, though, who knows what he'll do -- or what will happen. Both Howard and Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon have been coy with how the school will honor Howard.
The only thing they'll say is "stay tuned." And Howard, who admitted to knowing parts of what will happen but not everything, told the media he met with Thursday to watch his reaction as it unfolds.
Whatever it is, it'll just be another part of Michigan history.
Michael Rothstein covers University of Michigan sports for WolverineNation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @mikerothstein.
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