Behind The Scenes

ESPN’s Desmond Howard remembers his Heisman season and how the honor has affected him

Desmond Howard with his Heisman Trophy on December 14, 1991. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

Editor’s note: ESPN will telecast of the 78th annual Heisman Trophy Presentation presented by Nissan on Saturday, Dec. 8, at 8 p.m. ET. The live telecast, from the Best Buy Theater in New York, also will be available on WatchESPN, ESPN Mobile TV and ESPN Radio. The three finalists for the award are senior quarterback Collin Klein (Kansas State), red-shirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M) and senior linebacker Manti Te’o (Notre Dame).

ESPN counts former Heisman Trophy winners Andre Ware (Houston quarterback, 1989)
and Desmond Howard (Michigan wide receiver, 1991) among its college football experts.

ESPN’s Desmond Howard
(Allen Kee/ESPN Images)

Yesterday, Front Row caught up with Ware to discuss his Heisman experience; today we talk to Howard.

How did your Heisman season unfold?
This is how it went: First game of the year we played Boston College at their place and I scored four touchdowns, so I started to hear that I was a pretty good player. Next week we played Notre Dame in Ann Arbor and I scored two touchdowns, including the infamous catch. The next day I am on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

So, now I’m a candidate. At this point, they had already had David Klingler of Houston on the SI cover with a bundle of dynamite in his hand saying he was going to win the Heisman. It anointed him as the next Heisman winner. After the Notre Dame game, I am on the cover and that is when the buzz started even though most felt Klingler was still the guy. Then, Miami killed Houston in their game and the momentum just kept going with me.

Before the buzz, I never thought about winning it. I didn’t take it that seriously because Michigan is not known for promoting individual awards at all. But as the season kept rolling, it came to the point where I became the frontrunner.

What was the Heisman experience like for you?
As the season closed out, it became obvious I was the frontrunner, so then, we had a big game against Ohio State and they were committed to not letting me catch a touchdown. They could have lost the game, never scored a point, but they were not going to let me score a touchdown. They didn’t realize I could play other positions and I returned a punt 93 yards for a touchdown.

My coach had told me there was no doubt I had had a great season. But he told me the year before, the Rocket was the frontrunner and Ty Detmer won instead. It was a word of caution to me that you don’t know how the voters will vote.

What would you tell this year’s nominees about the Heisman ceremony?
I’d like to tell them first and foremost congratulations for them to reach this point where they are the three top players in all of college football. It’s a huge, huge honor that I don’t think any single one of them thought they’d be in the running for at the end of season. This is a huge honor for them and it speaks to the greatness of the season they had. I’d tell them to just appreciate the position they are in.

What were you thinking when they read your name out as the winner? Had you prepared a speech?
In my head, I had a script that I wanted to follow, pretty much thanking the right people. The most important thing in that situation is being able to thank the right people. There are a lot of things going through your mind, adrenaline flowing, you’re excited. . . but you want to make sure you remember the people who helped that moment come about. I wanted to make sure I thanked the right people.

You are known as a fashion plate these days. Did you do anything special when shopping for your suit for the ceremony back then?
I had a black suit with a decent looking tie. I was in college. I was just trying to get something to wear to be decent and represent myself and my family well.

What has winning the Heisman meant to you thru the years?
Now that I’ve retired and I can come back to the Heisman ceremony, I can really appreciate everything behind it. When you’re in college and going thru your season, trying to be the best you can be, you understand it’s a special award and you don’t really appreciate the magnitude of the award until later in life. But things were happening so fast, I couldn’t really absorb all of it. But now, things have slowed down greatly and I can really appreciate the players that won it years ago and now realize I’m in a special fraternity.

Where do you keep your Heisman?
My Heisman is in my living room. It is prominently displayed!

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