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‘HELLO, HEISMAN!’

Thirty years ago, Desmond Howard and the Heisman became inextricably linked thanks to an epic punt return and a spontaneous celebratory pose.

‘THE LEGEND OF THE POSE’

It is the most famous play in one of the sport's most famous rivalries. With one 93-yard dash punctuated with a now-iconic pose, Michigan wide receiver Desmond Howard led the Wolverines past Ohio State, clinched the Big Ten championship and sealed the 1991 Heisman Trophy. How did Howard pull it off? We get the story behind the legend from the man himself, plus teammates, opponents and coaches.

THE ORIGIN OF HOWARD'S HISTORIC RETURN

When Howard lined up at the 10-yard line to receive the punt, he was itching to make a play. The Wolverines were already ahead 17-3 late in the first half, but their most dynamic player couldn't get going. Howard entered the game as a leading contender for the Heisman Trophy, but a signature play on the game's biggest stage certainly wouldn't hurt.

“Ohio State, their defensive game plan was to not let me score. Obviously, at that point I was the favorite to win the award, and being that they're our archrival, I don't think anything would have given them greater pleasure than to derail my Heisman campaign.”

DESMOND HOWARD

“We get in the huddle, and coach [John] Cooper looks at us in the huddle -- and this is the part I'm not supposed to tell you -- he says, 'Kick the god damn ball out of bounds. This kid [Howard] is f---ing killing us.'

“I'm like, 'OK, it's going out of bounds, we'll go through the motions. The ball's not coming back here.' So all of our guards were down.”

ALLEN DeGRAFFENREID

Ohio State wide receiver and special teams player (1988-92)

“I can look at the ball in flight, and either you can get a feel for the pressures coming on you or you can glance down, and I felt comfortable. I felt like there wasn't a threat that was close enough that will cause me to wave a fair catch ... the furthest thing from my mind was a fair catch.”

HOWARD

“I was very frustrated because I couldn't get going, I couldn't get a big play off [all game]. ... And what I did was I broke that first rule of thumb, which is to not retreat. You're not supposed to leave the 10-yard line to go backward to catch a punt. You're supposed to just let it bounce over your head.”

HOWARD

“His first step was always to twist up and do an angle, do a dance, so the first defender would usually get tricked.”

GREG HARDEN

Michigan director of athletic counseling (1986-2020)

“I think that they assumed, because I was kind of to my left and I had more real estate to my right, I believe that they thought that I would probably try to break to the open field or where I have more room -- but I actually broke to my left.”

HOWARD

“I thought for sure he would go the other direction. ... He's faster than all of us, he can outrun everybody that way. I missed the tackle, and I think I was the only one that kind of got a hand on him or an arm on him on that play.”

“Every year I get text messages, 'You missed him again!' 'Yep, he scored! Just wanted to let you know!' ... You like to be part of the history of the game, but for every great play, there's got to be somebody on the other side.”

JIM BORCHERS

Ohio State long snapper (1990-93)

“As I hit their sideline, I'm looking at the punter. I gave myself enough room that once I saw the punter, I would be able to square him up, and then put a move on him. ... I was like, 'Oh yeah, it's about to happen. Yeah, it's about to happen.'”

HOWARD

“I feel like I'm in a good place. ... And then he makes a cut to the sideline. ... I got his heel with my fingertips as I laid out ... and I'm just lying there face down and seeing him running into the end zone.”

TIM WILLIAMS

Ohio State punter (1989-93)

“Freaking Tim [Williams] dove in front of me. I tried to jump over top of Tim, and [Howard] changed angles. I was like, 'Aw, s---. I can't catch him.'”

DeGRAFFENREID

“... Allen DeGraffenreid comes over [after the play] and was like, 'Man, had you not laid out for him, I had him.' I was like, 'Allen, you gotta be crazy, man. There is no freaking way. You're not catching Desmond. C'mon.'”

WILLIAMS

“That is hilarious. I've never ever heard that before. It is funny. Allen wasn't gonna catch me, though. I agree with Tim. Tim is 100% right.”

HOWARD

“I think he may have pulled off about three tricks to get to the end zone. If you look at that film, you'll see there were some great opportunities to tackle him. He faked a couple cats out, and their shoelaces are still on the field, I believe.”

HARDEN

“Since I'm born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio -- very, very familiar with the rivalry -- I had some teammates during the latter part of the season say, 'You know you should do something when you score, blah blah blah, because you're the Heisman favorite.'”

HOWARD

“He went from my right, right in front of me, to my left, in the end zone, Heisman pose. And I was like, 'S---.' I didn't want to say, 'That's the game,' but the place came unglued and that was the game. He had his Heisman moment. Obviously it would live forever.”

KIRK HERBSTREIT

Ohio State quarterback (1989-93)

“It was a great play, unbelievable play, a game-breaking play. But it wasn't like, 'Wow, how did he do that?' It was just like, 'Yeah, there goes Desmond.' We had a feeling he was going to score.”

T.J. WEIST

Michigan wide receivers coach (1990-93)

“You know it was such an odd thing for me to do personally, simply because of how I celebrated touchdowns throughout the season. I scored 27 touchdowns, and I never did anything except what we call 'a Barry Sanders.' I handed the ball to the official, I always turned around and I celebrate with my teammates every time.”

“I tell you what, it still gives me goose bumps. To relive that, it never gets old.”

HOWARD

“Of course, I'm the one in the damn picture with him when he does the pose. That's me. No. 83, that's me.”

DeGRAFFENREID

“To be honest with you, I did it so fast that I didn't know if anybody caught it. So I actually attempted to do it again, and these guys were all on me, they tackled me, so that's when the pileup started.”

HOWARD

“The pride that was felt at that moment, it kind of rushes to you. Everything that happened for four years ... it was sad also, because you realized, 'Holy cow, this was the end of the story.'”

MARC JACOBSON

Howard's college best friend

“It was a special, special day. Ohio State was always a contender, and for him to finish the game like that -- the legend of that game, the legend of that pose -- it was perfect.”

HARDEN

“The funniest thing is now people do [the Heisman pose] when they see me; it's almost like a greeting. So that's the funny thing, they'll do that anywhere. It might be in the bathroom and maybe at a restaurant -- especially parking lots, going to games. ... Yeah, I get asked often [to do the pose]. I don't do it, because the more I do it, it kind of cheapens it.”

HOWARD

“Until I saw it that night, the way Keith Jackson called it and used the words, 'Hello, Heisman!' it was like it was choreographed.”

BRUCE MADEJ

Michigan sports information director (1982-2010)

HEISMAN NIGHT BY THE NUMBERS

Howard was the first receiver to finish a season as the Big Ten leader in scoring with 23 total touchdowns in 1991. His 19 receiving TDs led the FBS that year. On Dec. 14, 1991, he became just the third WR to take home the Heisman Trophy. His win held the record for widest margin of victory until 2019, when it was broken by Joe Burrow.

640 FIRST-PLACE VOTES, OUT OF 917 POSSIBLE 2,077 TOTAL POINTS, OUT OF 2,751 POSSIBLE 1,574 MARGIN OF VICTORY BY TOTAL VOTES 29 YEARS BEFORE ANOTHER WR WOULD
WIN THE HEISMAN