Desmond Kevin Howard (born May 15, 1970) is an American former football wide receiver who played in the National Football League (NFL) for 11 seasons. He played college football at Michigan, where he won the Heisman Trophy as a senior. 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. Howard achieved his greatest professional success with the Green Bay Packers when he was named Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl XXXI after returning a kickoff for a 99-yard touchdown, the longest return in Super Bowl history. To date, he is the only special teams player to receive the award. He was inducted to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2011.
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.
During his college career at the University of Michigan, Howard set or tied five NCAA and 12 Wolverines records. He also led the Big Ten Conference in scoring with 138 points during the 1991 season on his way to winning the Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award and Walter Camp Award, earning first-team 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 2011, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame 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.
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. Howard told 60 Minutes in 2014: "If Greg Harden wasn’t at the University of Michigan…I don’t win the Heisman."
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. Howard commented afterward, "Any time you have your name mentioned along with Gerald Ford, you've done something right."