When most fans think of the rivalry between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Michigan Wolverines, one player instantly comes to mind — 1991 Heisman Trophy Winner and current ESPN College Football Analyst Desmond Howard.
Howard is returning once more to his alma mater this weekend as a part of the College Gameday pregame show for the second night game in Michigan Stadium history, with Notre Dame as the opponent.
“It is great,” Howard said. “Anytime I can go back to Ann Arbor, I feel really good about it and it is an honor to be there as an analyst [for Gameday] for the second night game, [although] I would rather be there as a player for the game.”
“To be a part of it under this end is actually a special feeling to be able view [and] talk about it,” he said.
Sept. 10, 2011 brings back great memories for Howard as he was honored as the inaugural “Michigan Football Legend” before the school’s first ever night game against Notre Dame.
“It was one of the more special days that I have ever had in my adult life, especially from an athletic standpoint,” he said. “I didn’t know what athletic director David Brandon would have up his sleeve, but he did a tremendous job putting on a nice ceremony to honor me as a legend. It is one of those rare moments that brought me to tears.”
Most college football fans remember the matchup between the Wolverines and Irish at Michigan Stadium on Sept. 14, 1991.
With the fourth quarter in the early stages and the score 17-14, Michigan head coach at the time Gary Moeller decided to go for it on fourth and one. Quarterback Elvis Grbac took the snap from under center, pump faked once and lobbed it in the air and Howard outran both Irish defensive backs and went for the ball in the upper right-hand corner of the end zone and caught it for a touchdown and the rest is history.
“We had a timeout before that play and Grbac and myself went to the sideline and spoke with coach Gary Moeller and I tell people all of the time you have to put that in context—Moeller was replacing a legend in Bo Schembechler,” Howard said.
“He [Moeller] was facing a fourth and one and everyone thought that he would run the ball. But because we came into camp [that summer] in great condition and we were hitting on all cylinders in terms of our passing game, he had the confidence to give us the opportunity to do something great. His words were (we are going to throw the ball) and Elvis and myself said great. Because we worked our butts off in camp, we capitalized on that opportunity.”
With the Irish/Wolverines series going on hiatus after next year’s meeting, Howard sees top-tier teams scheduling even tougher teams with the college football playoff starting in Jan. 2015.
“I think that this playoff scenario will change things [not just Michigan], but a lot of teams,” he said. “That is what is going to be a factor in how teams schedule their non-conference opponents.
I don’t think you are going to want too many teams who can’t give you any credibility. To me, the playoff system coming next year will be the biggest factor as far as scheduling non-conference games.”
Eastern Michigan University head coach Ron English is in his fifth season at the helm and Howard hopes that he can survive the season and be able to return next year.
“I am hoping somehow that he is able to keep his job,” Howard said.
Follow Eugene Evans on Twitter @EasternEchoGeno.