Desmond Howard’s electric college career at the University of Michigan came to its apex in 1991, when he won the Heisman Trophy as a junior after catching 61 passes for 950 yards with 23 total touchdowns across receiving, rushing, punt and kickoff returns. A Cleveland native, he’s best remembered for his Heisman Trophy pose in the end zone after he returned a punt for a touchdown against archrival Ohio State, which stuck as a viral moment before the era of mainstream internet.
Howard, a 2011 College Football Hall of Fame inductee, has since transitioned his on-field charisma to on-camera, having joined ESPN as a college football analyst in 2005. He’s now working his 18th season on College GameDay, which has won eight Sports Emmy Awards for Outstanding Studio Show since ESPN debuted the Saturday morning on-location show in 1987.
Howard was among the league’s best return specialists during his 11-year NFL career, which was highlighted by his 99-yard kickoff return touchdown for the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXI that catapulted him to win Super Bowl MVP honors. His business pursuits include investing in recovery technology company Therabody. SportTechie recently spoke with Howard as part of his promotion of Town House Game Day Dippers, a new football-shaped cracker snack from Kellogg’s.
On the wearable GPS-tracking technology he wished he had as a player . . .
I am really fascinated by how you can track a player’s speed, because obviously that’s one thing that we always talk about. Traditionally, we talk about 40-yard dash times, ‘Oh, he’s a 4.4 [seconds] guy, oh man he’s a 4.3 guy.’ But as an analyst and as a former player, what I really respect isn’t how fast a guy can run on AstroTurf and some shorts, I really respect how fast can a guy run on the field with a uniform on, helmet, shoulder pads and everything in live time action, because that’s football speed.
Following an 11-year NFL career, Desmond Howard joined ESPN as a college football analyst.
I wish that we had that back in the day when I played. That’s one of the things that I really respect because football speed is completely different than just your 40 time at the combine. I like that a lot. It makes sense to me, it registers with me. So I wish they had that when I was playing.
On his teenage son being his “live-in IT department” for his at-home broadcasting . . .
I have twin boys and they’re 16 years old. One of them is really into technology. Anytime I do Zooms or College Football Live from my house, I have all this equipment. And normally, I don’t know how to hook up the equipment. I’m the type of guy that if I have to find something that’s being streamed on whatever streaming platform, I call my son. Kind of like when I was a kid, and we’d be outside playing in the backyard and then my grandmother would call me into the house, simply to turn the channel for her, you know?
I call my son to find whatever it is on TV that I’m trying to find to stream it, because I don’t know how to do it. I call my son my live-in IT department because any questions or issues about technology I have, he answers them for me.
On his preference for in-person broadcast productions, especially for College GameDay . . .
It’s amazing that we’re able to do remote broadcasting shows, it just blows my mind that we’re able to do that. I prefer obviously being in-person, there’s just something about that, that feels right, it feels natural to me. That’s what I enjoy. And I think that it’s just a different energy. There’s a completely different energy between the two.
GameDay, for instance, our show is a live show. There’s no other show like it, there just isn’t. We’re always outside in the elements. We’re not in the studio with four walls, a roof and a ceiling. The only time we would ever go inside is if it’s thunder and lightning. We’ve been out there in snowstorms, rain, whatever. And then we have the fans, the crowd, the cheerleaders, the band, and all that’s behind us. It’s that live set, being around people — that energy that makes GameDay what it is. So I love the fact that we could do that.
— Desmond Howard (@DesmondHoward) September 9, 2022
A couple weeks ago for our preview show, we did everything remote and it’s just a challenge because you got guys talking and you may want to talk and then there’s a delay. So you get the ‘eh, what, … [people interrupting each other.]’ There’s nothing like being live, together on set, boom boom boom. Everything flows naturally and organically. It’s just a smooth transition. Remote, if you have to do it that way, it’s fine for some shows and for some people, but for what we do on College GameDay, it definitely would not be one of my first choices.
On the shifting college football landscape with schools changing conferences to chase revenues from TV/media rights . . .
Geography doesn’t matter anymore. Tradition doesn’t matter anymore. Rivalries don’t matter at all. It’s all about the money. And for the longest, they’ve tried to hide that, they were in such denial about it, but it is what it is. You can try to call it amateurism, if you want. But this is a multi-billion-dollar industry. We’ve seen for the longest coaches chasing bags, hopping from one job to another job for bags. Everyone was making money except the players, but everyone said, ‘that’s okay, they get a free education, room and board, books paid for, blah, blah, blah,’ while everyone else is stuffing their pockets.
Geography doesn’t matter anymore. Tradition doesn’t matter anymore. Rivalries don’t matter at all. It’s all about the money. And for the longest, they’ve tried to hide that, they were in such denial about it, but it is what it is.
Not only are coaches hopping from team to team, conference to conference for the bag, now we’re starting to see schools hopping from conference to conference for the bad. So it’s a multi-billion-dollar industry, someone finally started to raise the curtain and call it for what it is. And there’s no denial. They denied it for so long, the ‘oh, this is amateurism, and that’s why these kids shouldn’t get paid and blah, blah, blah.’ But everybody else has been stuffing their pockets. What do they say? If it don’t make dollars it don’t make sense, right? So now it’s starting to make a lot of sense, because it’s making a whole lot of dollars.