November 23, 1991 seemed like any other Saturday before Thanksgiving to this ‘writer’. Maryland head coach Joe Krivak was about to resign, after the Terps finished off a 2-9 season amid rumors that he had lost the locker room. If one were to tune into the radio in the days leading up to that Saturday in 1991, a popular song on the airwaves was Madonna’s Vogue. This song began with the lyrics, “Strike a pose. Strike a pose.” By the time that Saturday was over, striking a pose would earn a certain Cleveland native a very special place in the hearts and minds of his fellow Ohioans.
Michigan wide receiver Desmond Howard was having a very special 1991 season. By the time all was said and done Howard would have hauled in 62 passes, 19 of them for touchdowns (which is even more significant as Michigan in the early 90s was still very much 3 yards and a cloud of dust). Howard also added 180 yards rushing on 13 carries, and led the Big Ten in scoring with 138 points. Heading into the Ohio State game Desmond Howard was a Heisman Trophy favorite, in addition to other awards (such as the Maxwell and Walter Camp Awards).
As for the Michigan Wolverines, Gary Moeller’s team stood at 9-1 heading into their annual clash with the Buckeyes. The only blemish on Michigan’s record was a 51-31 loss to Bobby Bowden’s #1 ranked Florida State Seminoles (in Florida State’s final season as an independent before joining the ACC the next season). Michigan had worked their way to #4 in the Associated Press poll, with a win over John Cooper’s #18 Buckeyes clinching an undefeated conference season (8-0) and a trip to the 1992 Rose Bowl.
Just prior to the 1991 Ohio State at Michigan game, Buckeyes head coach John Cooper had signed a 3-year contract extension (the extension keeping Cooper in Columbus through the 1995 season). Buckeyes Athletic Director Jim Jones justified Cooper’s extension by saying, “We are pleased with the direction our program is going, and with the effort of our student-athletes on the field and in the classroom,” The New York Times went on to say, “By announcing the extension before the game, Jones made sure that if the Buckeyes beat Michigan, nobody could say the victory had saved Copper’s job.” Jim Jones probably didn’t figure on what actually transpired in that game.
As the game got underway, Michigan began pulling away in the second quarter. After a relatively close first quarter, with Michigan holding a slim 7-3 lead, the Wolverines got two touchdowns to take a 17-3 lead. With a little over 4 minutes to go until halftime, Ohio State faced a fourth down near midfield and elected to punt. Desmond Howard was back to receive. Shown below is what transpired on that fourth down play, which put Michigan up 24-3: including Keith Jackson’s ‘goodbye’, ‘touchdown!’ and ‘whoa nelly!’.
Howard fielded the punt at the Michigan 7 yard line and took off up the sideline. At around the Ohio State 20 yard line Desmond Howard began showboating, and after getting the touchdown he struck the ‘Heisman Pose’. This gesture was like pouring gasoline on an open flame to Ohio State fans.
Things didn’t get much better for Ohio State in the second half. John Cooper benched quarterback (Notre Dame transfer) Kent Graham and put in Kirk Herbstriet (yes, THAT Kirk Herbstriet). Ohio State could do nothing on offense, although the Buckeyes defense held Michigan to just one second-half touchdown (a Tyrone Wheatley run). By the time the game ended, Michigan had routed Ohio State 31-3 for the Buckeyes worst loss to the Wolverines since being on the wrong end of a 58-6 decision in 1946 (i.e.; pre-Woody Hayes). As for John Cooper’s contract extension, the Buckeyes would need to eek out a 13-13 tie in Columbus the next season to keep Cooper from being fired.
Desmond Howard indeed traveled to New York to collect the 1991 Heisman Trophy. After a rather forgettable start to his NFL career with the Washington Redskins (much to this ‘writer’s’ chagrin) Howard was able to garner the Super Bowl XXXI MVP award with the Green Bay Packers for basically running back kicks.
As a finale to this story, Howard was embroiled in a legal battle over the rights to his ‘Heisman Pose’ photo. This was finally settled in 2014. The photographer transferred the copyright to Desmond Howard in exchange for a cut of any financial benefits for future use.
With GameDay heading to Columbus for the 2018 Michigan at Ohio State game, think any Buckeyes fans will show Desmond Fucking Howard any love for striking the pose 27 years ago?
Northwestern - The Upset
Indiana - The Real Game of the Century
Nebraska - Surrender Whites
Michigan State - Earning a Rematch
Rutgers - A Program-Changing Season
Illinois - Running the Table
Maryland - Frank Reich’s First Comeback
Minnesota - The Field Goal
Penn State - $20,000 a Point