Tillman, Howard to join HOF ranks
Desmond Howard scored two of the most memorable touchdowns in the storied history of Michigan football and struck the pose that Heisman contenders have been mimicking since.
Barry Alvarez resurrected a Wisconsin program that looked hopeless on the field and off and went on to become the only Big Ten coach to win consecutive Rose Bowls.
The game-breaker and the program-builder are now Hall of Famers.
Howard, Alvarez and the late Pat Tillman were among the 14 newly elected members of the College Football Hall of Fame announced Thursday by the National Football Foundation at a news conference at the Nasdaq Stock Exchange in Manhattan.
The others included defensive lineman Dennis Byrd of North Carolina State; center Ronnie Caveness of Arkansas; defensive lineman Ray Childress of Texas A&M; guard Randy Cross of UCLA; running back Sam Cunningham of Southern California; quarterback Mark Herrmann of Purdue; receiver Clarkston Hines of Duke; defensive back Chet Moeller of Navy; halfback Jerry Stovall of LSU; and linebacker Alfred Williams of Colorado.
Gene Stallings, who led Alabama to a national title in 1992, was the other coach elected to the Hall of Fame.
Howard, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1991, found out from his mother he was elected.
“I just knew it was something special,'' he said recalling the phone call. “Just to hear those words and the way she said them let me know it was something she was very proud of.''
The speedy and diminutive receiver dominated the Big Ten in 1991 for the Wolverines, scoring a school-record 23 touchdowns and 138 points.
But two plays stood out above all.
In September against Notre Dame, Howard's diving catch in the end zone on fourth-and-1 helped beat the Fighting Irish.
Then to put an exclamation mark on his spectacular season, Howard returned a punt 93 yards for a touchdown against rival Ohio State. As he was being mobbed by teammates in the end zone, Howard lifted a knee high to his chest and jabbed out a stiff arm. And just like that a college football tradition was born. The Heisman pose.
The details of those touchdowns might fade, and even the fact that Howard was a Super Bowl MVP for the Green Bay Packers in 1997 gets lost amid the memories of Brett Favre celebrating his only NFL title.
But no football fan forgets Howard's Heisman pose.
“That thing resonates with everyone,'' said Howard, who now works for ESPN. “When we travel, all the college kids, they're chanting, 'Do the Heisman.'''
Howard was the fourth pick in the 1992 draft by the Washington Redskins, but never reached the same stardom as a receiver in the pros that he did at Michigan.
But his 5-foot-10 frame didn't hold him back when he arrived at Ann Arbor from Cleveland as a tailback. He switched to receiver early in his career and finished with 134 receptions for 2,146 yards.
Alvarez found out while he was at the Big Ten meetings in Chicago he was elected to the Hall of Fame.
“I was totally surprised – actually broke down,'' he said. “The first thing you think about is all the people who have something to do with it.''
Three Hall of Fame coaches helped mold Alvarez.
He played at Nebraska under coach Bob Devaney, then worked as an assistant under Hayden Fry at Iowa and Lou Holtz at Notre Dame.
When he arrived in Madison in 1990, the Badgers hadn't been to a Rose Bowl since 1963 and the football program was losing money and games (36 over the previous four seasons) at an alarming rate.
The bar for the Badgers was set low when Alvarez took over.
“Pat Richter, our athletic director, said if you can ever win six games, these people will think you hung the moon,'' he said. “We've been competitive since '92. So our people now, they expect you to be good.''
In 1994, Alvarez snapped Wisconsin's long Rose Bowl drought and led the Badgers to a 21-16 victory against UCLA. He added two more Rose Bowl victories in 1999 and 2000 and took on the role of athletic director in 2004. After two years of handling both duties, Alvarez stepped down as coach with a record of 118-73-4.
Tillman played linebacker for Arizona State from 1994-97 and gave up an NFL career with the Arizona Cardinals to enlist in the Army in 2002. He was killed while serving in Afghanistan in 2004.
The newest class will be inducted in December in New York and enshrined at the Hall of Fame in South Bend, Ind., in the summer of 2011.