1991 : Desmond Howard Strikes the Heisman Pose

November 23, 2018 all-day

November 23, 1991. It was the annual Ohio State-Michigan game, and with a little more than four minutes remaining in the first half, a Buckeye named Tim Williams uncorked a punt high and deep into the slate gray sky of Ann Arbor.

Howard caught it at his own 7-yard line, took three stutter steps to the right, turned directly up field and proceeded to shred the Buckeyes. On the ABC broadcast, even the grizzled voice of Keith Jackson was awestruck.

“Oh my goodness,” Jackson said breathlessly, before delivering one of his all-time signature calls as Howard got free and clear and impossible to catch along the sideline.

“Good-bye. … Hello, Heisman.”

As Howard crossed the end zone he debated with himself whether he should just soak in the cheers of the roaring 106,156-person crowd or turn to his teammates or, perhaps, flash an image-making pose he’d been joking about unleashing for a while now. He knew some would see it as ostentatious, yet fueled by adrenaline he decided, ah, why the heck not. So he unleashed a big smile, planted his right foot, lifted his left knee and extended his left arm forward.

During his college career at the University of Michigan, Howard set or tied five NCAA and 12 Michigan 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, Walter Camp Award, and earning first-team All-American honors. Howard captured 85% of the first place votes in balloting for the Heisman, the largest margin in the history of the trophy at that time.

Interestingly enough, a picture of the event is the basis of a lawsuit in 2013.

Standing not far from Howard that November day, in back of the end zone, was a man named Brian Masck. He was a staff photographer for the Muskegon Chronicle, a paper serving the blue-collar town in Western Michigan. Masck was working as a freelancer for that game, as he often did on weekends. He attended area college games in an attempt to make some extra money by selling shots to newspapers, wire services or, hopefully, the best-paying gig out there, Sports Illustrated.

With the freedom to seek out the perfect picture, Masck was one of the few photographers who abandoned shooting from a traditional spot near the action of the line of scrimmage. He instead took position in the far end zone, just in case Howard did the kind of spectacular thing he was about to do.

Masck worked with a motor-driven Nikon F3 camera, but he’d found, through experience, that simply holding down the shutter release and shooting as many pictures as possible rarely worked in the fast pace of a football game. Cameras were far slower then, particularly on cold November days, and even slightly blurry prints were worthless.

So Masck took each shot individually and, finding himself at such a fortunate angle, hit the button during the instant Howard was in full pose before his teammates piled on top of him. He had his money shot, even if he didn’t know it until Sunday, when back in Muskegon he developed the film.

The photo eventually appeared in SI, and Howard’s pose became a seminal moment in the game’s history. Now almost all aspiring Heisman candidates do it – and they generally use Howard’s version, with one leg lifted in the air, rather than the one on the actual trophy, where both feet are on the ground. It’s even transcended the game; both President and Michele Obama have been pictured doing it.

Even though Howard, now 43, went on to play 11 seasons in the NFL, won MVP of Super Bowl XXXI in part due to a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown that sealed the Green Bay Packers’ title and is now a fixture on national television, the pose remains his signature. The photo has been used on commercials, video-game covers, posters and all other varieties of commoditized goods. Howard has been paid for only some of it.

Twenty two years later, Brian Masck is suing for copyright infringement.

Desmond Howard highlight from University of Michigan versus Ohio State, 1991

Source : Dan Wentzel, “As Johnny Football is in a photo-related flap, ‘Heisman’ Howard is embroiled in one of his own”, Yahoo Sports, August 6, 2013.

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