Howard Reflects On “The Catch”

September 14, 2016 in Football, General News, Michigan

By: Bill Bender – Sporting News

“Timing is everything.”

That’s the phrase Desmond Howard almost always uses when he describes “The Catch,” the play that launched his Heisman Trophy campaign at Michigan on Sept. 14, 1991. Howard made a diving catch on fourth-and-1 for a 25-yard touchdown against No. 7 Notre Dame to clinch a 24-14 win.

That play came on a timing route with quarterback Elvis Grbac. The pump fake. The dive in the back of the end zone. Howard springing up and holding up the ball to confirm to a delirious Michigan Stadium what they just saw.

It was the perfect time.

“That play didn’t happen on Sept. 14, 1991,” Howard told Sporting News. “That play actually happened during the summer preparing for that season. I give coach Gary Moeller a lot of credit because he had the cojones to give us that chance to be great.”

Notre Dame had won the previous four meetings, including Howard’s first two seasons, but the Wolverines led 17-14 with 9:01 left in the fourth quarter. Moeller called a timeout. The original plan was for a short hitch route to Howard, and the audible called for a toss to running back Ricky Powers.

That play came on a timing route with quarterback Elvis Grbac. The pump fake. The dive in the back of the end zone. Howard springing up and holding up the ball to confirm to a delirious Michigan Stadium what they just saw.

“You know what we’re going to do right now,” Moeller said from the sideline as Howard ran back to the field. “He’s going to throw to Desmond, and Desmond’s going to score a touchdown.”

Howard said to himself, “OK, I’m good. I’m going to catch it. No problem.”

Moeller started to have second thoughts. The telecast showed legendary coach Bo Schembechler, who retired after the 1989 season. Moeller looked over at assistant coach Jerry Hanlon.

“Should I be kicking a field goal?” he asked. “If he drops this ball … “

Howard then noticed Notre Dame’s cornerback rolling up toward the line of scrimmage with a safety cheating over the top.

“I had to do a conversion,” Howard said. “I converted my hitch route into a fade route. Elvis, if you look, he comes back and he pumps, because he’s about to throw the hitch. Then we’re on the same page not only physically but mentally. We’re seeing the same thing. Had he released that ball the first time it would’ve been a pick six the other way.”

Instead, as play-by-play announcer Brent Musburger blurted out “He went for it all,” Howard dived and hauled in the catch. There was still 9:02 left in the game, but the Wolverines were about to break that streak.

“That kid’s unbelievable,” Moeller confirmed.

“The Catch” launched a Heisman Trophy season for Howard, who had 19 touchdown catches, two TD runs and two TD returns, including the iconic Heisman Pose on a 93-yard punt return against Ohio State in the regular-season finale. That helped Michigan earn a berth in the Rose Bowl with a Big Ten championship. He’s reminded about those moments every year.

“I don’t even have to quantify. It gets mentioned quite often. It gets mentioned a lot to mid- to late November and early December,” Howard said. “That’s when the Heisman talk really kicks in.”

That diving catch against the Irish unlocked that, and helped set up a career that featured another signature moment. Howard had a 99 yard kickoff return in Super Bowl XXXI that earned him Super Bowl MVP honors.

Three different plays in three different ways defined Howard’s playing career, and a quarter-century later he can’t quantify how many times he has been asked about all three. On that day, Howard said, the significance didn’t set in until he got home and heard the media reaction.

Now an analyst on ESPN’s “College GameDay,” Howard has learned how that works, too. When looking back at “The Catch,” he still spins the moment back to Moeller.

Timing is everything. Sometimes the right play at the perfect time leads to a timeless moment. “The Catch” still fits that description 25 years later.

“For coach to go for it on fourth-and-1, and shock everybody with a pass and not a run,” Howard said, “it couldn’t have been scripted better, in my opinion. The catch kind of jump-started a lot. It really did, especially at Michigan.”

  • About The Author: Wardheadley

    More posts by


0 Comments

Leave a Reply