While the 2021 Heisman Trophy ultimately belonged to Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Bryce Young, former Heisman winner Desmond Howard ended up making ESPN’s telecast of the event all about himself, especially in the eyes of Ohio State faithful.
Howard was interviewing Aidan Hutchinson, a defensive player for Michigan, when the 2021 Heisman finalist shared his goals coming into the season, which included “to beat Ohio State and win a Big Ten championship.”
Standing next to Hutchinson at the time was Pitts quarterback Kenny Pickett, but to his left stood Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud, who had to bear the brunt of that. Michigan defeated Ohio State 42-27 in November before winning the Big Ten title.
“Kenny, I’m glad you’re in between them,” Tim Tebow interjected in an attempt to lighten the mood. “Please stay there.”
And that’s when Howard added, “Better than [Stroud’s] offensive linemen.” And things got awkward real fast.
Aidan Hutchinson reminding CJ Stroud at the Heisman ceremony ?
— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) December 12, 2021
Stroud’s expression told it all but even Hutchinson clearly wanted to sidestep the comment. Robert Griffin III, who was co-hosting alongside Howard and Tebow, added, “just throw them under the bus,” as some fans in the crowd booed Howard.
To say that Howard received an unpleasant reaction from many watching at home, especially those from the Greater Columbus Area, would be an understatement.
Disappointing and sad that @DesmondHoward picked @HeismanTrophy stage to make fun of @OhioStateFB. This should be a celebration of excellence, not pettiness. Grow up. @LIFEoverLOGO https://t.co/t2HGSgmfai
— Nicole Kraft (@Nicole_Kraft) December 12, 2021
C.J. Stroud standing three feet away from Desmond Howard: pic.twitter.com/SfQ3QtDP41
— Andrew Lind (@AndrewMLind) December 12, 2021
Yes Michigan beat us and beat us good and yes, generally we’ve been predictably lame about it but….
This is really lame of Desmond Howard. This night celebrates them all. Wrong platform and time to rub salt in the wound. Would cringe if Herbstreit did this to a UM player. https://t.co/Lu1di8LZQE
— Ben Koo (@bkoo) December 12, 2021
Later on, Howard himself took to Twitter to, well, not really apologize.
I would like to apologize …
to everyone who doesn't have the ability to recognize a fun, good natured ribbing among football rivals. C.J. is good. We good. And that's all that matters to me. Everyone else can relax and enjoy the rest of their night.
— Desmond Howard (@DesmondHoward) December 12, 2021
“I would like to apologize…to everyone who doesn’t have the ability to recognize a fun, good-natured ribbing among football rivals,” said Howard. “C.J. is good. We good. And that’s all that matters to me. Everyone can relax and enjoy the rest of their night.”
He doubled down later in the evening in response to an Ohio State fan who has since deleted the original tweet.
I'm deeply sorry.
Just sick with regret.
That so many people choose to stay B I G mad on the internet. Your quarterback is funnier than you, tougher than you. Be more like your quarterback. ??? https://t.co/oegpfiM2L5
— Desmond Howard (@DesmondHoward) December 12, 2021
Howard then spent Sunday morning tweeting about the Zach Smith scandal at Ohio State in response to criticism from Smith himself.
ESPN hosts, especially in the college football realm, tend to walk a strange line between being reporters or commentators and inserting themselves into the product itself. It’s a line Kirk Herbstreit routinely crosses and Howard’s essentially doing that here as well. There can be something enjoyable about the way former players and alums insert their fandom into the way they talk about current games on the air, but there can also be something insufferable and unprofessional about it when used like this.
Perhaps the intention was simply that of poking fun. And perhaps Stroud was ultimately okay with the joke. But it sure didn’t seem like it at the time. And the Ohio State lineman tuning in watch their quarterback try to get the Heisman Trophy certainly didn’t like it. Hell, it didn’t seem like anyone standing on that stage liked it aside from Howard.
And sure, you can say that these student-athletes know what they’ve signed up for and that includes critiques from members of the media. But was this the best time to make it? Not really, no. It’s not like you can’t crack jokes on live TV, but maybe you don’t want to do it at the expense of the people you’re here to celebrate. If you want to make that joke, Twitter is open for business 24/7/365. That seems like the best place for it.
Michigan football has seen its status grow and reputation bloom in recent weeks following the win over Ohio State and making the College Football Playoff. But moments like this add up, especially when it comes after the program’s one win over OSU after a decade of losing. Football Guys love to tell you to “act like you’ve been there before.” If Howard is a representation of Michigan fandom, he did a poor job of it here.
There was a brief moment where a lot of college football folks found themselves suddenly rooting for Michigan but incidents like that can impact that, especially with the childish way that Howard responded to the criticism. Not to mention, between this and Harbaugh’s “third base” comments after the win over Ohio State, there isn’t much need to provide more bulletin board material for Buckeyes fans next season.