Days Until Super Bowl LIII From January 17: 17
Great things were expected of Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard after he joined the Redskins as the fourth overall pick in the 1992 draft. However, he struggled during four seasons in Washington and Jacksonville, recording just 92 receptions. Yet his fortune changed in 1996, when he signed with the Green Bay Packers and his coach had the master stroke of deploying him as a kick returner instead.
Howard excelled in this role and set an NFL record with 875 punt return yards, while also leading the league in yards per return and punt return touchdowns. He also caught 13 passes for 95 yards and added another 460 yards returning kickoffs, helping the Packers to a 13-3 regular season.
He carried his devastating form into the playoffs, opening the scoring against the 49ers by returning a punt 71 yards for a touchdown. Later he returned another punt for 46 yards to set up a 4-yard touchdown pass by Brett Favre. The Packers went into Super Bowl XXXI as enormous 14-point favorites against the Patriots, and it was Howard’s time to shine on the big stage.
The Packers opened a 27-14 lead and things were looking rosy until New England drove 53 yards in seven plays to pull the score back to 27-21. Suddenly the Patriots had the momentum and they sensed an upset. “I guess it would be safe to say there’s been a big momentum swing here,’ the commentator declared.
But on the ensuing kickoff, Adam Vinatieri went deep and the ball landed in the clutches of Howard, who embarked on an epic 99-yard touchdown return to clinch the game for the Packers. He broke Don Beebe’s tackle and found himself one-on-one with Vinatieri, and there was only going to be one winner in that race.
It was one of the greatest clutch plays in Super Bowl history and set an impressive record. He made it to the end zone in 17 seconds and broke out the robot dance in celebration. “Once you return a kickoff 99 yards at the Super Bowl, you take any wind out of their sails and pretty much any hope they have of a comeback,’ Howard said.
So it proved as the game remained 35-21 to the Packers following a successful 2-point conversion. Howard was named MVP and it was the highlight of his career.