I, uh... don't actually hate Desmond Howard.
It's not my fault! Desmond Howard, boyishly handsome though he is, did most of his damage to the Buckeye state before my time: from 1989 through 1991 he was undefeated against Ohio State, culminating in a punt return that made everyone in Ohio mad for... well, going on 29 years now.
Howard won the Heisman after that, which, alright. He was a versatile athlete who caught a lot of touchdowns and housed a kickoff and the aforementioned punt return. He was good-to-great in 1991, and while "Heisman winner Desmond Howard" seems a bit much, I don't have a beef with that.
Nor do I have a problem with his mostly uneventful NFL career, where he was a very good return man, somehow won a Super Bowl MVP, and was a guest on Conan.
So as I grew up in the mid 90's, layers of Buckeye fandom slathered on me like coats of glaze on a ham, I never really understood the Howard hate. For me, Tim Biakabutuka or Brian Griese were much more disagreeable than some punt returner who stunted on a couple of not-great Buckeye teams. And hell, if you're mad because the dude is from Cleveland, Charles Woodson (Ohio's Mr. Football as a son of Fremont, Cutlery Capital of the World) apparently never even considered coming to Columbus!
Plus, as an aside, Ohio has successfully plundered way more from Michigan than vice versa. Anyway.
For anyone reading this with the same confusion regarding the ire that Howard generates in Ohio State fans, here are my findings after several decades of exhaustive Desmond Howard-related research on the subject. In brief:
HE MADE US LOOK LIKE DORKS
Howard's big game against Ohio State in 1991 puts him as literally a dime a dozen in terms of Michigan players who beat up on the Buckeyes during the Cooper era. But his greatest sin in that game was creating a media-friendly moment that everyone on the planet instantly knew would be associated with the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry until the heat death of the universe, and that is something Buckeye fans can't abide. It's one thing to lose to someone, it is quite another to get stunted on by that same guy for an eternity of highlight reels and BTN retrospectives.
THE 90'S ARE HIS FAULT
The second is related to the first. Ohio State had played Michigan to a virtual standstill since Woody Hayes arrived in Columbus, and a rivalry that had been birthed from Buckeye anger at getting whupped year in and year out had reached something of an equilibrium. Desmond Howard represents the beginning of the apple cart falling into a ditch and spilling a decade's worth of tasty, tasty fruit in the cold, wet muck. Things got worse after 1991, and didn't get better for a long time.
WE CAN'T GET AWAY FROM THE GUY
Howard is now an ESPN college football staple, and every Ohio State fan has the nagging, worried feeling that at any time he could bust out a Heisman pose and send us all spiraling back to the Bad Old Days, forcing us to relive every dumb moment of our formative years following the Buckeyes.
Desmond Howard just now .... Michigan wins it all pic.twitter.com/S1P80KoIKz— angelique (@chengelis) August 25, 2018
It's a wash.
I get it now. The hate isn't so much for Desmond Howard, human being, as it is for Desmond Howard, avatar of Michigan 90's success. That's a perfectly understandable reaction for a fanbase who spent that decade looking for anything positive to come out of The Game, and instead ended up with The Worst.
With that said, learning to separate the two is important, because if you allow your head to be filled with irrational anger at someone, it'll end up your ass.