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Notebook: Howard honored before record crowd at Big House

Chris Ryba/Daily
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By Stephen J. Nesbitt, Daily Sports Editor
Published September 11, 2011

Though Michigan fans have known for months that former Michigan star wide receiver Desmond Howard would be recognized before Saturday’s game against Notre Dame, Howard remained tight-lipped about details.

When asked on Thursday, “Are you going to be pleased with it?” Howard kept it simple.

“Watch my reaction,” he said.

When Howard strode out of the tunnel and jumped to touch the ‘Go Blue’ banner, he was like he’s always been. He was all smiles, just a kid. A kid back home in the Big House.

And when Howard was announced as the inaugural “Michigan Football Legend,” he reacted like everyone hoped the former Heisman Trophy winner would react.

Wiping away tears, Howard took the microphone and gazed around the stadium. Then he addressed the crowd with his trademark smile.

“Thank you very much for this honor,” Howard said. “This is something I will cherish for the rest of my life.”

Howard, now an analyst for ESPN’s College GameDay, won’t have his number retired, but it will be properly distinguished. Every player who wears Howard’s No. 21 jersey — which wide receiver Junior Hemingway wears now — will have a patch stitched onto the upper right chest reading, “Desmond Howard: Michigan Legend.”

“We are planning to dedicate an area in Schembechler Hall where these iconic figures can be displayed,” Michigan Athletic Director Dave Brandon said in a press release. “And (Michigan) coach (Brady) Hoke and all future Michigan head coaches will assign this historic jersey to a special player who is deserving of the honor to wear Desmond's No. 21.”

Howard was also given a plaque for his induction into the College Football Hall of Fame.

And he witnessed a stunning Michigan comeback victory against the Fighting Irish — a team he crushed in 1991 with an iconic fourth-and-one touchdown catch in Michigan’s 24-14 victory.

BIG HOUSE ROCKS: It no longer seems like a rare occurrence, with the Michigan Stadium attendance record already having been upped twice in the past calendar year, but it’s happened again.

Brandon guessed the total might exceed 115,000, and he wasn’t far off.

The “Under the Lights” tilt on Saturday night drew a stadium-record crowd of 114,804 to the corner of East Stadium and Main.

That number breaks the previous record of 113,411, set at The Big Chill at the Big House — a mid-December hockey game between Michigan and Michigan State last year. The highest attendance for a football game was 113,090, set at the 2010 season opener against Connecticut.

The event was billed as a spectacle, but it was one headlined by an instant-classic football game. The gimmicks became merely an impressive sideshow. A pair of parachuters descended into the stadium during the halftime show and a flyover marked the beginning of the contest.

But what caught the eye first was the 100,000 maize pom-pons handed out by the Athletic Department to fans entering the stadium.

“We knew it was going to be crazy, but we didn’t know what to expect,” junior quarterback Denard Robinson said. “We walked out (of the tunnel) and everybody had maize on and the pom-pons, we were just like, ‘Wow, we’re playing a night game at the University of Michigan under the lights.’ ”

THE GAME THAT WASN’T: A week after Michigan and Western Michigan had their season opener at Michigan Stadium end with over a full quarter remaining. The NCAA has ruled that it will not recognize statistics from the abbreviated game.

The Wolverines’ 34-10 victory was cut short due to lightning and rain that caused two delays and then the ultimate cancellation of the game.

"The NCAA informed both Western Michigan and Michigan earlier this week that based on the NCAA Football Rules Book, it will keep the records of both teams, score of the game and attendance, but will not recognize the statistics from last Saturday's opening game due to the game not completing the third quarter," the statement read.

After some discussion, both Michigan and Western Michigan, as well as the Big Ten and Mid-American conferences decided to keep the statistics for the season.

“Therefore, there will be a one-game discrepancy in statistical information between the NCAA and both schools/conferences moving forward," the release read.

So, Michigan is still 1-0 and Western Michigan is 0-1.

Michigan senior linebacker Brandon Herron collected both the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week and the Walter Camp Defensive Player of the Week awards for his two-touchdown performance against the Broncos. He will retain those awards, since they are not NCAA-affiliated.

NOTES: Robinson’s four passing touchdowns were the most of his career, and his three interceptions were also tied for a career-high. … The “Under the Lights” win also marks the first time Michigan has beaten Notre Dame three consecutive times since 1908.