Sunday Conversation: Dana Howard
He is one of the best linebackers in the history of the Big Ten. And has the hardware to prove it.
Dana Howard, the 1994 Butkus Award winner, could be about to join another select group of football players. Howard is on the ballot for this year’s class of the College Football Hall of Fame. In May he will find out if he is added to other former Illini greats in the shrine. David Williams was the most recent to be elected.
Staff writer Bob Asmussen, who covered Howard during his Illinois playing days, caught up with him:
How did you find out about being on the ballot?
A buddy of mine called me and told me about it?
Did you know it was a possibility?
I had no clue. I was shocked. I wasn’t shocked that I was on it. I was shocked that it was up and he knew before I did.
What do you think will happen with the voting?
I think my chances are pretty good. I think I’ll make it the first go-round.
How nice is it to have teammate Simeon Rice on the ballot too?
That’s really cool. Two guys from the same university being on the ballot.
Will you be nervous when the announcement gets closer?
It will be a little nerve-racking. I am pretty confident. My stats speak for themselves. They are just as good or better than anyone else on the list.
Which former players do you admire the most?
Dick Butkus and Ray Nitschke. Those are my guys. Scott Studwell, Darrick Brownlow, guys who I know who were great linebackers and played great football.
Can you believe it’s been almost 20 years since your final season?
That’s crazy, isn’t it?
What was your favorite moment at Illinois?
I would have to say winning at Ohio State. I didn’t really make a prediction. I just predicted that we were going to play good.
You got in some trouble before that game.
It was taken out of context that I made a prediction. I really didn’t. It ended up turning out favorably for us and for me that I could back it up. I had a good game, a sack and an interception.
Your teammates had your back.
I knew that they would the entire time. I knew the caliber of guys I had on my team. I knew they were going to play hard. That wasn’t a question.
Lou Tepper got upset with you.
He made me run for what he thought was me trying to predict a victory. I did a whole lot of running.
What are your memories of the Butkus Award ceremony?
It was cool being on stage with a guy who was my idol, Dick Butkus. He was just such an inspiration. A lot of guys that came up in the Illinois system wanted to be just like Dick Butkus.
How much did growing up in East St. Louis shape you as a player and as a person?
I think it built me character-wise and as far as the toughness I had. Playing for coach (Bob) Shannon, you had to be mentally and physically tough. He made men out of us. In high school, we were like a small college. The caliber we played was something high school kids have never played before. We came to play every time.
You could have gone anywhere for college. Why Illinois?
I felt like if I go to Michigan I’m just another Michigan guy. Versus coming to Illinois with a good atmosphere, good academically and good football-wise. I felt like I could make a big splash.
What are you doing these days?
I own a construction company. It’s going pretty good.
Tell me about your family.
I have an 11-year-old daughter, Zoie, and a 4-month-old son, Zade. My wife is Patrice. She’s a UI alum as well. Everything is going good with all us.
How often do you come back to C-U?
Pretty much every home game.