East St. Louis High School graduate Dana Howard received the big news from his daughter.
Howard, one of the all-time great linebackers at the University of Illinois, learned Friday that he will be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. The National Football Foundation announced Howard’s election Monday.
Howard, 45, will join 16 previously selected Fighting Illini in the Hall of Fame, including Red Grange (inducted 1951), Dick Butkus (1983) and David Williams (2005). Howard won the Butkus Award in 1994 as the nation’s top linebacker, Illinois’ first major national award.
“Completely happy,” said Howard, adding that he received a letter from the College Football Hall of Fame about two weeks ago, but it remained unopened until Friday. “I didn’t know what it was. We were in the process of moving. My daughter (15-year-old Zoie) opened it. ... That’s when I really got the news. It was really cool.
“This is right up there with one of the best (honors) ever. Now I just need the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but I don’t know if my stats have done enough for that. But I tell you, though, a Hall of Fame is a Hall of Fame. I just tried to live up to what the guys prior to me did, the Kellen Winslows and Bryan Coxes – all those type of guys. They played hard.”
Winslow, 60, who played at Missouri, also is in the College Football Hall of Fame. Winslow, a wide receiver, was a five-time Pro Bowler with the San Diego Chargers who was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1995.
Howard played two seasons in the NFL – 1995 with the St. Louis Rams and 1996 and 1997 with the Chicago Bears. He was briefly with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1999.
Howard lives in Caseyville with his wife, Patrice, daughter, and son Zade, 4.
Howard left Champaign as the Big Ten’s all-time leading tackler and one of the best collegiate defenders of the 1990s. He recorded at least 147 tackles in each of his four seasons from 1991-94 and totaled 595 career tackles, along with 30 tackles for losses, 10 sacks, four interceptions and seven fumble recoveries.
Howard was the Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Year in 1993 and 1994 and was named a first team All-American in both seasons. Howard was a consensus All-American during his Butkus Award winning senior season in 1994.
A four-time All-Big Ten honoree, Howard earned first-team recognition in his last three seasons after making the second team as a freshman. The 1994 team captain and two-time team MVP, he led the Illini in tackles all four seasons of his career, and all four marks still rank among Illinois’ top-10 single-season tackling performances.
“If I could do it all over again, I would do it the same way I did,” Howard said. “I loved to play football. I loved to run around around tackling people and making plays. I did it for the love of the game. Being out there with my guys was one of my favorite things at Illinois. Being out there doing what we do, having good times and beating teams that people didn’t think we should beat.”
Induction ceremonies will be Dec. 4 at the New York Hilton Midtown.
“I don’t know if I’m going to prepare (a speech),” Howard said, acknowledging the risk involved with such a strategy. “I might just have to give one off the top of my head. If I miss people, they know I love them anyway.”
Howard released this statement through the University of Illinois:
“I am so honored and humbled to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame Class of 2018. I want to thank God for blessing me with the ability. I praise my mom and dad for always telling me there are no limits in life, only the ones you put on yourself. Thanks to my family and friends who have been there since day one. An extra-special thanks to my wife, the Bonnie to my Clyde. Thanks to the city of East St. Louis – all 89 blocks.
“I want to acknowledge my teammates, because I wouldn’t and couldn’t be in this position without them. I want to thank my coaches for taking me from a good player to great one, and most importantly, I give all credit to the University of Illinois for making me a great student-athlete.”
Howard was a fifth-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys in the 1995 NFL Draft. He played with the St. Louis Rams in 1995 and spent two seasons with the Chicago Bears from 1996-97 before playing for the Amsterdam Admirals in NFL Europe.
Howard is a member of several foundations in the East St. Louis area, including the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation. He also helps organize the City of Champions Football Classic to benefit the East St. Louis school district. He is the owner of Zoie LLC DBA Dana Howard Construction Co., based in Belleville.
The announcement of the College Football Hall of Fame’s 2018 class was made live on ESPN’s SportsCenter in Atlanta, the site of the College Football Playoff National Championship. Ten players and three coaches were selected of the 75 All-America players and six coaches on the ballot from the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Howard was inducted in the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame in 2017.