Ranking the 20 Best Free-Agent Signings in Packers History

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5. Desmond Howard, Returner, 1996

When Desmond Howard joined the Green Bay Packers in 1996, few could have predicted the impact he would have on the team’s historic season. Signed to a modest one-year contract, Howard was brought in primarily for his return skills. However, his contributions went far beyond special teams, culminating in one of the most memorable Super Bowl performances in NFL history.

Howard, a former Heisman Trophy winner, had bounced around the league before landing in Green Bay. His arrival provided an immediate boost to the Packers’ special teams. Throughout the 1996 season, Howard led the NFL in punt return yards and punt return touchdowns, quickly becoming a game-changing presence. His ability to flip field position was a significant advantage for the Packers, who often started their offensive drives with excellent field position thanks to Howard’s returns.

The pinnacle of Howard’s impact came in Super Bowl XXXI. In a game filled with memorable moments, Howard’s 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the third quarter stands out as the defining play. This electrifying return earned him Super Bowl MVP honors, making him the first and only special teams player to receive the award. Howard’s performance in the Super Bowl, which included 244 total return yards, set a record that still stands today.

Howard’s contributions weren’t limited to his Super Bowl heroics. Throughout the season, his consistency and explosiveness on special teams provided the Packers with a unique weapon. His presence forced opposing teams to adjust their game plans, often leading to better field position for Green Bay.

After his spectacular season, Howard signed with the Oakland Raiders in free agency. His time in Green Bay was brief, but the impact he made in 1996 was lasting. Howard’s performance in the Super Bowl and throughout the season helped propel the Packers to their first championship in nearly 30 years.