Erik the Great: Where is he now?

THERE'S AT LEAST one Cougar fan who would be thrilled if Washington State was somehow selected to play in the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La. Erik Howard, a two-time Super Bowl winner who starred for the Cougars in the 1980s, lives but 40 miles west of Shreveport, in Marshall, Texas. He follows the Cougs, he told CF.C in a recent interview, and says the locals just love Mike Leach.

"In these circles down here in Texas, everyone speaks so incredibly highly of Mike," Howard said. "He runs a very tight ship. If I was starting a team, he'd be the kind of guy I'd want running the show."

After an All-Pac-10 senior season at WSU in 1985, Howard was the 46th overall pick in the 1986 NFL draft and proceeded to play nine seasons with the Giants and two more with the Jets, before retiring after the 1996 campaign.

Today he is a developer and home builder in northeastern Texas, where he and his wife of 16 years, Jennifer, are raising two sons and a daughter.

Asked to name the fondest memory of his Cougar career, Howard doesn't hesitate even a moment: Winning the Apple Cup three times in his four varsity seasons. The joy of those victories, he said, is on par with the two Super Bowls he won with the Giants.

The last of those Apple Cup wins came amid freezing conditions in Seattle in 1985. It was a 21-20 thriller that the Cougar defense sealed by denying the Huskies on a two-point-conversion attempt in the waning moments.

The victory capped a sterling Cougar career for Howard. He won the Morris Trophy that season as the top defensive lineman in the Pac-10 and finished in WSU's career top ten for sacks and tackles-for-loss.

And to think it might never have been.

"Yeah, Pullman was the worst recruiting trip I took," Howard laughed when asked about his decision to go crimson out of San Jose's Bellarmine Prep. "It was terrible."

Howard's host for that trip was Cougar defensive tackle Eric Williams, who would himself go on to a long NFL career that included a Super Bowl ring. Unfortunately for Howard, final exams at WSU were about to commence and Williams was focused on hitting the books.

Cougs with multiple
NFL rings

WR Mike Wilson:
Played on four Super Bowl winners with the 49ers (1982, '85, '89 and '90)

DT Erik Howard:
A mainstay in the starting line up for the Giants in Super Bowl wins in 1987 and '91.

QB Mark Rypien:
MVP of the 1992 Super Bowl with the Redskins and a backup on the team's 1988 title team.

C/LB Mel Hein:
Widely viewed as the greatest center in the history of the game, he led the New York Giants to NFL titles in 1934 and '38.

C/LB Torgy Torgeson:
He won two NFL titles with Detroit in 1952 and '53, and then collected three Super Bowl rings as an assistant coach on Washington's title teams of 1983, '88 and '92.

OL Allan Kennedy::
Big Al won two Super Bowl rings with San Francisco in 1982 and '85.

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"Well, Eric was supposed to show me a good time," Howard said. "He ended up giving me five bucks and told me to go play some video games. It was freezing and snowing. I ended up just eating a pizza, playing video games and going to bed."

It didn't matter.

"Pullman was a perfect fit for me, though," he said. "It was very hard to get to, it was very isolated. It was an opportunity for me to get away, gain my independence and become a man. Football was my ticket in that regard."

Before committing, he had narrowed his choices to WSU and Oregon State. Two factors helped shape his decision.

Oregon State was in the midst of a horrible run of losing. That was foremost. But then there were the wall coverings.

"The offices at Oregon State had portraits of (head coach) Joe Avezzano literally everywhere," Howard joked. "And they were stoic portraits too, you know, the creepy looking kind."

Upon arriving at WSU for his freshman redshirt season in 1981, Howard knew he'd made the right decision.

"I stayed through the summer and everything," Howard said. "I absolutely loved Pullman."

He didn't play right away, however, because head coach Jim Walden had loaded his defense with linemen. In addition to Williams, the group included the likes of Keith Millard, Milford Hodge and Ken Collins, all of whom played in the NFL.

One of Howard's favorite battery-mates was Brent White, the Pride of Sparks, Nev., who had a bit of a wild steak.

"Oh man, the things that happened in those piles were pretty crazy," Howard chuckled. "I have so many stories. Most of which I can't share."

As for the NFL, Howard left a lasting mark. He played in 139 games over his career, starting 95 of them, posting 377 tackles and 33 sacks, and earning a Pro Bowl nod. But he is forever remembered in the Big Apple for his heroics in the 1990 NFC championship game with San Francisco.

The Giants were trailing 13-12 with a little more than two minutes left and the 49ers had the ball. A moment after Joe Montana handed the ball off to Roger Craig, Howard slammed into Craig, helmet on ball, and the ball came lose. Lawrence Taylor recovered and the Giants then won on a Matt Bahr field goal. Seven days later they were Super Bowl champions.

"Winning the Super Bowl is definitely the pinnacle, it's what you dream about as a child," Howard said. "Now that being said, I was on top of the world after winning the Apple Cup."

Howard played nose tackle throughout his pro career. And never really liked it.

He thought he had been drafted into a 4-3 system, but then Giant head coach Bill Parcells announced they were switching to a 3-4 scheme.

"Parcells told me he wanted me to line up at the nose tackle position," Howard said. "Not to toot my own horn, but I was a prolific pass-rusher. You never ever get a one-on-one situation as the nose tackle."

At 275 pounds, Howard was the biggest option the Giants had to clog the middle.

"Nose tackle is such a terrible position -- it's just awful," Howard said. "In terms of enjoyment of the game, it was night and day between WSU and the NFL."

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