September 28, 1919|
March 15, 1990 (aged 70)|
Los Angeles, California
Thomas Dudley "Tom" Harmon (September 28, 1919 – March 15, 1990) was a star player in American college football, a sports broadcaster, and patriarch of a family of American actors. As a player, he won the Heisman Trophy in 1940 and is considered by some to be the greatest football player in Michigan Wolverines history.
Harmon was born in the Harmon's family home at 118 South Weston Street in Rensselaer, Indiana, the youngest child of Louis A. and Rose Marie (née Quinn) Harmon, who had relocated from Livingston County, Illinois around 1900. In 1924, the family moved to Gary, Indiana. He attended Horace Mann High School in Gary, Indiana, graduating in 1937. While at Horace Mann High School, Harmon was already an outstanding athlete. In addition to 14 varsity letters, he was twice named All-State quarterback, Captain of the basketball team, and as a senior, won the 100 yard dash and the 200 yard low hurdles at the State Finals in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Harmon played college football at the University of Michigan from 1938 to 1940, where he majored in English and Speech, hoping for a future career in broadcasting, and won the Heisman Trophy his senior season. He made his name as a tailback in the single-wing formation, and also excelled as a kicker. Harmon rushed for 2,134 yards during his career at Michigan, completed 100 passes for 1,304 yards and 16 touchdowns, and scored 237 points. During his career he played all 60 minutes 8 times. He also was a member of the varsity basketball team for two years.
In his final football game (against $3), Harmon led the Wolverines to a 40–0 victory, scoring three rushing touchdowns, two passing touchdowns, four extra points, intercepting three passes, and punting three times for an average of 50 yards. In an unprecedented display of sportsmanship and appreciation, the Ohio State fans in Columbus gave Harmon a standing ovation at game's end. No other Wolverine player has been so honored, before or since.
He led the nation in scoring in both 1939 and 1940 (a feat that remains unmatched) and was elected to the College Football All-America Team both years. His career points per game average of 9.9 stood as an NCAA record for ten seasons. In 1940, he won the Heisman Trophy and the Maxwell Award both given to the outstanding college football player of the year.
While on campus, he was an active member of the Michigan Alpha Chapter of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity. Years later, the national fraternity leadership established the Harmon-Rice Award in his honor (the Rice name in the award honored Grantland Rice) that is presented each year to the most outstanding Phi Delt collegiate athlete in the nation. In 2007, Harmon was ranked #16 on ESPN's Top 25 Players In College Football History list. Also, Harmon was ranked #5 on the Big Ten Networks' program "Big Ten Icons", honoring the greateast athletes in the Big Ten Conference's history. During the Notre Dame vs. Michigan game in 2013, the starting quarterback, Devin Gardner was given the number 98 in honor of Harmon.
Harmon was taken by the Chicago Bears with the first selection in the 1941 NFL Draft. Instead he opted to play with the New York Americans of the rival American Football League. After graduating from college he had a brief career as an actor, starring as himself in the biopic Harmon of Michigan. He appeared occasionally in films throughout the forties and fifties.
World War II
During World War II Harmon enlisted as a pilot in the Army Air Corps on November 8, 1941. Early in 1943, Harmon parachuted into the South American jungle when his plane flew into a tropical storm. None of the other crewmen bailed out or survived. He was the object of a massive regional search operation once his plane was reported missing. Four days later he stumbled into a clearing in Dutch Guiana. He transferred to single seat fighters. In October that year, while on an escort mission accompanying a flight of bombers, his P-38 was shot down by the Japanese during a dogfight and he was forced to bail out into Japanese-occupied China where he was later rescued by anti-Japanese Chinese guerillas. Harmon was awarded the Purple Heart and the Silver Star for his actions with the 449th Fighter Squadron. He saved his silk parachute and it was later used as the material for his wife's wedding dress.
Pro football career
From 1946 to 1947 Harmon played football professionally with the Los Angeles Rams, but wartime injuries to his legs limited his effectiveness. He focused his professional career as planned on being a sports broadcaster on radio and television, one of the first athletes to make the transition from player to on-camera talent. In 1954, Harmon was enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame.
Harmon narrated the film A Glimpse of Greatness–The Story of Ken Hubbs, which chronicles the life of the late Chicago Cubs second baseman. For several years in the 1970s, starting with its introduction, he was the TV spokesman for Kellogg's Product 19 cereal. His 10-minute broadcasts were a staple of the ABC and (later) American Information Radio networks. He was also seen on KTLA, Channel 5, Los Angeles. In the early 1980s he handled play-by-play duties for the Oakland Raiders pre-season telecasts.
Harmon and his wife settled in California after he was demobilized. They had three children: Kristin (b. 1945), Kelly (b. 1948) and Mark (b. 1951). Kristin was previously married to the late Ricky Nelson and her children include Tracy Nelson and twins Matthew and Gunnar Nelson, who perform as the rock and country music act Nelson. Mark Harmon followed his father's footsteps into college football as a starting quarterback for the UCLA Bruins before becoming an actor and is married to actress Pam Dawber.
Tom Harmon died of a heart attack on March 15, 1990 in Los Angeles, California, at age 70.
- Jones, Todd (2007). "Michigan". In MacCambridge, Michael. ESPN Big Ten College Football Encyclopedia. ESPN Enterprises. p. 59. ISBN 1-933060-49-2.
- Michigan Basketball 2007–08 (media guide).
- "The Late Great 98: Tom Harmon on the field and at war". Michigan Today. 17 September 2008. http://michigantoday.umich.edu/2008/09/harmon.php.
- "2009 Division I Football Records Book: Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) Records". National Collegiate Athletic Association. p. 46. http://web1.ncaa.org/web_files/stats/football_records/DI/2009/2009FBS.pdf. Retrieved 2010-07-09.
- Mayer, Larry (25 April 2013). "These Bears draft picks gained fame in other areas". Chicago Bears. http://www.chicagobears.com/news/article-1/These-Bears-draft-picks-gained-fame-in-other-areas/ec6dca7b-ad41-43ac-839c-e61e0197ecc9. Retrieved 25 April 2013.
- "Conquering Hero". Sports Illustrated. 20 August 2008. http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1152109/.
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