Tom Harmon

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This article is about the sportscaster and acting family patriarch. For the American baseball coach, see Tom Harmon (baseball). For the California State Senator, see Tom Harman.
Tom Harmon
Tom Harmon from 1948 Michiganensian.jpg
No. 98
Personal information
Date of birth: (1919-09-28)September 28, 1919
Place of birth: Rensselaer, Indiana
Date of death: March 15, 1990(1990-03-15) (aged 70)
Place of death: Los Angeles, California
Career information
High school: Gary (IN) Mann
College: Michigan
NFL Draft: 1941 / Round: 1 / Pick: 1
Debuted in 1946
Last played in 1947
Career history
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics
Rushing Yards 542
Average 5.1
Touchdowns 9 (3 rushing)
Stats at

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.[1]

Early life[edit]

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.[citation needed]

College football[edit]

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.[1] He also was a member of the varsity basketball team for two years.[2]

In his final football game (against Ohio State), 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.[3] 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)[1] 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.[4] In 1940, he won the Heisman Trophy and the Maxwell Award both given to the outstanding college football player of the year.

A football signed by Tom Harmon and numerous other Michigan Wolverines football players and coaches, including Fielding H. Yost.

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 1962 he was inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame. 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 Network's program "Big Ten Icons", honoring the greatest athletes in the Big Ten Conference's history.

Since the Wolverines discontinued the practice of retiring numbers, previously retired numbers – such as Harmon's #98 – were recirculated and their respective players are honored as Michigan Football Legend. During the Notre Dame vs. Michigan game (billed as "Under the Lights at the Big House II") at the Michigan Stadium in September 2013, Harmon was honored as a Michigan Football Legend. Starting quarterback Devin Gardner was chosen to wear the jersey for the match.[5][6]

On December 12, 2014 the Big Ten Network included Harmon on "The Mount Rushmore of Michigan Football", as chosen by online fan voting. Harmon was joined in the honor by Charles Woodson, Desmond Howard and Anthony Carter.

NFL draft[edit]

Harmon was taken by the Chicago Bears with the first selection in the 1941 NFL Draft.[7] 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.

War service[edit]

During World War II Harmon enlisted as a pilot in the Army Air Corps on March 22, 1942 and was commissioned after completing flight training at the now defunct Oxnard Air Force Base.[8] In April 1943, Harmon parachuted into the South American jungle when his plane flew into a tropical storm. Initially it was thought that none of the crew survived and he was the object of a massive regional search operation once his plane was reported missing.[8] Four days later he stumbled into a clearing in Dutch Guiana. He then 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.[3] 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.[9]

Pro football career[edit]

Harmon had mostly been stationed in California during the war and, following his demobilization, decided to stay instead of returning home to Michigan. From 1946 to 1947 he 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, his first year after playing in 1948, he broadcast Rams' games for KFI radio in Los Angeles. In 1954, Harmon was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

After football[edit]

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.[citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

Harmon married actress and model Elyse Knox in 1944. Former Wolverines teammate Forest Evashevski was his best man and later became godfather of his son Mark.[9]

Harmon and his wife settled in California after he was demobilized. The couple had three children: Kristin (born 1945), Kelly (born 1948) and Mark (born 1951). Kristin became an actress and painter who at seventeen married recording artist Ricky Nelson and bore four children: Tracy, twins Gunnar and Matthew, and Sam. Kelly, a model turned interior designer, was once married to automaker John DeLorean and has two daughters and a son and two other stepchildren. Mark followed his father's footsteps into college football, playing for the UCLA Bruins before becoming a film and television actor, best known for NCIS, and has two sons with wife Pam Dawber.


On March 15, 1990, Tom Harmon died of a heart attack in Los Angeles, California. He was 70.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Jones, Todd (2007). "Michigan". In MacCambridge, Michael. ESPN Big Ten College Football Encyclopedia. ESPN Enterprises. p. 59. ISBN 1-933060-49-2. 
  2. ^ Michigan Basketball 2007–08 (media guide). 
  3. ^ a b "The Late Great 98: Tom Harmon on the field and at war". Michigan Today. 17 September 2008. 
  4. ^ "2009 Division I Football Records Book: Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) Records". National Collegiate Athletic Association. p. 46. Retrieved 2010-07-09. 
  5. ^ "Mark Harmon Talks Michigan Football, Gardner Wearing His Dad's Jersey". CBS Detroit. September 13, 2013. 
  6. ^ "Devin Gardner to wear No. 98 in honor of Tom Harmon". CBS Sports. September 17, 2013. 
  7. ^ Mayer, Larry (25 April 2013). "These Bears draft picks gained fame in other areas". Chicago Bears. Retrieved 25 April 2013. 
  8. ^ a b "TOM HARMON, FORMER OXNARD CADET, MISSING IN FLIGHT". Oxnard Press-Courier. April 15, 1943. 
  9. ^ a b "Conquering Hero". Sports Illustrated. 20 August 2008. 

External links[edit]