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Thomas Dudley Harmon (September 28, 1919 – March 15, 1990) was a star player in United States college football, a sports broadcaster, and patriarch of a family of American actors. As a player, he won the Heisman Trophy and is considered by some to be the greatest football player in Michigan Wolverines history.

Early life

Harmon was born in the Harmon's family home at 118 South Weston Street in Rensselaer, Indianamarker, in Jasper Countymarker. This house stood one block East of the Jasper County Courthouse, and was torn down in 1965. He was the youngest child of Louis A. and Rose Marie (Quinn) Harmon, who first moved to Rensselaer, Indianamarker from Livingston County, Illinoismarker around 1900. In 1924, when Harmon was about 5 years old, his family moved to Gary, Indianamarker, but he still kept up connections with friends in Rensselaer, Indianamarker for many years.

Harmon attended Horace Mann High School in Gary, Indianamarker, 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, Indianamarker.

Harmon played college football at the University of Michiganmarker from 1938-1940, he majored in English and Speech, hoping for a future career in broadcasting, and won the Heisman Trophy his senior season. Although he made his name as a running back, he also excelled as a kicker and quarterback. 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 Ohio Statemarker 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 Wolverine player has been so honored since.

He led the nation in scoring in 1939 and 1940 (a feat that remains unmatched), and was elected to the College Football All-America Team both years. 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.

NFL draft

Harmon was taken by the Chicago Bears with the first selection in the 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 Tom 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.

He was awarded the Purple Heart and the Silver Star for his actions with the 449th Fighter Squadron. These included having his plane shot down over Japanese occupied China. He saved his silk parachute and it was later used as the material for his wife's wedding dress.

Pro football career

From 1946-1947 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 Famemarker.

After football

Tom Harmon married actress Elyse Knox, and much of their family entered show business. He is the father of actress Kristin Nelson, who at seventeen married recording artist Ricky Nelson, and of actress Kelly Harmon. His son is actor and former UCLA quarterback Mark Harmon, who is married to actress Pam Dawber, and he is the grandfather of twins Matthew Nelson and Gunnar Nelson, who perform as the rock and country music act Nelson, and actress Tracy Nelson.

Tom Harmon's 10-minute broadcasts were a staple of the ABC and (later) American Information radio networks.

Tom Harmon died of a heart attack on March 15, 1990 in Los Angeles, Californiamarker, aged 70.

See also

  • The Late Great 98 by Fredric Alan Maxwell. Michigan Today 9/17/08



Donilo Mark Voyne, "Tom Harmon WW II"[121973]

Pat Zacharias, Wolverines' Legendary Tom Harmon, The Detroit News

Sports Illustrated, 2008, Elizabeth McGarr: "Conquering Hero" [121974]

College HOF bio

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