The purpose of today’s blog is to celebrate the Happy Birthday Anniversary of a Wolverine named Tom Kuzma. A native of Indiana, Tom George Kuzma was born on this day in 1922. According, to the Wikipedia article linked below, Kuzma attended Emerson High School in Gary, Indiana. He excelled in three sports (football, basketball and track) in high school. He chose to focus on football when he came to Michigan in 1940.
(Note-Tom Kuzma (#45) is shown above with the 1942 Michigan Wolverine Football Team. Kuzma is in the second row – fourth man from the left. Photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library at The University of Michigan.)
It is interesting to note that Kuzma followed another famous Wolverine, Tom Harmon, from Gary, Indiana to Ann Arbor, Michigan. Like Harmon, Kuzma was tall (6’ 1”) and strong (198 pounds). There were lots of comparisons between the two men, but Kuzma lacked the outstanding speed that Harmon displayed on the football field. Tom Kuzma did not come to Ann Arbor to become another Tom Harmon. He came to be the best player that he could become at Michigan.
Tom Kuzma was a triple threat player. He could run, pass and kick. The talented Kuzma also played defense and he punted for Fritz Crisler and returned them too! He put in a lot of work in every game that he played for the Wolverines! Kuzma did not get a lot of playing time in 1940, he mostly just watched Harmon amaze the football world on the way to the Heisman Trophy. Maybe he tackled the talented Harmon in practice a few times, or maybe not! Tom Kuzma did not play enough to earn a letter in 1940.
Tom Harmon graduated in May of 1941 and it was Tom Kuzma’s turn to step up in the Michigan backfield. Kuzma played very well in his sophomore season. He started seven games and led Michigan in total offense with 898 yards and averaged 4.5 yards per play. Kuzma also led Michigan in punting with a 36.7 yards per kick and also led the Wolverines in scoring with 48 points (8 touchdowns). He earned his first varsity letter in year two on a Wolverine team that finished with a record of 6-1-1. Michigan ended the season with a Big Ten record of 3-1-1 which earned them a tie for second place.
Tom Kuzma was back to improve his performance in 1942. Unfortunately, he missed five games due to injury. When he did play, he played very well. He scored six touchdowns in the last five games of the season and also threw one touchdown pass. Michigan finished the 1942 season with a record of 7 wins and 3 losses. They tied for third place in the conference with a record of 3-2-0.
Like most men in his generation, Tom Kuzma got the call to serve his country in 1943. After he completed his military service obligation, he returned to Michigan, but not to the football field. However, Kuzma graduated in 1947 and enjoyed a very successful business career.
In keeping with our 2017 them of Michigan football “firsts” – here some “firsts” that connect Tom Kuzma with Michigan Football:
· Tom Kuzma played in the first game ever against Pittsburgh in 1941. The Wolverines won the game 40-0!
· Kuzma Played in the first game ever against the Great Lakes Naval Training Center in 1942 which Michigan won by a score of 9-0.
· Tom Kuzma played in the first game against Iowa Pre-Flight in 1942. The Wolverines lost to this team of “college all-stars” by a score of 14-26.
So, today is a good day to remember a true-blue Michigan Man named Tom Kuzma. He was a two-year football letterman, a war hero, and a card-carrying member of America’s Greatest Generation. He lived a long and successful life that ended on May 19, 1996 at the age of seventy-four. Kuzma, and his teammates, contributed thirteen wins to the all-time Wolverine victory total. Take a moment today to remember Tom Kuzma and appreciate his contributions to the great history that is Michigan Football! May Tom Kuzma always rest in peace. Go Blue!
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