Today’s post celebrates the memory of Tom Harmon who went to rest in peace on this day in 1990 at the age of seventy in Los Angeles, California. Thomas Dudley Harmon was born on September 28, 1919 in Rensselaer, Indiana. He grew up to be an outstanding athlete at Horace Mann High School in Gary, Indiana. Harmon was one of the most heavily recruited players in the early years of college football. His high school coach, Doug Kerr, played football at Michigan and that helped the Wolverines land the athletically precocious Harmon.
(Note-Tom Harmon, pictured above, runs for a big gain against Michigan State in 1938. Photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library at The University of Michigan. It is interesting that both teams wore “winged” helmets in this game!)
Tom Harmon came to play football for Harry Kipke and did his time on the freshman team in 1937. After Kipke was fired, he would be playing for a man named Fritz Crisler. It worked out fine for Harmon, Crisler and everyone else at Michigan.
Tom Harmon wasn’t the only star recruit that came to Michigan in 1937. Guys like Forest Evashevski, Ralph Fritz, Bill Herrmann, Rueben Kelto and Paul Kromer would go on to play a lot of good football for Crisler’s Wolverines.
Tom Harmon shared time at the right halfback position with Fred Trosko in 1938, but by the end of the season, he was starting every game. Harmon was such a versatile athlete (runner, passer, defender, kicker and punter) that Coach Crisler had to have him on the field. By the end of the 1938 season, Tom Harmon was always the best player on the field and Fritz Crisler was looking forward to the 1939 and 1940 seasons with Harmon on his side! Michigan won 6 games, lost 1 and tied 1 game in 1938. They went 3-1-1 in the conference and finished in a tie for second place.
The Wolverines were looking to win a Big Ten Championship in 1939 because they had an outstanding team. The only problem was that Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois were pretty good too. It was going to be another tough conference season. Harmon played well all season, but it wasn’t good enough as the Wolverines posted an overall record of 6-2-0. Worse yet, the Maize and Blue finished fourth in the conference with a record of 3 wins and 2 losses. Tom Harmon had a record-setting season for Michigan and earned All-American honors in 1939. He totally outplayed the 1939 Heisman Trophy winner in a head-to-head matchup (Nile Kinnick of Iowa), but finished second in the voting. Tom Harmon had more work to do at Michigan.
Tom Harmon returned to Michigan for his senior year in 1940. Tom Harmon was a human highlight reel starting with the first game against California. He ran and passed his way through the game that ended in a 41-0 win for the Wolverines. Michigan won their first five games of the 1940 season and only the Michigan State game (21-14) was close. Unfortunately, a trip to Minnesota, where Fritz Crisler used to coach, was the next game on the schedule.
Fritz Crisler had lost his first two games to the Gophers and everyone knew that this game was for the Big Ten Championship and possibly the national championship as well. It was a tough game from start to finish, but the Gophers won by a score of 7-6. The difference in the game was a missed point-after-touchdown kick by Tom Harmon. The talented Harmon won all kinds of individual awards in college football, but he always said that he would have traded it all for that one point and a Big Ten Championship. Michigan finished the 1940 season with an outstanding record of 7-1-0. They finished with a record of 3 wins and 1 loss and second place in the Big Ten.
The Harmon Era ended at Michigan with a record of 19 wins, 4 losses (3 to Minnesota) and 1 tie. I could write a book about Tom Harmon, but I won’t do that today, Instead, I will stick with my blog site theme in 2017 which is “Michigan Football Firsts” I will list some of the best “firsts” that connect Tom Harmon to Michigan football:
· Tom Harmon played on the first team to be coached by Fritz Crisler in 1938.
· Tom Harmon was part of the first team in Michigan football history to wear the famous Winged Helmet in 1938.
· Harmon was the first Michigan running back to rush for 200-yards twice in the same season in 1939.
· Harmon was the first Michigan running back to average over six-yards per carry for a season in 1939. He finished with an average of 6.80 yards per rush.
· Tom Harmon was the first man in college football history to finish second in the Heisman voting (1939) and then win it the next year (1940).
· Tom Harmon was part of the first team in college football history to make a trans-continental flight (to California) for a football game in September 1940,
· Harmon was the first Michigan Man to win the Heisman Trophy in 1940.
· Harmon is still the first, and only, man to lead the NCAA in scoring in 1939 and 1940.
· Tom Harmon was the first Michigan back to lead the team in passing and rushing for three consecutive years from 1938-1940.
· Tom Harmon was the first Michigan running back to record five 100-yard rushing games in a season (1940) and nine for a career from 1938-1940.
· Harmon is the first, and only, Michigan football player to lead the team in rushing, passing, total offense, punting and scoring in one season in 1940. No wonder he won the Heisman Trophy!
· Finally, Thomas Dudley Harmon was/is the only Michigan football player to get a standing ovation at the Horseshoe in Columbus, Ohio! (November 23, 1940)
Yes, today was a very sad day in Michigan football history in 1990. Tom Harmon set a high standard for all Michigan Men who followed him at Michigan. He was a self-less player who did everything he could to win games for the Wolverines. He is truly a Michigan legend. Of course, he served his country honorably and bravely in World War II. Please take a moment today to remember the immense contributions that Thomas Dudley Harmon made to Michigan Football. May he always rest in eternal peace. Go Blue!
Notes- the third link on today’s post is a photo gallery of Tom Harmon from the Bentley Library – check it out! The fourth link is a YouTube Harmon Highlight Tribute. Link number five is his last game at OSU – with the Buckeye standing ovation!
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