Michigan Football Firsts | Michigan Wolverine Football History

September 28, 2020 Happy Birthday Anniversary Tom Harmon

Posted on September 27, 2020 by Barry Gallagher

Today’s post celebrates the Happy Birthday anniversary of Michigan legend Tom Harmon. According to the Wikipedia article linked below, Thomas Dudley Harmon was born on this day in 1919 at  Renselaer, 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.

Part I. Wolverine of the Day: Tom Harmon

Thomas D. 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.

A Good Start in 1938

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.

Shooting for a Championship in 1939

Tom Harmon intercepting a pass against Iowa that he returned for a 95-yard touchdown in 1939. Still the longest “pick-six” in UM Football history. Photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library at The University of Michigan.

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 another tough conference season. Thomas D. Harmon played well all season, but it wasn’t good enough. The Wolverines posted an overall record of 6-2-0. Worse yet, the Maize and Blue team 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 out played 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.

A Strong Finish to a Remarkable Career

Tom Harmon returned to Michigan for his senior year in 1940. Harmon was a human highlight reel starting with the first game against California. He celebrated his twenty-first birthday by running, passing and kicking his way to a 41-0 win at California. Oh, by the way, he also evaded a drunk too! Check out the video below:

Thanks to Greg Dooley at MVictors.com for this great video/article on the “drunk” that Harmon eluded at California in 1940.

The Wolverines won their first five games of the 1940 season and only the Michigan State game (21-14) was close. The next game on the schedule took place in Minneapolis where Fritz Crisler used to coach. Coach Fritz Crisler lost his first two games to the Gophers (1938 and 1939) and everyone knew that this game was for the Big Ten Championship. 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 extra-point and a Big Ten Championship. Michigan finished the 1940 season with an outstanding record of 7-1-0. However, they finished second in the Big Ten with a record of 3-1-0.

Tom Harmon’s Michigan Football “Firsts”

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 list some of the best “firsts” that connect Thomas D. Harmon to Michigan Football:

·         Harmon was part of the first team in Michigan Football history to wear the famous Winged Helmet in 1938.

·         Tom Harmon was the first Michigan running back to rush for 200-yards twice in the same season in 1939.

·         Thomas D. 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.

·         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,

·         Thomas D. 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 two consecutive seasons (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.

·         Thomas Dudley 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 is the only Michigan Football player to get a standing ovation at the Horseshoe in Columbus, Ohio! (November 23, 1940)

Yes, Tom Harmon is a Michigan Football legend. He set a high standard for all Michigan Men who played football in Ann Arbor.  Harmon was a self-less player who did everything he could to win games for the Wolverines. Of course, he also served his country honorably, and bravely, in World War II. Please take a moment today to appreciate the immense contributions that Tom Harmon made to Michigan Football. May he always rest in eternal peace. Go Blue!






Part II. September 27, 2020 - National Day Calendar Update:


  • russell majors says:

    Tom Harmons conduct on and off the playfield
    are exemplary.My father walked to classes
    with Tom and shared rumors about the P-38
    fighter plane, just invented by Kelly Johnson
    Honoring Tom Harmon on Sept28th on his 100th
    birthday at the Rutgers game is a must.How
    can I particpate in this? RSVP Russ Majors

    • Hi Russ,

      Glad you liked my article. Wow - Michigan definitely needs to do some special to honor Mr. Harmon. I don’t know if they are going to do anything or not, but I would call Dave Ablauf at the Michigan Athletic Department to see what the plan might be.

      Good luck and Go Blue!

      Barry Gallagher

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *