Next up, check this out. It’s a rare 1938 photo of Heisman winner Tom Harmon with ball tucked, dropping a stiff arm wearing his famous…..number 6? No, of course Harmon donned the old 98 during his playing days at Michigan so this makes this photo a bit special. The auction ends October 5. Check it out:

The topic of how Harmon ended up with the 98 jersey was recently discussed on MVictors with Harmon biographer Frederic Maxwell (see the comments to the post). Here’s Maxwell’s understanding of the story:

As he wrote (in a source that I have), when he tried out for his varsity squad at Horrace Mann High in Gary, the coach threw him off the team for blowing bubbles with his gum. He convinced the coach to allow him to return kicks in practice. Tom returned the first one for a touchdown. His coach decided that it wasn’t a bad idea to keep him around, so he put him on the JV squad. The JV squad used discarded varsity jerseys. Harmon went to the discard bin and found the worst jersey that he could, which was, of course, 98. Some say that this is yet-another example of Harmon’s humble nature, of reminding himself not to get too cocky. Others say it was Harmon rubbing his coach’s nose in it.

I got mildly different understanding of the genesis of 98 from a Sports Illustrated interview with the Heisman winner’s son, actor Mark Harmon:

SI: Why did he wear number 98?

[Mark] Harmon: As a freshman he was once chewing gum while the coach was talking and the coach got upset. He told him to get off the field but my dad said no. So they lined him up against the varsity and they kicked off to him and he ran three consecutive kickoffs for touchdowns. The coach told him to go to the office and pick out a uniform. So he did and he was the first one there. He picked the newest jersey, newest pair of pads, newest everything. He felt good and as he came back down from the office, the rest of the team was coming up. He went down to the field and the coach told him he had the starting halfback’s uniform on. The coach said, “Go take it off and get something else.” So he went back there and everything was gone except a moth-eaten torn-up jersey in the corner. Number 98. He loved that number and it came up continually in his life. It was the name of his sports-production company.

SI: God you’re a ruggedly handsome fellow.
[Mark] Harmon: Thanks man.

So why is Harmon wearing #6 in this photo? At first take, you might think this was some kind of photo taken after his college career, maybe in some type of all-star game or professional practice. It doesn’t appear so. The back of the pic is stamped by the Associated Press confirms a few things, including the 1938 date:

The 1938 schedule didn’t start until October 1, and according to the AP stamp this was taken a couple weeks prior and “from Chicago”. I assume this was some type of media day to allow the press to get photos like this and meet the coaches and players.

The 1938 team photo shows Harmon wearing the familiar 98 and the 1938 roster for that season lists the player who owned the #6 jersey as John H. Kinsey, a halfback from Plymouth, MI.

So how did Harmon end up with the six? I’m guessing the photographer was onsite and Harmon didn’t have a clean jersey or his was torn, or someone left it back in Ann Arbor. So Harmon needed to borrow the jersey of a like-sized teammate for the pose, so the 6-0, 194 pound back looked for and found Kinsey, who according to the team roster, was a 6-0, 194 pound back himself.

And then Harmon proceeded to give the photographer a move he called Blue Steel. When you gonna drop Magnum on us, buddy? You can follow the auction here.