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13. November 2017 · Comments Off on Luring Tom Harmon (1937) · Categories: Archive 2010 · Tags: , , , , ,

Chicago Daily Tribune, Nov 17, 1937

Eighty years ago today on November 13, 1937, this Western Union telegram landed in Ann Arbor (a copy was later obtained by the Michigan Daily and plastered on the front page):

In the fall of 1937 things were a bit dicey for the football program.  Since the 1933 national championship, coach Harry Kipke’s crew had just a handful of wins on the the field.   And in November 1937 the university launched a well-publicized investigation of the program, suspecting that football players were being “subsidized.”  Kipke was sitting atop a flaming hot seat.

As the drama unfolded, eyes turned to Michigan freshman Tom Harmon.   Despite the struggles on the field (..but perhaps due to some of the questionable behavior off the field) Kipke landed the multi-sport high school superstar from Gary, IN.   In the fall of ‘37 he suited up for the freshman football team as was required back then.   Harmon’s athletic exploits in high school made him widely known in the sporting world and even as a freshman, having yet to take a snap on the varsity squad, a Chicago Tribune headline dubbed frosh Harmon a “star”.

Suddenly Harmon found himself involved in the off-field drama.  He was named in the investigation as one of the freshman football student-athletes who were allegedly illegally compensated, and soon word spread across the land that Harmon might entertain changing scenery.

Several schools were interested in Harmon’s services, most publicly Tulane.  A telegram sent by the then-southeastern Conference school was obtained and published by The Michigan Daily.  In the wired note, Tulane assistant coach Bill Bevan told Harmon, “Our offer still stands. [You] Can still enter this semester.”

trib Chicago Daily Tribune, Nov 17, 1937

When asked what exactly that “offer” was, Bevan explained it was, “an athletic scholarship,” which he added was, “perfectly legal in the Southeastern conference.”  Note that Michigan didn’t offer athletic scholarships at the time.   If Tulane sounds like a strange destination for a Midwestern kid, Harmon’s brother Gene played basketball for the Green Wave so there was a connection.

One of the potential destinations for Harmon was rumored to be Yale, but when word spread that the people in New Haven may have offered Harmon some sort of financial assistance, the school fired back hard.   They denied the claims & made it known that Harmon had applied to attend Yale in January 1937—at least kind of.    After requesting admission and financial aid, Yale sent the necessary forms.  In his only letter to the school he wrote that his credentials for admission to the Ivy League college were: “Four years of football, four years of basketball, two years of track.”

No mention his of skills with the ladies.

Old 98 of course decided to stay in Ann Arbor.  Kipke was found guilty of subsidizing players (among other things) and was fired in December 1937.  Harmon wasn’t penalized in the aftermath and would thrive during his three varsity-eligible years under new coach Fritz Crisler.   His exploits peaked in 1940 when he dodged at least one drunk fan and later accepted the Heisman Trophy.

The Drunk and Old 98
Tommy’s the BMOC
Harmon and Old Number..Six?
Tom Harmon says ‘Vote Heston’
Harmon Jitterbugs with Joan & Jinx
Harmon Goes for the Gusto

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28. September 2017 · Comments Off on Happy Birthday….Old 98 Tom Harmon · Categories: 2013, 2017 · Tags: , ,

Born on this day in 1919…the Gary Galloper, Old 98, The Hoosier Hammer, Terrible Tommy.   A tribute to his run against Cal that happened, coincidentally, on this day back in 1940:

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harmon-tom-2 U-M Bentley Historical Library

A few hours after I published this post discussing how the Michigan Football Legends program has spawned fresh materials on these guys and their eras…I got this press release from the U-M Bentley Library:

Harmon of Michigan

The Bentley Historical Library is pleased to announce the opening of an exhibit, “Harmon of Michigan” focusing on the life and career of University of Michigan football legend Tom Harmon. The exhibition, in conjunction with the “unretiring” of Harmon’s famed number 98 jersey this season, highlights Harmon’s college career at Michigan, both as a student and an athlete. Using archival documents, photographs, and artifacts, including material recently acquired through Harmon’s son, Mark Harmon, the exhibit traces Harmon’s career as the University of Michigan’s first Heisman Trophy winner, World War II pilot and war hero, and a pioneering radio and television broadcaster. The exhibit is curated by Greg Kinney.

The exhibit runs from September 3 to December 20, 2013.

Exhibit Hours: Monday-Friday 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Saturdays 9:00 a.m. to 12.30 p.m.

Special Event: September 7, 2013, 12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.

On September 7, the day of the Note Dame game, at which Tom Harmon will be honored, the Bentley Library will have special exhibit viewing hours. There will also be repeated showings of the 1965 television program “One Saturday Afternoon.”   Produced on the 25th anniversary of Harmon’s Heisman Trophy win, the program was hosted by Bing Crosby. “One Saturday Afternoon” includes archival footage of Harmon’s Michigan football exploits, interviews with Michigan coach Fritz Crisler and teammate Forest Evashevski. The program also features some rare footage of Harmon’s early days as a television broadcaster and variety show host.

The Bentley Historical Library is located on the University of Michigan’s North Campus at 1150 Beal Avenue.

Campus Bus – North Commuter, Bonisteel Boulevard and Beal Avenue stop.

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04. July 2011 · Comments Off on Tom Harmon – Big Ten Icon #5 (Full Episode) · Categories: 2011 · Tags: , , , , , ,

Big Ten Icon #5 Tom Harmon, now available from the Big Ten Network via Hulu:

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photo via this site

I swung by WTKA 1050AM this morning to chat with Ira and Sam about the great Tom Harmon, the Big Ten Network’s #5 Icon.   The show will air Sunday at 2:30PM (and re-air at 9pm, if the Super Bowl is a dud.)

More Harmon stuff:

Why Tom Harmon Went to Michigan
Tom Harmon – Big Ten Icon #5
The Drunk and Old 98
Tommy’s the BMOC
Harmon and Old Number..Six?
Tom Harmon says ‘Vote Heston’
Harmon Jitterbugs with Joan & Jinx
Harmon Goes for the Gusto

01. February 2011 · Comments Off on Big Ten Icon #5 – Why Tom Harmon Went to Michigan · Categories: Archive 2010 · Tags: , , , , ,

Monday the BTN revealed that Old 98 Tom Harmon will be the next athlete featured in their Icons series.  The Harmon segment will appear on Super Bowl Sunday at a special time: 2:30PM (it will re-air again at 9pm). 

Continuing the discussion of items you might not know about Harmon.  In the last post I mentioned his high school athletic prowess at Horace Mann high in Gary, Indiana.  An interesting question is why he ended up at Michigan.  Three factors would suggest that Harmon might consider a different destination during his senior year of 1936-37:

  • Harmon had brothers who were athletes at relatively nearby Purdue & another who landed at Tulane.
  • Michigan football was in the middle of a horrible stretch, coming off the worst 3-year span in school history from 1934-1936.  (And still the worst three year stretch, thanks Brian for having my back.)   He was walking into a serious rough patch and head coach Harry Kipke was under fire
  • The powerhouse at the time was jug rival Minnesota, with Bernie Bierman’s Gophers rolling up a string of 3 straight national championships.  Nearby Notre Dame and coach Elmer Layden had some decent teams in the mid-1930s as well.

    One disclaimer: I’m not a Harmon biographer of course.  These thoughts draw upon what I’ve read over the years (which isn’t everything).

    First, the cynical view of why he ended up in Ann Arbor:  It was alleged that Harmon benefited from a little financial “help” from the Gary and Chicago U-M alumni groups and this nudged him to Ann Arbor.  This is something Harmon and the groups vehemently denied.   When an investigation of illegal alumni support of 5 freshman (including Harmon) kicked in during his first year on campus, word got out that Harmon might bolt to another school most publicly Tulane (where he could get a scholarship).  He stayed of course and thrived under new Coach Fritz Crisler.

The non-cynical view:  THIS IS MICHIGAN!  Despite the tough stretch U-M was a still a great football power with two national titles in the decade under Kipke.  On top of this and perhaps more importantly, Harmon’s high school coach Doug Kerr suited up for the Wolverines in the late 1920s and he seemed to be a strong influence.   When it was learned that Harmon was staying in A2 after Tulane-gate*, one of the reasons cited was his relationship with Kerr.  Harmon also had thoughts of becoming a broadcaster after college and Michigan offered an top notch education to help make that happen.  Remember, back then “going pro” wasn’t an automatic given the choice.

There are a few thoughts, you decide.  In the meantime, here’s Harmon the BMOC:


* Yes, I’m dropping a –gate on something three and a half decades before Watergate.

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This morning the BTN revealed that Old 98 Tom Harmon will be the next athlete featured in their Icons series.  The Harmon segment will appear on Super Bowl Sunday at a special time: 2:30PM (and will re-air again at 9pm). The BTN cameras were on campus last week interviews for the feature.


This week I’ll run a few posts on interesting things you might not know about Harmon.  You know he’s #98 and the Heisman winner and of course he’s actor Mark Harmon’s dad.  (Mark did consider coming to Michigan FWIW—his pops stayed out of it.)

For starters, here’s a little about Harmon’s exploits before he even strapped on Crisler’s new-fangled winged helmet:

High School Days
Harmon was beyond a standout athlete in high school—he was off the charts.  It was in his blood, demonstrated by his athletic family.  Two of Harmon’s brothers ended up at Purdue, another at Tulane.   In addition to being named all-state quarterback twice, Harmon earned 14 varsity letters at Horace Mann High in Gary, IN.  He captained the 1936 basketball team and won the state title in the 100-yard dash & the 200-yard low hurdles.   He tossed three no-hitters in AAU summer baseball.   Fielding Yost called him the scholastic athlete of the year.

It was in high school that Harmon also settled on the famous 98 jersey.  The stories differ, even in the Harmon family.  Basically it goes something like this:  Tom was a freshman on his high school team and he got in trouble with the coach for chewing gum and blowing bubbles.  (Some versions have him being sent to the locker room to take off a jersey he’s already wearing.   In others he’s not wearing a jersey at this point).   As a sort of punishment, he’s asked to return kick-offs against the varsity and of course no one can catch him.    The coach, seeing his brilliance, asked him to go grab a uniform.  Young Tom picked out the best available gear in the locker room and returns to the field.  The coach noticed that Harmon chose the jersey number of the star running back and sent him back to the locker room to pick out something else.  All Harmon can find is a dingy #98 jersey in the corner and he threw it on.   He embraced it.

The Harmon segment will appear on Super Bowl Sunday at a special time: 2:30PM (and it will re-air again at 9pm).

Brian over at the U-M Bentley Library was thumbing through the Fritz Crisler-era archives and found this gem and was kind enough pass it along.  Huge hat tip to Brian.

It’s pretty standard fare these days for football coaches to make players sign some sort of pledge prior to the season.   Well, Brian found a 1939 version filled out by Old 98, who apparently spent the summer back home in Gary between his sophomore and junior seasons.   Here’s a look:


Crisler wanted to know if they were enrolled in classes and if any were scheduled a) after 3:30pm, or b) Saturday mornings.   Harmon hadn’t enrolled yet.

Then there’s this.   Obviously smoking was more common in 1939 (around 66% of men under 40 smoked according to big Tim’s project) and I’m not sure how well folks understood the impact the heaters have on athletic performance.  Clearly Crisler had a clue and apparently Harmon enjoyed the cool flavor of his smokes:


In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell writes, “”It’s not that smoking is cool. It’s that smokers are cool.”  Harmon was cool, Daddy-O, at least through July.   I also love, ‘Are you smoking now’, as in, ‘Are you smoking as you are filling out this form, you nicotine addict?’  It’s unknown if Harmon had started to go for the gusto quite yet.

Harmon indicates his weight of 197, his height at 6”, and shoe size: 9 1/2 D.

I’m sure Crisler clearly had his plan in place on how to use Harmon in 1939, but questions were asked and 98 answered:

Harmon’s “sleeping program” was reported to be “From 12 o’clock to 9 o’clock on the average.”   Crisler then closed the one-page form asking players to make a few pledges covering:







Gotta love Harmon’s emphatic “I know damn well I will!”. And these forms were no doubt returned “AT ONCE”, as old Fritz wasn’t much for horsing around.

Harmon delivered on his promises as at the end of the season he was a no-brainer All-American and was nudged out for the Heisman by Iowa’s Nile Kinnick.

Harmon related posts on MVictors.  Follow MVictors on Twitter.

03. July 2010 · Comments Off on eBay Watch: Tom Harmon’s Ping Putter (1990) · Categories: Archive 2009

Next up on eBay Watch, a look at the auction for a Ping putter bearing the name of Michigan Heisman Trophy winner Tom Harmon:


The silver Ping Anser 2 putter includes the inscription ‘Friend of Golf 1990’.  

At first I wasn’t sure if the Harmon on the club was indeed Old 98, but after a little Google digging I confirmed that this was indeed dedicated to the Wolverine great.  It turns out Harmon was associated with a group formed by a bunch of UCLA grads called Friends of Golf, and even inspired the Ben Hogan Award, a Heisman-like trophy for the a top “collegiate golfer/scholar”:

In 1990, the late Tom Harmon, a FOG [Friends of Golf] Director and former football great and Heisman Trophy winner, got the idea for a similar trophy that would honor annually an outstanding collegiate golfer/scholar. Harmon gained the endorsement of his long-time friend, Ben Hogan, and thus, in 1990, the Ben Hogan Trophy was established. The College Golf Coaches Association annually selects the All-American College Amateur Golfer of the Year who is awarded this coveted trophy. The player’s name and that of his University are inscribed on a replica of the original Waterford crystal trophy that is permanently on display at the Bel-Air Country Club.

Harmon was indeed a friend of golf, covering the sport on TV as a broadcaster, appearing in the 1953 movie ‘The Caddy’, and certainly played his share.  And he went out on top–he died in 1990 at age 70 after winning a golf tournament at the Bel-Air Country Club.  Sadly Harmon wasn’t around to see the first recipient of the prize he inspired.

The seller is asking $250 for the righteous flat stick.  If any MVictors benefactors out there want to buy it for me I’d like to have this in my bag!

Elsewhere on eBay:

  • A schedule from the Wolverines’ 1933 college national championship team.  It was probably from a matchbook cover.  I love this part – so where were the games played that year?  Either “HERE” or “THERE”!

1933 Michigan Football Schedule

As indicated by the original owner, the mighty Blue crew played Minnesota to the 0-0 deadlock in 1933, retaining the Little Brown Jug and retaining the national title.  (The Gophers won the next three national championships FWIW).


A big happy birthday to Michigan’s legendary Heisman Trophy winner Tom Harmon.  Old 98 would have been an old 90 today and all the maize and blue faithful should rejoice.

What a perfect time to roll out a special edition of my now dusty “Tom Harmon vs. The Drunk Fan” video, published a couple years ago after finding a wonderful page of Life Magazine depicting this awesome incident.  Coincidentally this happened 69 years ago today as well, on Harmon’s 21st birthday!

I updated it with fresh text frames, new quotes and a little bit of Varsity and The Victors to spice it up.   Enjoy and share with your Meeecchigan friends:

Update 9/29:  Funny thing happened.  At around 00:57 seconds in, the choir sings the words "Down the Field" in Varsity just as the #2 photo from Life appears with the caption "Down the Field."   Creepy weird, man.  Wizard of Oz and Dark Side of the Moon weird.

Update 9/30:  Got a note from reader ‘Roger’ who added that Brennan and Harmon "became friends and he sent Harmon a birthday card every year after that."  That’s great.

Update 9/30 #2:  The great WolverineHistorian posted a video clip of the incident (I’m still partial to mine) but it’s excellent – click here.

Related Posts:
Harmon and Old Number..Six?
* Tommy’s the BMOC
* Tom Harmon says ‘Vote Heston’
* Old 98’s Son Faces Michigan, MSU
* Harmon Goes for the Gusto

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