I’m guessing the seller had no idea and is wondering why as of Saturday afternoon it had 17 bids, the tops at $330. It was a very nice season by Fritz Crisler’s crew, going 8-1, sharing the conference title and finally beating freaking Minnesota whom they hadn’t beaten since 1932.
Readers of this site might recall that this is a very rare find, so rare, in fact is that it was the final stub that local Jack Briegel needed to complete his collection of every game played at the Big House (dating back to ‘27). Thanks to a gift of this stub in 2011 from fellow collector Ken Magee, Jack got that final piece of the puzzle.
It’s rare for a few reasons as I explained in an earlier post:
The ticket to that September 25 game actually lists Michigan State as the opponent. But the Spartans did not field a team that season as it was common for teams to shut down their football squads that year due to obligations to the war effort. Folks seemed to have better things to do that fall day as just over 14,000 bothered to show up, and apparently it wasn’t memorable enough for many fans to bother to hang onto their stubs.
The entry associated with the above image states “..the event was held in the compact Waterman Gymnasium. It might have been held at the relatively new Yost Field House which created some controversy among faculty members when Yost named the building after himself.”
Umm, except the Field House was built by and named after Yost in the 1920s, sooo…
After it happened, media relations made an announcement in the box that Brandon Herron’s 94-yard interception return for a touchdown was the longest in modern (1948-present) history. But the postgame notes make a more definitive claim:
Herron’s 94-yard touchdown was the longest interception return for a touchdown in Michigan program history. The previous record was 92 yards, held by Ken Tureaud (vs. UCLA, Sept. 30, 1961) and Thom Darden (vs. UCLA, Sept. 25, 1971).
Offhand, the only other long interception return I could recall in the “pre-modern” era was Tom Harmon’s pick of Iowa’s Nile Kinnick which he took back for a score at the Big House in 1939. The rub here is figuring out exactly how long that return actually was.
Love the kids chilling on the wall [U-M Bentley Historical Library]
Of course this appears to be happening right on the goal line which would imply, if he took it back, that this would have went for 100 or so yards. Hmm.
I scanned through the news archives of the game and best that I can determine is Harmon had at least two picks and that the above photo is probably not the one he took to the house. More evidence comes from the postgame when Coach Fritz Crisler said, of Harmon, “He’s best known as a runner but I’d say his blocking and defensive work are equally good. Iowa threatened only twice after their touchdown. Harmon stopped both.”
Stopped, in this case, probably means an interception. This is backed up by a 1955 Michigan Daily piece that discussed that famed 1939 battle and coincidentally reprinted the above photo. The Daily wrote that Harmon was “the defensive star of the  game, intercepting several passes.” That article also mentioned the big play in question:
On one play, the fabulous “98” accounted for what the next day’s Daily termed the most spectacular play of the afternoon, intercepting a Kinnick aerial on his own five-yard line and tearing down the sidelines unscathed for a 95-yard touchdown run, as Michigan triumphed, 27-7.
This is a toughie, but given what I know about how football history (particularly statistics and legends) tend to be stretched, the answer is it was probably around a 90 yard return. But I do take stock in what The Daily wrote at the time. I doubt that the New York Times had a man at the game and The Daily certainly had a few eyes on the play.
Verdict: Screw it. Call it 95 and give it to Harmon.
Of course this may all be moot. Historians like Dr. Kryk or Dr. Bacon or someone else out there might recall a longer, less conspicuous interception return of 95+ yards prior in the early days of the program.
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).