Meet Tom Harmon, the Reason Why Michigan QB Devin Gardner Is Wearing No. 98

Andrew Coppens@@andycoppensContributor ISeptember 7, 2013

Sep 7, 2013; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines quarterback Devin Gardner throws a pass during the first quarter against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

As Michigan ran out of the tunnel and approached the "Go Blue" banner, one thing was very out of place. No. 98 ran out on to the field, and it wasn't a defensive end or a linebacker, instead it was quarterback Devin Gardner. 

Why? Isn't Gardner No. 12? Well, it was all part of an ongoing effort by the Wolverines program to connect the past with the present and the future of the program.

Michigan has a tradition of "honoring," rather than retiring, important numbers in their history, and on Saturday night, it was No. 98's turn to be honored. Who was No. 98? 

His name was Tom Harmon, and chances are, most of you don't know Harmon as anything other than a famed sports broadcaster at best. In fact, chances are, most were confused as to why famed NCIS actor Mark Harmon was standing at midfield of the Big House. 

That Harmon is Harmon's son and his connection to the game can't be overlooked either, as he played quarterback at UCLA before the acting bug caught him as well.

However, to Michigan fans and those around to remember his playing days, Harmon may have been the single-best player in the history of Michigan football, and that's saying something. 

Harmon earned the nickname "Old 98" while playing for the Maize 'N Blue from 1938-1940. 

As the game was continuing to evolve in that day, Harmon was a true "Renaissance Man," playing tailback in the famed single-wing offense. He also happened to excel as a kicker and dabbled a bit in passing, punting and defense as well. 

Following an OK debut season in 1938, Harmon began to show his true mettle in 1939 and put it all together in the famed 1940 season, winning the Heisman Trophy and the Chicago Tribune's Silver Ball award.

He rushed for 852 yards, passed for another 506 yards and combined for 21 total touchdowns in that Heisman Trophy season. Of course, that wasn't all Harmon accomplished either, as he added 18 PAT's and a field goal to just scratch the surface of his effort. 

The career numbers for Harmon are about as equally impressive for his era in college football. Harmon finished his career with 2,134 yards and 30 touchdowns rushing, while adding 1,354 yards and 16 touchdowns passing. 

Harmon scored over 100 points twice (1939 and 1940) in his Wolverine career as well. 

That said, his life after Michigan football is nearly as interesting as his time there. Following his graduation with a degree in English and speech, Harmon would enlist in the Army Air Corp, but was wounded while piloting a plane that crashed in South America in 1943. He would be the only one to survive the crash.

Following his time serving his country, Harmon would move to Los Angeles and marry Elyse Knox, an actress and model. Of course, Harmon would also fulfill his dream of becoming a sports broadcaster after injuries suffered from his plane crash during World War II cut short his NFL career.

Harmon passed away in 1990 in Los Angeles, Calif., at age 70 and was survived by not only his son Mark, but by his famous grandsons, Matthew and Gunnar Nelson, the twins that formed the band Nelson.

So, the next time you see Devin Gardner run on to the Michigan Stadium turf, you can say you know why he is honoring, perhaps, the greatest Wolverine of all time, and that's an honor not to be taken lightly. 

On Saturday night Harmon was honored by Michigan, but interestingly it was his son and famed NCIS actor Mark Harmon there to give words of thanks and inspiration.

The apple didn't fall far from the family tree for the Harmon's as Mark played quarterback fro UCLA before the acting bug caught him as well.