Wolverine Wednesday: The Legend of Tom Harmon, a Veteran's Day Special

Big House BobSenior Analyst IINovember 11, 2009

ANN ARBOR, MI - SEPTEMBER 19: General view of Michigan Stadium during the game between the Michigan Wolverines and the Eastern Michigan Eagles on September 19, 2009 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  Michigan won 45-17.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Most Wolverines fans know that Tom Harmon was Michigan's first Heisman Trophy winner.

After that, Harmon became a war hero.

Today is Veterans Day and I took a break from the normal Wednesday post to look back at a WWII hero and a Michigan legend: Tom Harmon

Harmon wore No. 98 at Michigan and I think that number stood for all the positions he played for the Wolverines.

From 1938-1940, Tom had 33 touchdowns (a record at the time), 2,134 yards rushing, 1,304 yards passing, kicked 33 extra points, and two fields at Michigan. Fitz Crisler, his head coach, must have had a rule; if you score a touchdown, you had to kick the extra point!

Tom was pretty well known during his time as a Wolverine. He was on the cover of Time in 1939 and Life magazine in 1940.

I never saw Tom play, but it seems he was the Barry Sanders of his time. Opponents had a hard time tackling the allusive Harmon, who went through a number of tear-away jerseys each game.

Two of Tom's best games came when the spotlight was the brightest.

Michigan opened the 1940 season at California with an unheard of cross-country flight, when most teams still used trains. Harmon's was the first college football team to travel to a game via airplane.

The plane had to stop three times (Des Moines, Denver, and Salt Lake City) and it took two days to get there.

Michigan won the game 41-0. Tom returned the opening kick 94 yards for a touchdown, returned a punt 72 yards for another TD, had two rushing touchdowns of eight and 86 yards, and threw for a fifth score.

Of course, Tom's last game as a Wolverine came against Ohio State.

In Columbus, he ran for three touchdowns, threw for two more, and kicked four extra points for a 40-0 win.

A couple of weeks later he won the Heisman trophy, after finishing second the year before. Tom led the NCAA in scoring in both 1939 and 1940, and also won the Maxwell Award in 1940.

Tom's No. 98 jersey was retired when he graduated in 1940.

He wasn't done dominating the opposition after his time at Michigan though. Tom decided to enlist in the Army Air Corps on Nov. 8, 1941.

Planes he piloted went down twice during the war and both times Tom parachuted out to safety. His most famous flight happened in early 1943 when Tom's plane flew into a tropical storm and he parachuted out into a South American jungle. When his plane was reported missing the Army sent out a large search party, but the team was not able to find the Heisman trophy winner.

Four days later he walked out of the jungle into Dutch Guiana.

Tom was later awarded a Purple Heart and a Silver Star for his actions with the 449th Fighter Squadron. Legend has it that Tom saved the silk material from his parachute so that his wife could use it for her wedding dress.

Tom married Elyse Knox and had two children: Mark Harmon and actress Kelly Harmon. After football and the Army, Tom had a nice career in sports broadcasting.

In 1990, Tom Harmon passed away at the age of 70.

So on this day, when we are thinking about the state of our beloved Wolverines, it's good to think back to a Michigan legend that beat the Buckeyes single-handedly, then enlisted in the Army to fight in the Great World War.

Michigan could use a few guys like Tom Harmon these days.

Good Night and God Bless.

(Portions of this post came from the book: 100 Things Michigan Fans Should Know Before They Die by Angelique Chengel.)


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