Harmon, Thomas Dudley ("Tom")
HARMON, Thomas Dudley ("Tom")
(b. 28 September 1919 in Gary, Indiana; d. 15 March 1990 in Los Angeles, California), football player and sports broadcaster who was one of the most talented and exciting halfbacks in college football history.
Harmon was one of four sons born to Louis A. Harmon, a Gary policeman, and Rose Harmon, a homemaker. Harmon attended Horace Mann High School in Gary and starred in football, basketball, baseball, and track, winning fourteen varsity letters there. Though he was an outstanding baseball pitcher and was captain of the basketball team, football and track garnered Harmon's greatest prep fame. A four-year member of Horace Mann's varsity football team, he was named high school football's national scoring champion in 1936 after tallying 150 points. He was selected to the Indiana All-State football team for two years. Harmon also won state track championships for the 100-yard dash and the 220-yard low hurdles.
Harmon was interested in attending Dartmouth or Notre Dame, the latter a favorite of his Irish-Catholic parents. But his high school coach, Doug Kerr, a Michigan man, encouraged Harmon to attend his alma mater. The University of Michigan's beautiful campus and reputation as a good academic school finally convinced Harmon to enroll there in the fall of 1937, after he had graduated from Horace Mann.
Harmon, wearing jersey number 98 and starting at tail-back, made a big splash at Michigan as a junior in 1939. His highlights included scoring 3 touchdowns and rushing for 206 yards against Yale; scoring 4 touchdowns, including a 95-yard interception return, against Iowa; and rushing for 202 yards, scoring 2 touchdowns and passing for another, in a thrilling 19–17 win over Pennsylvania. In the third quarter against Pennsylvania, deep in Michigan territory, Harmon started off on a sweep around left end but reversed direction and circled back toward his goal line. Changing direction again, Harmon finally broke loose for a 63-yard touchdown gallop down the left sideline. He easily ran twice that 63-yard distance, the greatest play of his career, in the game Harmon later described as the most exciting he ever experienced. For the 1939 season Harmon scored 14 touchdowns and tallied 102 points, both the highest marks in the nation. In addition he rushed for 868 yards on 129 carries and completed 37 of 94 passes for 488 yards and 6 touchdowns. He was named a consensus All-American halfback and finished second in the Heisman Trophy balloting to Iowa's Nile Kinnick.
In 1940 Harmon, at six feet, two inches and two hundred pounds, was again at tailback for a Michigan team that ranked among the best in the country. His season highlights included 4 touchdown runs, 94, 70, 86, and 7 yards respectively, against California, and 3 touchdown games against Michigan State, Harvard, and Ohio State. The California game produced the most remembered play of Harmon's career. A fan named Bud Brennan came out of the grandstands and attempted to tackle Harmon near the end of his third long touchdown gallop, but Harmon narrowly avoided him at the goal line. Against Ohio State in his final college game Harmon broke Red Grange's Big Ten Conference career touchdown record, his final tally coming with thirty-eight seconds left to play.
For 1940 Harmon had 844 rushing yards on 186 carries, he completed forty-two of ninety-three passes for 502 yards and seven touchdowns, and he scored 16 touchdowns and 117 points, again leading the nation in points scored. He was named unanimous All-American halfback for 1940, and his host of awards included the Heisman Trophy, the Maxwell Trophy, and the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year. Yet Harmon always remained disappointed about the 1940 season, as Minnesota had handed Michigan a 7–6 upset defeat that cost the Wolverines the national championship on a day Harmon described as the "most frustrating" of his life.
Harmon played in the Shrine All-Star Game in January 1941, and while on the West Coast he appeared on Bing Crosby's radio show, where he met his future wife Elyse Knox, a movie actress. That summer, after graduating with majors in speech and English, he starred in a movie entitled Harmon of Michigan. He was voted into the starting lineup for the College All-Stars and threw a touchdown pass against the Chicago Bears in the annual charity game in Chicago. The Bears selected Harmon in the first round of the 1941 National Football League (NFL) draft, but he instead accepted a broadcasting job that included covering Michigan football games. He played one game for the New York Americans of the American Football League. Harmon enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps on 5 November 1941 and was accepted for flying school.
In April 1943 Harmon was the only survivor when his B-25 bomber crashed in the jungle of Dutch Guiana (Suriname) while on a routine mission. After a grueling six-day hike through the swampy jungle, he finally stumbled into a native settlement. After rehabilitation he was trained as a fighter pilot and sent to the Asian theater. On 30 October 1943 Harmon's plane was shot down over China, and with his legs and hands severely burned in a cockpit explosion, he parachuted into a lake. Rescued by Chinese guerrillas, Harmon was guided on a perilous journey through Japanese-held territory and reached an American base. For his ordeals as Lieutenant he was awarded the Silver Star and the Purple Heart.
Harmon and Elyse Knox were married on 26 August 1944 in a chapel on the University of Michigan campus. Discharged from the Army Air Force on 12 August 1945, Harmon played again for the College All-Stars later that month. He signed a contract with the Los Angeles Rams for the 1946–1947 seasons, but the wartime injuries to Harmon's legs had robbed him of much of his former speed. He retired from pro football after two seasons.
Harmon then returned to broadcasting, while he and Elyse began raising a family of three children, Christie, Kelly, and Mark, the last a noted movie actor. In the early 1950s Harmon began doing the nightly sports report on Channel 2 in Los Angeles, moving to KTLA television from 1958 to 1964. In 1961 he also started a long-running nightly sports radio show for ABC. In the late 1960s Harmon returned to KTLA to broadcast University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) football, moving in 1974 to the Hughes Television Network. He spent his final years hosting a popular show, Raider Playbook, after the NFL's Oakland Raiders moved to Los Angeles in 1982. He died of a heart attack at age seventy. He is buried in Los Angeles.
Harmon was one of the greatest all-around players in college football history, a top headliner in an era of exceptional players. He combined sprinter speed, line-smashing power, and an excellent passing touch to lead Michigan football back to its earlier glory days. In his college career Harmon scored 237 points, including 33 touchdowns, while gaining 2,134 yards on 398 carries and completing 101 of 233 passes for 1,399 yards and 16 touchdowns. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1954.
Among the best sources on Harmon's football career are Mervin D. Hyman and Gordon S. White, Jr., Big Ten Football: Its Life and Times, Great Coaches, Players, and Games (1977); and Dave Newhouse, After the Glory—Heisman (1985). Also notable is Richard M. Cohen, Jordan A. Deutsch, and David S. Neft, The University of Michigan Football Scrapbook (1978), which includes a well-written forward by Harmon. Obituaries are in the Los Angeles Times (16 Mar. 1990) and the New York Times (17 Mar. 1990).