Sep 6, 2013
University of Michigan director of athletics Dave Brandon will regularly offer his view on a variety of topics related to U-M and intercollegiate sports. All his posts, along with links to related content, will be available on his page, mgoblue.com/brandon, and he is also on Twitter at @DaveBrandonAD.
In the 134 years of Wolverine football, one student-athlete has remained as the gold standard of all who have worn the winged helmet; his name is Tom Harmon. A positive aura surrounded his number 98, and it has remained synonymous with Michigan football greatness throughout the years.
Saturday night in front of a jam-packed Michigan Stadium, the name Tom Harmon and the number 98 will once again play an important role in U-M football history as we honor one of the great Michigan Men.
The number 98 will be worn by a Wolverine football player for the first time since November 23, 1940. On that day, "Old 98" was given a standing ovation by the fans in Ohio Stadium after leading Michigan to a 40-0 victory over the Buckeyes by rushing for three touchdowns, passing for two more, kicking four PATs, and averaging 50 yards on three punts.
Athletic equipment manager Henry Hatch knew U-M had one of the greatest players of all-time and decided to retire his number right on the spot. Later that year, Harmon became the first Michigan player to win not only the Heisman Trophy but also the Maxwell and Walter Camp awards, the hat trick of honors for the best player in all of college football.
In all instances, there was no hoopla. Hatch gave head coach Fritz Crisler the jersey, and they held up the 98 jersey in the locker room as it was retired.
For the Heisman, Crisler called Harmon to tell him he won. At the Heisman award dinner in New York, Harmon told the audience he was not planning on playing professional football; he wanted to use his Michigan degree to become a broadcaster.
Later that same night, the legendary sportscaster Ted Husing and Harmon went out to Toots Shor's to talk about his future in broadcasting.
Harmon never looked for the limelight, but the bright lights found him as his legend grew.
Movies were made about "Harmon of Michigan," and in World War II, his legendary status continued to grow. As a fighter pilot for the Army Air Corps, he was twice reported missing after military action.
He married a Hollywood actress, Elyse Knox, and the two raised a wonderful family.
He also became an accomplished sportscaster, using his University of Michigan communications degree.
He was an amazing man who led an amazing life.
Still, when one learns more about Harmon's life, his family and relationships with his co-workers and friends meant more to the humble and hardworking Michigan Man than any award.
Possibly one life moment gives the true insight into Tom Harmon.
At Horace Mann High School in Gary, Ind., he upset his varsity football coach and was told to turn in his varsity uniform. He fought back to earn a spot on the team and was then told to return kickoffs against the varsity as a way to be "prove himself." Instead of getting upset, he kept running back those kicks (many for touchdowns!) and impressing his coach in the process. Eventually, Harmon was told he could get his uniform back, but by then it was taken and the only jersey available was number 98.
Harmon never complained.
What he did was make the number 98 his calling card for his entire life. In fact, throughout his life, he had a blue California license plate with yellow numbers and one letter that read "9T8" -- a symbol he remained proud of his entire life.
On Saturday night, Michigan's first Heisman Trophy winner will have his number 98 returned to the gridiron at Michigan Stadium. Unlike the first time his number was retired in a very quiet and uneventful way, 98 will now become a Michigan Legends number in front of a capacity crowd at Michigan Stadium and millions more watching on national television.
And unlike the time his son Mark first found out his dad won the Heisman Trophy from a childhood friend at a local park, Mark and his family will get a chance to see this celebration firsthand.
A celebration worthy of a Michigan Legend!