Thomas Dudley Harmon (1919 - 1990)

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Birthplace: 118 South Weston Street , Rensselaer, Jasper County, Indiana, USA
Death: Died in Los Angeles, California, USA
Cause of death: heart attack
Occupation: Athlete, sports broadcaster
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About Thomas Dudley Harmon

Heisman Trophy winner Thomas Dudley Harmon was a star player in United States college football, a sports broadcaster, and patriarch of a family of American actors. As a player, he is considered by some to be the greatest football player in Michigan Wolverines history.

Harmon was the youngest child of Louis A. and Rose Marie (Quinn) Harmon, who first moved to Rensselaer, Indiana from Livingston County, Illinois around 1900. In 1924, when Harmon was about 5 years old, his family moved to Gary, Indiana, but he still kept up connections with friends in Rensselaer, Indiana for many years.

He attended Horace Mann High School in Gary, Indiana, graduating in 1937. While at Horace Mann High School, Harmon was already an outstanding athlete. In addition to 14 varsity letters, he was twice named All-State quarterback, Captain of the basketball team, and as a senior, won the 100 yard dash and the 200 yard low hurdles at the State Finals in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Harmon played college football at the University of Michigan from 1938–1940, he majored in English and Speech, hoping for a future career in broadcasting, and won the Heisman Trophy his senior season. He made his name as a tailback in the single-wing formation, and also excelled as a kicker. Harmon rushed for 2,134 yards during his career at Michigan, completed 100 passes for 1,304 yards and 16 touchdowns, and scored 237 points. During his career he played all 60 minutes 8 times. He also was a member of the varsity basketball team for two years.

In his final football game, against Ohio State Harmon led the Wolverines to a 40-0 victory, scoring three rushing touchdowns, two passing touchdowns, four extra points, intercepting three passes, and punting three times for an average of 50 yards. In an unprecedented display of sportsmanship and appreciation, the Ohio State fans in Columbus gave Harmon a standing ovation at game's end. No Wolverine player has been so honored since.

He led the nation in scoring in 1939 and 1940 (a feat that remains unmatched), and was elected to the College Football All-America Team both years. His career points per game average of 9.9 stood as an NCAA record for ten seasons. In 1940, he won the Heisman Trophy and the Maxwell Award both given to the outstanding college football player of the year.

While on campus, he was an active member of the Michigan Alpha Chapter of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity. Years later, the national fraternity leadership established the Harmon-Rice Award in his honor (the Rice name in the award honored Grantland Rice) that is presented each year to the most outstanding Phi Delt collegiate athlete in the nation. In 2007, Harmon was ranked #16 on ESPN's Top 25 Players In College Football History list.

Harmon was taken by the Chicago Bears with the first selection in the NFL Draft. Instead he opted to play with the New York Americans of the rival American Football League. After graduating from college he had a brief career as an actor, starring as himself in the biopic Harmon of Michigan. He appeared occasionally in films throughout the forties and fifties.

During World War II Tom Harmon enlisted as a pilot in the Army Air Corps on November 8, 1941. Early in 1943, Harmon parachuted into the South American Jungle when his plane flew into a tropical storm. None of the other crewmen bailed out or survived. He was the object of a massive regional search operation once his plane was reported missing. Four days later he stumbled into a clearing in Dutch Guiana. He transferred to single seat fighters.

He was awarded the Purple Heart and the Silver Star for his actions with the 449th Fighter Squadron. These included having his plane shot down over Japanese occupied China. He saved his silk parachute and it was later used as the material for his wife's wedding dress.

From 1946-1947 Harmon played football professionally with the Los Angeles Rams, but wartime injuries to his legs limited his effectiveness. He focused his professional career as planned on being a sports broadcaster on radio and television, one of the first athletes to make the transition from player to on-camera talent. In 1954, Harmon was enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame.

Tom Harmon married actress Elyse Knox, and much of their family entered show business. He is the father of actress Kristin Nelson, who at seventeen married recording artist Ricky Nelson, and of actress Kelly Harmon. His son is actor and former UCLA quarterback Mark Harmon, who is married to actress Pam Dawber, and he is the grandfather of actress Tracy Nelson and twins Matthew Nelson and Gunnar Nelson, who perform as the rock and country music act Nelson.

Tom Harmon narrated the 1960's film "A Glimpse of Greatness-The Story of Ken Hubbs", which chronicles the life of the late Chicago Cubs second baseman. For several years in the 1970s, starting with its introduction, he was the TV spokesman for Kellogg's Product 19 cereal.

Tom Harmon's 10-minute broadcasts were a staple of the ABC and (later) American Information radio networks. He was seen on KTLA, Channel 5, Los Angeles, and in the early 1980s handled play-by-play duties for the Oakland Raiders pre-season telecasts.

Tom Harmon died of a heart attack on March 15, 1990 in Los Angeles, California, aged 70.

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Tom Harmon's Timeline

1919
September 28, 1919
Rensselaer, Jasper County, Indiana, USA
1944
August 26, 1944
Age 24
1945
June 25, 1945
Age 25
1951
September 2, 1951
Age 31
Burbank, California, USA
1990
March 15, 1990
Age 70
Los Angeles, California, USA