If you were to turn on the television series NCIS, you probably wouldn’t guess the main star played college football. But, he did. Not only did he play, but his father was a Heisman Trophy winner at Michigan. Mark Harmon was brought up in a football family.
I was clearly not around when Tom Harmon won the Heisman Trophy while playing for Michigan back in 1940. Harmon was also the very first pick in the 1941 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears. Today’s NFL is all about the money, but in those years it wasn’t a very high paying job. Harmon decided against playing football and instead wanted to pursue a career in the movies.
There was also a little thing called World War II going on and Tom Harmon served as a pilot.
After the war, Harmon apparently changed his mind about professional football and he played 2 seasons for the Los Angeles Rams before moving on with his life. Maybe it was time to follow his dreams and get into a movie, or few.
Harmon stayed in Los Angeles and married actress Elyse Knox and together they had a couple of daughters, and then they had a son they named Mark.
Mark Harmon was athletic like his father, but maybe not quite as fast. The younger Harmon attended Harvard School in Los Angeles.
Harmon graduated from high school in 1970 and this was way before all of the recruiting services and all of the rankings. But, Mark Harmon signed with Pierce Junior College in Los Angeles where he played for two seasons.
Harmon was a quarterback, but he was more of a running quarterback and he was a National Junior College All American.
Schools that ran an option type of offense like an Oklahoma were coming around to recruit the young quarterback.
But, Mark Harmon elected to stay home and attend UCLA.
The Bruins were coached by Pepper Rodgers and they were just one of many collegiate teams that ran the Wishbone offense under Rodgers in 1972.
The Texas Longhorns invented the Wishbone in 1968 and won national titles in 1969 and 1970 and within a year, or two, many colleges were running it. UCLA was just one of several running that option offense.
Harmon came in as a junior transfer and took over the starting role at quarterback for the Bruins.
In his first game as a starter, Harmon led the Bruins to a huge upset of number 1 ranked Nebraska. The Huskers were coming off of a national championship and had a lot of their players back under
coach Bob Devaney. The Huskers were led by super athlete and Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers.
But, in their third game of the season, the Bruins visited Ann Arbor, Michigan to play the 12th ranked Wolverines. The home town Wolverines came away with a fairly convincing 26-9 victory.
Harmon and company got that Wishbone offense going and they reeled off 6 straight wins.
The Bruins lost to a pretty good Washington Husky team up in Seattle and the Huskies were led by Native American quarterback Sonny Sixkiller. It was a good game with the Huskies winning 30-21. In their last game, the Bruins lost to rival and top ranked USC, 7-24 to finish up with an 8-3 record. But, remember, this USC Trojan football team was one of the better teams of all time and finished with an undefeated record and the national championship.
These were the years before so many bowl games and only the winner of the Pac 8 Conference went to a bowl games. The UCLA Bruins and their quarterback, Mark Harmon, were home for Christmas in 1972.
Harmon’s stats were modest in 1972, but that’s the way it was back in those years. A problem on the team for Harmon was budding in that season, too, and that was freshman quarterback John Sciarra. 1972 was the first year that true freshmen could play on the varsity and Sciarra was third team. But, he was the future for the Bruins and was a consensus All American in 1975.
UCLA head coach Pepper Rodgers liked to alternate his quarterbacks, so everyone played.
Mark Harmon’s senior season in 1973 did not get off to a good start with a rematch with Nebraska. It didn’t go well with the Huskers stomping the Bruins, 40-13.
But, after that, the Bruins went on a roll with Harmon and John Sciarra sharing the quarterback job. They won 9 games in a row and in impressive fashion.
Closing their season with another loss to USC, the Bruins had to stay home again. But, they did finish the season with a nice 9-2 record.
Harmon’s statistics remind little of today’s high powered offenses, and he’s hardly remembered for his football career. He played in some movies when he was younger, but now he’s mostly known as Gibbs on NCIS.