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Posted on Thu, Dec 9, 2010 : 12:30 p.m.

1940: Tom Harmon becomes 1st Michigan gridder to win Heisman Trophy; Fritz Crisler takes blame for team's only loss

By James Dickson

Harmon Grange.JPG

Michigan man Tom Harmon is pictured with his predecessor at Illinois, the "Galloping Ghost" Red Grange. Harmon took the college football scoring title from Grange by the time his playing days at Michigan wrapped in 1940.

Courtesy: Bentley Historical Library

Editor's note: This Week in Ann Arbor History looks back at notable moments from the city's past.

Seventy years ago today, after the end of the 1940 Michigan football season, two-time All American halfback Tom Harmon became the first Michigan man to win the Heisman Trophy. Now considered the most prestigious in college football, the Heisman was only in its sixth year of existence at the time. Then, as now, it was awarded by the Downtown Athletic Club in New York City.

Only two other Michigan men have been awarded the Heisman: Wide receiver Desmond Howard in 1991 and cornerback Charles Woodson in 1997. Harmon is the only one of the three with his jersey retired by the football team.

Harmon left Michigan as college football's all-time scoring leader, topping Illinois' Harold "Red" Grange, who played two decades earlier.

Michigan's equipment manager Henry Hatch announced before Harmon's final game against Ohio State that he was retiring Harmon's number 98 jersey. Harmon followed up that honor by producing his best game, a 40-0 blowout over the Buckeyes, in Columbus. The halfback's performance was so singularly dominant on both sides of the ball that the Ohio State faithful gave him a standing ovation as he left the field. No Michigan football player has been so honored at Ohio Stadium since.

But Harmon's star shone beyond college football. The same day he won the Heisman he was chosen outstanding male athlete in an Associated Press poll, beating out the next closest vote getter, "Hammerin'" Hank Greenberg of the Detroit Tigers, by more than a 3-to-1 margin. Men from 10 different sports were eligible for the award.

Harmon wasn't the only Michigan gridder who had a big week. The day after Harmon brought home his stiff-armed hardware, a number of his former teammates, including 1941 captain-elect Bob Westfall and receiver Harlin Fraumann, dressed in drag for a show at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre called "Take A Number." In the custom of Michigan Union Opera shows of the time, the play was all male.

This Week in Ann Arbor History
December 9, 2010
Ann Arbor historian Grace Shackman wrote about the all-male shows, which ran from 1908 to 1955, in a May 2004 piece in the Ann Arbor Observer. Take A Number, Shackman wrote, "was modeled on the draft lottery, which set up boy-girl meetings in the Arb."

That very day, quarterback Forest Evashevski, an outgoing senior who had captained the 1940 grid squad, was chosen in a campus-wide election to play the part of Santa Claus at the Interfraternity Council's third annual Christmas party at Hill Auditorium. More than 700 classmates voted for Evy, as the gregarious gridder was known, who beat out a crowded field of fellow Big Men on Campus. Evashevski had performed in the Michigan Union Opera show alongside Harmon that February but opted for the role of Santa Claus in December.

The only blemish on Michigan's 1940 season was a 7-6 loss to Minnesota, part of the "Minnesota jinx" of head coach Fritz Crisler's early years at Michigan. (Crisler was head coach of Minnesota in 1930 and 1931 before being lured away to Princeton, where he was coaching when lured away to Michigan. Crisler lost his first five Little Brown Jug games before winning the next five, finishing .500 against the Golden Gophers.)

At the Heisman ceremony Crisler took the blame for the Minnesota loss, which propelled the Golden Gophers to a national championship. As an Associated Press story explained, a small coaching decision might have made all the difference: "Crisler said he had permitted Harmon to use short cleats, instead of long ones, on a soggy field. This caused Tommy to slip in the mud on his touchdown attempts."

Minnesota won the national championship that year under head coach Bernie Bierman. Michigan took second place in the Big Ten and third place nationally, behind Minnesota and Stanford.

James David Dickson can be reached at



Fri, Dec 10, 2010 : 4:25 p.m.

What is it, am I using too many big words? I'm using plain ol' English. I guess I'll take that as a compliment. And I'm not afraid to answer your question. Michigan has been terrible on the field and even worse off the field, which is why my comments on have been aimed at the dismissal of Rich Rodriguez. The Michigan fans who fail to see that are in denial. You seem to think this is difficult for me to admit. It's not. And you never answered my original question, are you celebrating the spurious National Championship your Buckeyes claim in 1970 after losing to Stanford, or the 1954 Title won by default because of Auburn's ineligibility? Is it difficult for you to admit the questionable nature of these Titles? And are you going to brag that the majority of your Titles were won "more timely", as you put it? (you mean "more recently." The two words are not synonymous.) Sure, Ohio State's Titles were won more recently compared to Michigan's, but to brag about them, about Titles won during the Eisenhower and Nixon administrations? Hilarious. I'm proud of Michigan's history, but I'll never brag about their eldest Titles. I think bragging rights ends after 10 years. Brag about 2002 while you still can. It's been fun. Thanks for opening my eyes to the real Ohio State. Go Blue


Fri, Dec 10, 2010 : 1:57 p.m.

RudeJude: You're apparently not only a UM alum but also an attorney. (I hope calling you a lawyer doesn't get my post pulled down for degarding name-calling.) You never answered my original question, "What has Michigan done lately?" Perhaps, you're trying to avoid the answer, "Nothing."


Fri, Dec 10, 2010 : 1:30 p.m.

I'm sorry if you took my response as taunting, but I thought it was a legitimate question about the '70 team. After all, it was a National Championship, why not celebrate its anniversary, if you're so proud to boast about it to us elitists? And I love the irony of a person boasting of his team's superiority accusing Michigan fans of being elitist. I guess it takes one to know one? You must not read my comments, but that's my question too. I've been very critical of Rodriguez since the self-imposed penalties came out. But, I promise, when things turn around for Michigan, you won't find me pathetically boasting of my team's championships at a Columbus news site in hopes of instigating arguments with opposing fans. Remember, I'm not the one that started boasting about 40-year-old "recent" Titles. I'm just responding to the hypocrisy and inaccuracy of your claims. I should be thanking you, for without the tripe you're writing here, I'd still probably assume all of Ohio State's Titles were legitimate. Always learning something! Go Blue


Fri, Dec 10, 2010 : 12:14 p.m.

Rudejude: Taunt me (and tOSU) all you want. The question on the table still remains. "What has Michigan done lately?" I'll leave defining "lately" up to you.


Fri, Dec 10, 2010 : 10:58 a.m.

@ tOSU And so are Michigan's 11 championships also recognized. If you want to question the quality of Michigan's Titles, then pretend your '54 default Title and '70 "premature approbation" title didn't happen. I'm not arguing the majority of Michigan's titles weren't won in the first half of the 20th century, but that doesn't make them any less hallowed. And being the one claiming Ohio State's championships have been won in the "recent past," you're really stretching the limits of the word "recent," considering six of the seven occurred four decades ago. That's not exactly yesterday. Compared to Florida's three Titles, all won since 1996, the majority of Ohio State's titles are ancient. And only two of your facts are facts, the third being opinion, just as when I give the opinion that Ohio State's blowout losses in the BCS Title games against LSU and Florida and the multiple losses to Texas and USC show Ohio State to have been an overrated team whose rankings were inflated by an underwhelming Big Ten of the last decade. I have a lot of respect for Ohio State's football program, but my research that began thanks to your gloating has vastly changed my opinion of the program. I cannot wait until the next time I am taunted by a Buckeye about Michigan's national champions, now that I have the truth about their gilded titles. And shouldn't you be out celebrating the 40th anniversary of Ohio State's third-place 1970 NFF championship and their subsequent Rose Bowl loss to Stanford? It was a year to remember! Go Blue


Fri, Dec 10, 2010 : 10:04 a.m.

D21 & Rudejude: Yes, the fact is awarding the national championship was a confusing system in the past. But the years I sited ARE recognized championships, whether BLUE-bloods like it or not. The FACTS of my original post remain true: 1) tOSU has more Heisman winners than UM. 2) Most of Michigan's eleven claimed national championships are in the very distant past. (The significance of being before WWII denotes that the AP had not even formed their system of evaluation, which is still in use today.) 3) Michigan's lack of national championships in the recent past emphasizes the fact the BLUE is only a major FB force in their own elitist minds.


Fri, Dec 10, 2010 : 2:20 a.m.

I'd like you to explain to me why you keep deleting my comments, doesn't seem fair


Fri, Dec 10, 2010 : 2:15 a.m.

Hey, why do you keep deleting my comments? I kept it clean, are you an OSU fan or something?


Fri, Dec 10, 2010 : 2:08 a.m.

Hey RudeJude Dude, nice work!! tOSU, what's the matter w/you? It's an article celebrating U-M Heisman's, I sometime's like your opinions like about RR sucking as a coach, but this is not a forum for an OSU gloat fest.Back up the truck Chuck! Talk about sounding like a 12 yr. girl, sheesh!!!


Fri, Dec 10, 2010 : 2 a.m.

Nice work Rude Jude Dude!!! tOSU, shut up will ya. I do like some of your thoughts, especially about RR sucking, however, you chime in w/your OSU gloatations (possibly a made up word by me that I hope everyone gets). Anyway, it's an article celebrating U-M Heisman's, not tOSU, ok? Do you mind? Talk about sounding like a 12 yr. old girl!!!


Fri, Dec 10, 2010 : 1:04 a.m.

As for Michigan's post-WWII Championships, in 1947, undefeated Michigan splits the title with undefeated Notre Dame. Notre Dame wins the AP vote after beating USC 38-7, but does not play in a bowl game. After the AP has handed out its Title, Michigan also plays USC in the Rose Bowl and beats them in a shutout, 49-0. The AP holds an unofficial vote after the bowl game and Michigan receives 226 votes while AP-Champion Notre Dame only receives 119. Michigan splits the National Title with Notre Dame only because the AP prematurely handed out its championship. In 1948, undefeated Michigan wins the Title outright. And, of course, in 1997, undefeated Michigan wins the AP while Nebraska wins the Coaches. The following year, the BCS championship game, matching the #1 and #2 ranked teams in the nation in a bowl game, began. Here is a list of the champions and their records of the years Michigan claims Titles, Post-WWII: 1947 - Notre Dame 9-0 (AP), Michigan 9-0 (various, unofficial AP) 1948 - Michigan 9-0 1997 - Michigan 12-0 (AP), Nebraska 13-0 (Coaches)


Fri, Dec 10, 2010 : 12:38 a.m.

@ tOSU Your gloating got me interested in researching THE Ohio State's history of winning national championships, and what a gilded history it turned out to be. Post-World War II, Ohio state, technically, has six National Championships, however it can only claim outright championships in 1968 and in 2002. Ohio State split championships in 1954, 1957 and 1961, but had inferior records in '57 and '61 to the co-champions. Also, Ohio State won the 1957 Coaches Title only because Auburn (10-0) was ineligible to receive it. Ohio State went 9-1 that year. A "First Runner-up" Title. In 1970, Ohio State can claim one-third of a championship, but this turned out to be more like winning the bronze medal. Ohio State (9-1) claimed a NFF championship, however, undefeated Texas (10-0) and Nebraska (11-0-1) split the Coaches and AP championships respectively. Per my last comment, Ohio State lost to a three-loss Stanford squad, 27-17 in that year's Rose Bowl, but was prematurely awarded their championship before the loss. Here is a list of the champions and their records of the year's Ohio State claims Titles: 1954 - UCLA 9-0 (Coaches), Ohio State 10-0 (AP) 1957* - Auburn (AP) 10-0, Ohio State (Coaches) 9-1 1961 - Alabama 10-0, Ohio State 8-0-1 1968 - Ohio State 10-0 1970 - Texas 10-0 (Coaches), Nebraska 11-0-1 (AP), Ohio State 9-1 (NFF) 2002 - Ohio State 14-0 * - Auburn was ineligible for Coaches Poll Correct me if I'm wrong, but, Post-WWII, Ohio State has 2 and a half championships with another 1 and one-third claimed "championships" while other teams with better records also claimed championships. Winning titles prematurely, by default or by splitting them with teams with superior records...that's how they do things down in the ol' Buckeye State! (295 Words)

David Briegel

Thu, Dec 9, 2010 : 9 p.m.

D21, I said that the PAC 10 and the BIG 10 should tell the rest of the phony wannabees where to go and keep the Rose Bowl as it was! Heck, we could even play 2 or 3 games there and be as competitive as most of the other arranged games! College sports is becoming a cesspool destroyed by the quest for the big bucks at ANY cost. I even fear our beloved M will be damaged someday. Your photo is a classic!


Thu, Dec 9, 2010 : 8:39 p.m.

I love how this OSU fan frames his statement to meet his arguments. Like it matters that some of Michigan's championships were before WWII. Well three of their Heisman Trophy winners wer prior to the Vietnam War, so I guess those don't count either!!


Thu, Dec 9, 2010 : 6:16 p.m.

RudeJude, Thanks and I liked that analogy: "That's more of a "Dewey Beats Truman" National Title if you ask me" RJ, for people like theosu, they are inherently afraid of the coming apocalypse (Brandon's new football coach) which will spell the end of the buckeye football as we know it. theosu, just listen to audiotape, "Hail to the Victors" every nite before you sleep. HAIL 2 MAIZE & BLUE!


Thu, Dec 9, 2010 : 6:07 p.m.

@ tOSU I really could care less about arguing titles and Heismans, but I find it funny that you taunt D21 about Michigan having only won two AP National championships in the post-WW II era when Ohio State only has one more AP National championship in the same period ('54, '68, '02). And you tout your '70 NFF title that was awarded BEFORE Ohio State lost to a three-loss Stanford team in the Rose Bowl 27-17? That's more of a "Dewey Beats Truman" National Title if you ask me, but I guess you should be thankful the NFF wasn't allowed to retract its award post-loss.


Thu, Dec 9, 2010 : 5:41 p.m.

D21: Your reply in response to my post incorrectly IMPLIES that Harmon won 2 Heisman Trophies. Hail 2 Harmon, Howard and Woodson. Hey theosu, the "2" denotes "to" as everybody else knows except for you. Terry Bradshaw is SMARTER than you. Your days of dominating UM are over when RR is canned.


Thu, Dec 9, 2010 : 5:38 p.m.

Archie won the sympathy vote (in honor of Woody Hayes who vainfully tried to knock some sense into his players). Nobody talks about Archie but everybody talks about Harmon, Howard and Woodson. Les, Vic, Hopalong and Archie were busts in the NFL...Eddie got worn down after his first few stellar years...The jury is still out on Troy. Woodson has a greater NFL career than the rest of those lil buckeyes heisman winners combined. Just switch your fake allegiance to the buckeyes over to the Wolverines.


Thu, Dec 9, 2010 : 5:34 p.m.

D21: Your reply in response to my post incorrectly IMPLIES that Harmon won 2 Heisman Trophies. A two-time winner has only happened once in the history of the Heisman. As one would expect, it was a BUCKEYE, Mr. Archie Griffin. PS: tOSU also has a better marching band than UM.


Thu, Dec 9, 2010 : 5:28 p.m.

D21: Your reply in response to my post incorrectly IMPLIES that Harmon won 2 Heisman Trophies. A two-time winner has only happened once in the history of the Heisman. As one would expect, it was a BUCKEYE, Mr. Archie Griffin.

3 And Out

Thu, Dec 9, 2010 : 5:24 p.m.

Thanks for the article. In the photo at the top, Harmon looks like Peyton Manning and Red Grange looks like he is 50 something. Its amazing how much people looked older back in those days then they do now...


Thu, Dec 9, 2010 : 5:19 p.m.

Great article. Very interesting.... "The halfback's performance was so singularly dominant on both sides of the ball that the Ohio State faithful gave him a standing ovation as he left the field." Of course, this was back in the pre-Woody days when OSU fans actually had class and showed good sportsmanship. And one of Tom Harmon's biggest contributions was his son Mark, now the star of NCIS!


Thu, Dec 9, 2010 : 5:15 p.m.

Dave B, Things (Auburn's Newton) like that makes me glad that I am not a SEC or NCAA or BCS fan.


Thu, Dec 9, 2010 : 5:11 p.m.

Hey the OSU, You are WRONG! Each Wolverine who wins the Heisman is worth 100 Buckeye Heisman winners. Hail 2 Harmon, Howard and Woodson.

David Briegel

Thu, Dec 9, 2010 : 5:06 p.m.

I grew up watching the highlight films of Harmon and Grange. They looked like men playing with boys. Like Denard in the open field but with much more power. I enjoyed being reminded of all the celebrity connections in the Harmon family. He was a national celebrity. Bill, excellent post. The times sure were different. Auburn and their $200,000 QB are a disgrace. NCAA approved!


Thu, Dec 9, 2010 : 4:59 p.m.

Tom Harmon also played himself in the 1941 movie, "Harmon of Michigan," (A user review from IMDB) "An old fashioned football movie, made on the eve of U.S. entry into World War II, in which Harmon would serve with distinction. It begins with footage of Harmon's games at Michigan, in which Harmon, "old number 98," starred as a triple threat, becoming the best known All-American of his day and featured in LIFE magazine. After a brief pro career, Harmon became a sportscaster and, married to actress Elyse Knox, father of Mark Harmon, a UCLA All-American and actor. Tom Harmon's team-mate Forest Evashevsky, another All-American and later a successful coach, also features in the film, while Anita Louise plays Harmon's wife. It's a simple story of an ambitious young coach who needs to learn a few lessons in life and sports from an old coach and a loving wife. It has some good staged football action, of the game as it was played in the late '30s and, of course, a happy ending."


Thu, Dec 9, 2010 : 4:59 p.m.

UM has eleven CLAIMED national championships. Only THREE championships since World War II (1947, 1948 & 1997)! Only two championships are recognized by the AP Coaches Poll (1948 & 1997). I realize you're proud of your ancient history, but the reality is most of your champions are long deceased. The Buckeyes (as one might expect) are more timely. Six of our seven national championships are in the post WWII era ('54, '57, '61, '68' '70 and '02).


Thu, Dec 9, 2010 : 4:20 p.m.

"You fail to mention that tOSU Buckeyes have SEVEN Heisman winners, four more than UM." You also fail to mention that Michigan football has 11 national championships, six more than OSU.


Thu, Dec 9, 2010 : 4:18 p.m.

We also have 7 more Big Ten Championships than O$U.


Thu, Dec 9, 2010 : 3:56 p.m.

What a great story. Coaches took the blame for loses. Football players graduated from the university. We filled the stadium without having to get "Blue Chips". Players took part in campus events. And to think we still won games. To bad we couldn't go back to that kind of football and we could be proud of our team and program. It could be done if the fans would change their priorities. Duke, Northwestern, Stanford. Think about it. We wouldn't have to worry about what kind of trouble the player was getting in to and "Prima Dona Coaches" making millions of dollars to produce no wins and people who don't graduate. It's the way a great school like "The University of Michigan" should be I think most of the real, those who graduated, would like it


Thu, Dec 9, 2010 : 3:21 p.m.

I just saw this clip on YouTube about Tom Harmon being "tackled" by the drunk UCLA fan. Nobody could stop that guy.


Thu, Dec 9, 2010 : 3:19 p.m.

You fail to mention that tOSU Buckeyes have SEVEN Heisman winners, four more than UM.


Thu, Dec 9, 2010 : 2:55 p.m.

Stated by Lloyd Carr after the loss to App State: 'We didnt do our job getting these guys prepared for this game, and that's on us.' (paraphrased). Those are the words of a coach who can see, or perhaps chooses to see, the forest for the trees.

Rhe Buttle

Thu, Dec 9, 2010 : 2:30 p.m.

Fritz Crisler takes blame.... HEY RichRod - the COACH accepted the blame for the ONLY loss. I bet he didn't cry either, did he?


Thu, Dec 9, 2010 : 2:23 p.m.

That message should be removed for not being on topic,(it's Michigan football, not TMZ). Hope you guys have a sense of humor at Side note about football, It was refreshing to read that a coach took responsibility for a loss, even one so great it cost UM a shot at the National Championship. Nowadays you have to watch players explain why Michigan didn't win a game. Sad.

Ann Dwyer

Thu, Dec 9, 2010 : 1:56 p.m.

And to add to the Tom Harmon trivia (from Wikipedia): "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."