‘NCIS’: Why Mark Harmon Would Rather Have a College Football National Championship Than an Oscar

by Suzanne Halliburton

Mark Harmon was thrown off a bit by the question. The NCIS star was on-air with Larry King. And the two were playing a kind of rapid fire question and answer game based on queries from social media.

So King asked Mark Harmon, would you rather have a Heisman Trophy and a National College Football Championship or an Oscar for Best Actor.

Please excuse Harmon for a bit of the hmmms as he thought it over. Then he gave a one sentence response. The athletic side of Mark Harmon and his rich, football heritage won the argument.

“At different times, a national championship,” Harmon told King in 2014. “That’s what I grew up thinking about.”

The Heisman Trophy is given to the top college football in the country. But recently, it’s been linked to the best offensive player on the best team in the country. The Harmon family already has one of those. Tom Harmon, Mark’s dad, was a Michigan man who won the Heisman in 1940 while starring for the Wolverines. Michigan came oh-so-close to winning the national title with Tom Harmon. The Wolverines finished third in the country with a 7-1 record. Their lone defeat was a 7-6 loss to Minnesota, the national champs.

So Mark Harmon grew up with college football royalty and lofty aspirations. Earlier in the interview with King, Harmon acknowledged than an early goal of his was to play in college.

“I always wanted to try and play college sports,” Mark Harmon said. “It turned out to be football. “

Mark Harmon, in His Career, Got Close to a National Title

Yes, Mark Harmon, the star of NCIS, was a terrific college football player. He was a bit of a late bloomer. Harmon transferred from junior college to UCLA in 1972. He grew up a Michigan fan because of his family, but geography also made him love the Bruins. Tom Harmon moved to California for flight training with the military and stayed there to raise his family. Mark Harmon was born in Burbank, outside Los Angeles.

And Mark Harmon flirted with the idea of winning a national title while with UCLA. The Bruins had only won two games the season before he got there. UCLA opened the 1972 season against big, bad Nebraska, the defending national champions. The Cornhuskers came onto UCLA”s home turf riding a 32-game winning streak.

But thanks to Mark Harmon and some other UCLA stars, the Bruins stunned Nebraska with a 20-17 victory. In a cruel bit of football fate, UCLA’s first loss of the season was to Michigan, two weeks after the Bruins victory over the Huskers.

The Bruins, like a lot of other top teams, ran the Wishbone. And UCLA was the top running team in the country with Harmon as the starting QB. But, it didn’t translate to a national title chance. In 1972, UCLA lost its last two games on the year, including a defeat at the hands of USC, which won the national title. In 1973, UCLA won nine straight games, but they were sandwiched between losses to Nebraska and USC. Meanwhile, Notre Dame won the national title.

Mark Harmon did achieve national glory. He was one of the National Scholar-Athletes selected by the National Football Foundation. It got him a trip to New York, but not a national title.