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Q&A: Mark Harmon

Posted: Thursday May 11, 2006 3:55PM; Updated: Thursday May 11, 2006 3:55PM
Mark Harmon.
Mark Harmon.
Tammie Arroyo/AP

Last week SI writer Richard Deitsch interviewed Mark Harmon for the magazine's Q&A. The 54-year-old actor stars on the CBS drama NCIS: Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Here are additional excerpts from their conversation.

SI: There's a headline in our Sept. 18, 1972 issue that reads: YOUNG HARMON MAKES HIS MARK: From Out of Hollywood Comes the Saga of Mark Harmon, Handsome, Articulate, the Son of Old No. 98. People forget that you were the starting quarterback at UCLA for two seasons.

Harmon: I remember all the trips I took to the L.A. Coliseum with my dad when he was broadcasting games. I used to look at that players' tunnel and say, "Someday, I would love to come out of there as a player." In this day and age a lot of people don't know that I played, or they would be surprised to hear it. That's OK. It means I have progressed.

SI: You led UCLA to a 17-14 win in your first college start. It ended Nebraska's 32-game winning streak and was voted one of the top 100 games in college football history by collegefootballnews.com. What resonates from that game today?

Harmon: The UCLA team prior to that was a 2-8-1 team. No one expected anything, but we were loaded with a good recruiting class and a lot from junior college, which is where I came from. I think the fact that Nebraska was supposed to bury UCLA that night was an advantage for UCLA. But then you have to play the game. I just recall it as a fairly even battle all the way to the last 17 seconds. With a guy like Johnny Rogers on their team, that game was always in doubt. Every time he touched the ball, he could break it open. I don't know if anybody on our team was surprised by the outcome. I think part of that is being 19 years old, being naive and just going out and playing.

SI: Did you ever think about going to Michigan, where your father [Tom] won the Heisman Trophy in 1940?

Harmon: I was recruited there, but my dad stayed completely out of it. He would be there to talk if [I] wanted to discuss things but he would not venture an opinion of what he thought. He believed it should be my decision and it was. But I came close to going to Oklahoma.

SI: Indeed, Chuck Fairbanks and Barry Switzer tried to coax you to play for Oklahoma. What was their recruiting pitch?

Harmon: As I recall Barry Switzer said to me, You come here next year and we're going to win the national championship, and if you don't come here next year we're going to win the national championship [laughs]. I liked Coach Fairbanks a lot. I decided to come to UCLA as much for a field of study as opposed to anything on the athletic field. Oklahoma was loaded. They only lost Jack Mildren and Jon Harrison from that team. Mildren was someone I admired, the way he ran and passed. He was my host when I went to Oklahoma, and I still talk to Jack. That was a tough decision. The potential of UCLA was exciting, but they had gone nowhere the year before.