Take a kid who looks like he ought to be in a beach-party movie, give him a legendary football name and then throw him up against a ball club that is obviously suffering a mild case of the No. 1's. What have you got? You've got yourself an unbelievable opening to the 1972 college football season. You've got Mark Harmon, Old No. 7, handsome, trim, tan and dashing, and what he did in the creaky Los Angeles Coliseum last Saturday evening was beat big, fierce, overwhelming Nebraska for little, unfierce, unheralded UCLA, the basketball school.
Mark Harmon, you say? The name has a familiar ring to it. Any kin to Tom, Old 98, of the Heisman Trophy industry? Yes, as a matter of fact. The son. The articulate, grinning, stunningly talented quarterback son of Tom Harmon himself. And there he was, in his very first major college game, becoming a hit TV series. A Star Is Born.
All Mark Harmon did, with a little help from his friends, was throw a pass for a touchdown, run for another and then run and throw the Bruins to a winning field goal over the Cornhuskers in about as shocking an upset as anyone could dream up.
The final score was 20-17 and the winning points were booted with only 22 seconds to play by Efren Herrera, with Harmon holding the ball. In that instant a Coliseum crowd of 68,000 went absolutely mad, which was only a slight increase in the insanity it had displayed throughout the evening while Harmon and Pepper Rodgers' sneaky Bruins frustrated the 18-point favored Cornhuskers.
The first thing Harmon did, while his dad watched from the press box where he was announcing the drama for TV, was take the Bruins to a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter, contributing a 46-yard touchdown pass to Split End Brad Lyman. But Nebraska fussed around amid all of its fumbles and other errors to catch up by halftime. Then Harmon ran for a touchdown to put UCLA ahead 17-10 going into the fourth quarter. So Nebraska fussed around and tied the game again. Which meant that it was Harmon's turn once more.
He did it, not by actually kicking the field goal but by pulling off what became the biggest play of a big play game. UCLA was in a drive to win and Nebraska—well, mainly Nebraska's Rich Glover, who made about 7,000 tackles during the night—was hoping, by now, to salvage something with a tie.
What it came to was third down and 11 yards to go at the Nebraska 33, and very little time remaining. Harmon went back to pass from UCLA's new Wishbone, squirmed in the midst of a furious Nebraska rush, turned one way, then another, and suddenly fired as sharp a pass as any quarterback ever threw to his tight end, Jack Lassner, who was cutting across the middle of the secondary. Thirteen yards. First down. New Life. Down close. Field-goal range. Game over.
If Hollywood wanted to cast a young man in the role of football hero, Mark Harmon would be perfect. Thick blond hair, rapid smile, a beachboy tan, friendly. That's Mark. Earlier in the week, on Thursday, Harmon had tried to relax and talk about all the publicity he had already received and the big task he faced—trying to live up to it.
"Boy, am I nervous," he said. "We worked out in the Coliseum last night. I had never been down on the floor before. There wasn't anybody in there except us, but I was scared to death. I don't know what I'll do Saturday night. I just wish it would get here."
Harmon was an unknown quantity only because you never know exactly how good or bad a junior college transfer will turn out to be. He missed his senior year in high school because of injury (bad) but made All-America at Pierce Junior College (good). Still, he had only been running the Wishbone since spring practice (bad).