By Sedrick Lee
Michael Harmon remembers those Sunday afternoons when he and his three older brothers would play basketball in the pasture at their Attala County home. It was one of the things they looked forward to most each week.
Michael, the youngest of four brothers, is a native of Kosciusko, and a former Kosciusko High School Whippet football great who later had a successful college career as an Ole Miss Rebel football player. He also went on to play for the NFL’s New York Jets.
The Harmon family is known for being athletic. Climme Dee, the oldest child, played football at Holmes Junior College. Clarence played football at Holmes Community College, Mississippi State University and in the NFL. He also played in the short-lived USFL (United States Football League). Michael’s brother Larry went to Mississippi Valley State where he played football and basketball. Larry coached baseball in Durant, Kosciusko and Tupelo, Miss.
“My three brothers and I and my brother-in-law would team up and play other groups in basketball,” Michael recalled of those Sundays. “Not to brag, but we would win the majority of the time. We sent a lot of folks home.”
Michael remembers looking forward to those days on the field and the court.
“Our dad worked us pretty hard every day after school and on Saturday. But the rule was no physical work on Sunday. That was for relaxing, church and whatever other activities you wanted to do. For us, it was a Sunday ritual,” said Harmon.
Michael grew up watching his three older brothers play sports and after a while, he decided to get out there and play. Once he did that, there was no looking back. By the time Michael was playing in high school, he was excelling in sports.
“I enjoyed my high school career. It was a learning experience, and our coach, Ricky Joe Black, helped us through it all,” Harmon said.
Harmon is very grateful for his former coach because he influenced him. Harmon may have struggled at times, but feels he made it through with God’s help and the people around him.
His next journey was the University of Mississippi. Harmon chose Ole Miss for various reasons. One main reason he chose Ole Miss was the education he knew he would receive. Also, he gained lifelong friendships through the recruiting process. He received several offers in Mississippi and throughout the Southeastern Conference.
“I guess everyone back then assumed I was going to Mississippi State,” he said. “(Ole Miss assistant) Tom Goode recruited me, and I had a great relationship with him. Head Coach (Steve) Sloan came down, and I felt comfortable. Coach Goode is really the main reason I came to Ole Miss, and he played at Mississippi State.”
Harmon said he also played baseball for Ole Miss, but it was hard to play two sports.
“I played like 14 to 18 games that first year, and I went to Coach (Jake) Gibbs and told him playing two sports was just too much,” Harmon said. “I told him I was just going to stick with football, and he understood.”
Probably the most memorable moment of his college football years, and one that people still talk about came in the last game of the 1981 season. Mississippi State kicked a field goal and led with a score of 17-14 in the game’s final minute, but Ole Miss had the football and was moving downfield.
Everybody was watching except Harmon’s family. They left the stadium thinking MSU was going to win it.
Quarterback John Fourcade threw a long pass in Harmon’s direction, and the Mississippi State defender was called for pass interference. The Rebels had the football at the 1-yard line of MSU.
“I remember going for the pass and the referee called interference,” Harmon said. “The pass was incomplete. The very next play John Fourcade ran it in and scored to give us the Egg Bowl win.”
As time went on, some Mississippi State fans continued to question if pass interference was the correct call to make.
“What he called was what he called,” Harmon said. “I’ve heard from State fans about that. And my brother too.”
On the game’s final drive, Harmon caught two passes before a third fell incomplete. That was the interference call. DB Kenny Johnson of State intercepted the football, but the official ruled he had gone over the back of Harmon.
Johnson and Harmon grew up eight miles from each other – Harmon of Kosciusko and Johnson of Weir.
“In the huddle before the last play, I looked at Buford McGee and Hammerhead Thomas,” Harmon said. “They were the running backs. I said ‘If John has to drag three Mississippi State players into the end zone, he’s not fixing to pitch that ball to you.’”
“Hammerhead made a great fake. The pitch guy (on defense) actually went and tackled Buford. And John just walked right on in. I was lined up. I didn’t even move. I just watched the play I knew was going to happen.”
Fourcade’s run for the score was the game’s last offensive play. Ole Miss won 21-17.
Another memorable story for Harmon was in a game against the University of Alabama played in Jackson.
“I caught the ball on a punt return, and I ran it back for a touchdown,” Harmon said. “It was a great feeling that I could help my team score. We went on to lose the game, but it was a great memory.”
At the end of his college career, Harmon was drafted and went on to play for the New York Jets in 1983. He only played one year, because of a neck injury and surgery that brought an end to his career.
After his football career, Harmon was a police officer in Pontotoc for seven years and with the University of Mississippi police department for 27 years. He loved being a policeman because he got to do what he loves the most, and that’s help people.
“When I was a little boy, I always wanted to be a police officer,” Harmon said. “My brothers were always in trouble, so they needed a good guy, and that was me.”
Harmon is now a car salesman for Cannon Motors in Oxford. He and his wife Kajavia have a daughter and a son, as well as a granddaughter and a grandson. Their son Korbin is a defensive end at the University of Tennessee-Martin.
Harmon said he loved the experiences he went through as a young kid and through college as he pursued his dreams of playing in the NFL.
It took time, but he made a way for himself. Today he is settled in Oxford, still trying to help people.
“I’d say it all worked out well for me,” Harmon said.