Mark Harmon’s Athletic Skills May Surprise You

Mark Harmon smiling.

By Hugh Scott |

Mark Harmon smiling.

(Getty Images)

Mark Harmon was a great athlete in his day. Sure, lots of celebrities are former athletes. Some aren’t that surprising, but Harmon doesn’t jump out as star jock. That’s exactly what he was though.

Mark Harmon started playing football in high school

Harmon grew up in Los Angeles, playing multiple sports at the elite Harvard School. After high school, Harmon played two seasons at quarterback for Pierce College. After having success at the community college, he was heavily recruited to play Division I football at major programs, including Oklahoma. He ended up choosing to stay in town and transferred to UCLA in 1972.

Harmon was a star in college

Mark Harmon would lead the Bruins at quarterback for two seasons. In that time, he helped orchestrate a tremendous turnaround after a down year for the program in 1971. It started immediately, as Harmon lead the team to a comeback win against one of the best teams in the country, the top-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers. Harmon and the Bruins propelled that win into an impressive 17-5 record over their two years with the future NCIS star behind center.

Football was the family business

Harmon’s success on the football field mirrored his father’s. Tom Harmon was a Heisman Trophy-winning running back at the University of Michigan in 1940 and played two years for the LA Rams. He ultimately retired from playing to begin a long and successful career as a sports broadcaster, including as the play-by-play man for UCLA football in the ’60s and ’70s. Yes, he got to call games that his son, Mark Harmon, played in.

Pro football wasn’t in the cards, but acting was for Mark Harmon

After college, Harmon entertained a few offers to play in the NFL, but really, he knew he wanted to be an actor, not a professional football player. Success in Hollywood wouldn’t come as quickly for the star as it did on the gridiron. He worked for a time in business before jumping headlong into acting, scoring mostly commercial and TV guest spots throughout the 1970s. In the ’80s, he landed a pivotal role on the wildly popular St. Elsewhere. His character on the medical drama, Dr. Robert Caldwell, became one of the first TV characters to contract HIV at a time when the disease was not fully understood by the public.

The actor has found long-lasting success in Hollywood

In 1986, Mark Harmon’s athletic physique certainly contributed to the actor being named People’s Sexiest Man Alive, but he hasn’t used his athletic past very often in his career. He did play a washed-up baseball player in the 1988 film Stealing Home and a gym teacher in the 1987 classic, Summer School.  In Harmon’s personal life, he was once a minority owner of a minor league baseball team, the San Bernardino Spirit. Of course, these days, he is best known for his role as Gibbs on CBS’ long-running hit NCIS.