By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Recognizing there is no right or wrong answer when proclaiming someone to be the most talented Iowa football player of all time, this is just my opinion.
It almost seems kind of silly to pick just one from a long and distinguished list of candidates, but I was recently challenged to do so, and after giving it some serious thought, I picked Ronnie Harmon.
That pick will almost certainly draw mixed emotions, because Harmon in addition to be extremely talented, is also arguably the most polarizing player in program history.
Harmon had a spectacular four-year career at Iowa from 1982-85 as a key piece to the glory years under Hayden Fry.
But Harmon unraveled in the 1986 Rose Bowl, fumbling four times in the first half of Iowa’s 45-28 loss to UCLA.
Some fans are convinced that Harmon fumbled on purpose for financial gain, even though Harmon himself has denied it, as did Hayden Fry.
Former Iowa offensive coordinator Don Patterson also has denied it.
But to argue whether Harmon did or didn’t fumble on purpose is not the purpose of this column.
This column is about my pick for the most talented player in the history of the Iowa football program, and here is my argument for picking Harmon.
Let’s start with his versatility.
Harmon was a receiver for his first two seasons at Iowa before switching to running back for his final two seasons.
I truly believe he could’ve been Iowa’s greatest receiver or greatest running back if he had played either position for four seasons.
Harmon said in a rare interview last summer on KCJJ radio that he didn’t want to play receiver at Iowa, and that he almost left Iowa as a freshman in protest.
But his father talked him into staying and Harmon, a native of Queens, New York, would go on to take one for the team for two seasons by playing receiver. He never let his displeasure with being a receiver effect his play, though, and that deserves praise.
The way in which Harmon seamlessly made the switch from receiver to running back is what distinguishes him from the other Iowa running backs and receivers. He was a natural playing both positions, and other than maybe Tavian Banks, nobody could match Harmon’s elusiveness and vision.
Harmon also had great hands, and had a knack for getting open despite having little experience as a receiver.
Some might consider it blasphemy to not pick Nile Kinnick as the most talented Iowa football player of all time, and I certainly appreciate and respect that opinion.
Kinnick is Iowa’s only Heisman Trophy winner, and one could argue that his 1939 season in which he won the Heisman Trophy is the greatest individual performance of all time by a Hawkeye football player.
Kinnick did just about everything for Iowa that season; run, pass, kick, punt and tackle, and his legend will live on forever, and deservedly so.
So it would certainly make sense if Kinnick is your pick as the most talented ever.
But I still picked Harmon because I think the 1985 version of Ronnie Harmon would be a force in today’s college game, either as a running back or receiver.
Harmon’s combination of speed, quickness, vision and eye-hand coordination were unmatched. He also weighed over 200 pounds, and that helped him run between the tackles.
The fact that Harmon played for 12 seasons in the NFL, and is the only player in NFL history to average 4.5 yards per carry on at least 600 rushing attempts, and 10 yards per catch on at least 550 receptions speaks volumes about his talent.
And try to name another Iowa running back or receiver who could’ve excelled at both positions like Harmon did as a Hawkeye.
Two of his three catches in the 1982 Peach Bowl win over Tennessee resulted in touchdowns, while his six catches for 90 yards in the 1983 Gator Bowl loss to Florida both led the team.
Harmon finished the 1983 season with 35 catches for 729 yards and five touchdowns while averaging a whopping 20.8 yards per reception.
Harmon then rushed for 907 yards as a junior before injuring his leg against Wisconsin, and he rushed for 1,166 yards as a senior, averaging 5.2 yards per attempts. He also had 60 receptions for 699 yards as a senior in 1985.
Harmon’s versatility, elusiveness, sure-hands, and his knack for making big plays as a receiver and running back make him my pick for the most talented Hawkeye football player ever.
And remember, there is no right or wrong answer in this case.
It’s just an opinion, and everyone has an opinion.