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Like father, like son. A chip off the old block.

There are corny cliches and there are simple facts as real as a heartbeat.

Actor Mark Harmon and his late father, Tom, a Gary sports legend, shared the same tireless work ethic, deeply-rooted family values and love of adventure.

Tom was the 1940 Heisman Trophy winner at Michigan, a war hero, played pro football briefly, did the acting thing, and finished his long career as a renowned sports broadcaster.

Mark is a former UCLA quarterback who led the Bruins to a 20-17 upset of Nebraska in his first college start, snapping the Cornhuskers' 32-game win streak. He's been an actor since 1973, and currently stars on the hit CBS drama NCIS -- Naval Criminal Investigative Service.

When Mark returned my call, he hoped his words might help preserve Tom's memory throughout the region where he was born and raised.

"My dad would be the first to understand that people move on and he'd respect that. It's life," Mark Harmon said. "I have memory stories. You're not talking to my dad, so I understand the reason to talk to you and try to keep the legacy alive.

"The way you do that is to open up and pass on things that may help someone. That was my dad's entire belief in the Heisman; that some kid walks through the University of Michigan, sees the Heisman there, and from that gains hope or a goal to go after."

Tom also was a romantic. He married actress Elyse Knox, whose wedding gown included silk from a parachute that had saved him during World War II.

"Growing up in a big family during the time he did, everything in my dad's life came from a very blue-collar approach to the work ethic," Mark said.

"He believed in fighting for things. He did have exceptional talent but he worked hard at developing that talent."

The summer of Tom Harmon's sophomore season, Michigan coach Fritz Crisler sent each player a questionnaire, asking if they were ready to make every sacrifice possible to report in the best physical, mental and spiritual condition.

All answered "yes," except for Harmon.

"I know damn well I will," he wrote back.

The rest is history. He twice led the nation in scoring, played both sides of the ball, and became the first of Michigan's three Heisman winners.

"My dad believed humility was important and that if you were good enough, you didn't have to talk about yourself," said Mark, who claimed, as a youngster, he didn't know Tom had won the Heisman.

"A kid at the park told me."

Tom never pressured Mark to follow in his footsteps, often reminding him that people need to grow within themselves and find their own merits in life.

"I didn't know much about his celebrity and that was a credit to him. He was just Dad and a good one," Mark said. "He didn't come home and say: 'Hey, I'm gonna be on TV in 10 minutes. Let's all watch.'"

Tom Harmon was awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart as a World War II pilot. Courage was a baton he passed on to family.

In 1996, Mark Harmon saved two teenagers involved in a car accident outside his home, using a sledge hammer to shatter the window of their burning car, then pulling both to safety.

Dad would've been proud, as usual.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at