Harmon still chased by fix rumor 16 years later

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After dying down for several years, the rumor was reignited by a...

By Dylan Butler

The game was played 16 years ago, but former Bayside High School standout Ronnie Harmon still is haunted by accusations that he threw the 1986 Rose Bowl when at the University of Iowa.

After dying down for several years, the rumor was reignited by a recent edition of HBO’s series, “Real Sports.”

On the show, which aired last Tuesday, Michael Franzese, a former capo in the Colombo crime family, hints that Harmon, then a high-profile senior running back at Iowa, may have fixed the game.

Harmon, who had fumbled just once all season, coughed up the ball four times in the first half alone and also dropped what appeared to be a sure touchdown catch in the 48-25 loss to underdog UCLA.

“I know it doesn’t look good, that’s for sure,” Franzese said of Harmon’s performance. “I would certainly have been suspicious. . .that he threw the game.”

Harmon, who could not be reached for comment, has in the past denied a part in any fix, but he did admit to taking money under the table from Norby Walters who, along with Lloyd Bloom, paid 58 top college football players a total of $800,000 while they were still in school.

Walters, who to that point only represented black entertainers, was a Colombo family associate, Franzese said.

In 1989, Franzese testified for the government against Walters and Bloom.

Walters met with Harmon and his father during Harmon’s senior year, and in a secretly taped conversation that was aired on the show, explained how the deal would go down.

“I want to make a deal today. I’m willing to come up with a few thousand dollars, cash American for Ronnie,” he said. “In addition to that, on the first of every month, there will be $250 sitting there waiting for him.”

When Harmon’s father asked why they couldn’t wait until after the football season, in order to keep Ronnie Harmon out of trouble, Walters responded, “Why do we have to wait until January? I say, here’s a few thousand dollars. And come Jan. 2, we then send in the paper to the NFL and that’s it.”

After a stellar college career, Harmon was drafted 16th overall by the Buffalo Bills in the 1987 NFL Draft. He was one of seven first-round picks signed by Walters and Bloom of World Sports and Entertainers, Inc.

Harmon’s NFL career spanned 11 years. After playing for the Bills, Harmon played for the San Diego Chargers, Houston Oilers, Chicago Bears and Tennessee Titans before retiring after the 1997 season.

Harmon is fourth all-time among running backs with 582 career receptions. He led all running backs and was sixth overall in the league with a career-best 79 catches in 1992 and Harmon went 52 straight games from 1992-1995 without fumbling once.

Harmon, whose brothers, Derrick and Kevin, played in the NFL, most recently served as the offensive coordinator under Tom Pugh at Holy Cross High School last year.

“I don’t know anything about a fix, I never heard anything about it but I just know he’s a great coach, he’s great with kids and he does a tremendous job in the community,” Pugh said of Harmon, who will be back this year. “He’s a tremendous motivator and a great teacher.”

Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.

Updated 7:15 pm, October 10, 2011
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Reader feedback

kasey from iowa says:
has anyone looked at that game film? harmon is hilarious. what a horrible actor. those fumbles cost the game and any respect for Ronnie"10 thumbs" harmon
Dec. 11, 2013, 11:52 pm
Steve from Iowa says:
I was there and so was my wife, who knows little about football, but she could plainly see he was purposefully making mistakes that cost Iowa an opportunity to win the game. The play that made us think it was a "fix" of some kind was when Harmon threw a half back pass away when Billy Happel was wide open in the end zone right in front of us. We could see his eyes inside his helmet........he definitely threw the ball away deliberately so Iowa did not score. Makes even more suspicious of the fumbles. Makes us sick.....he was certainly one of best athletes of all time.
Dec. 14, 2014, 8:32 pm
Al Figone from Folsom, CA says:
I looked at all of Harmon's fumbles without the benefit of slow-framed analysis. One fumble, when Iowa was deep in UCLA's territory after recovering a fumble, Harmon received a handoff from Chuck Long as the tailback in a power I formation. After receiving the ball and not touched be a defensive player, Harmon threw the ball upward past him head. An intentional fumble is the only conclusion. He did owe Norby Walters, who was connected to then jailed mobster and investor Michael Francese, over $54,000. Hayden Fry's denial about the fumbles and Harmon's missed pass in the end zone do not stand up even after he looked at the films. He had much to lose if he accused Harmon of purposefully fumbling. The players in the locker room after the game adamantly felt otherwise.
July 16, 2015, 7:31 am
Virginia VeDepo from Iowa City says:
We were there with our towns sons. We saw the fumble Al Figone mentioned. Happened right in front of us. There's never been any doubt in our minds he threw that game. Tough to explain to 10 and 12 year old boys why that happened.
Dec. 24, 2015, 7:39 pm
mark from bayside queens says:
Had a great life do you for life
Feb. 7, 2016, 9:02 pm
Marv Chef from Mean Streets of Solon says:
Was Iowa's defense asked to throw the game as well? They looked like a Jr High squad, almost as bad as a typical 1st string Iowa State defense.

I think the problem is that Iowa just isn't very good at football. Every time they get to a big game, they're blown out. I guess that CJ Beathard, Matt Rodgers, and Brad Banks must have all been in on the conspiracy too, huh? Because all were stars who failed spectacularly in Iowa's Rose Bowl and Orange Bowl appearances. Time for Iowa fans to accept their little brother status in the world of college football.
Feb. 26, 2017, 4:46 am
Scott says:
He threw the game. The dude NEVER fumbled. It was obvious and disgusting.
Oct. 20, 2017, 8:40 am
Gene walker says:
Michael Franzese did not hint Harmon threw the game He confirmed it.... Harmon was on a long list of athletes that two sports agents Norby Walters and Loyd Bloom were reping while still in College and the Colombo Crime family provided muscle when they did not not go along with the program Harmon fumbled 4 times was not hit on 3 of the 4 1 at the 1 yard line and dropped pass in the end zone Long threw over 300 yards and they still lost by 21 this was swept under the rug as quick as possible
Jan. 25, 2018, 1:30 am

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