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August 1, 2013

Countdown To Kickoff: Day 31

Since the final play of the Wolverines' Outback Bowl loss to South Carolina, Michigan coaches, players and fans alike have eagerly awaited the start of the 2013 season - and another chance to win the program's first Big Ten Championship since 2004.

Now, with the calendar turning over to August, the season is just around the corner.

To count down to the season, The Wolverine is naming the best player to ever wear each jersey number, No. 99 to No. 1.

We'll highlight 3-5 jerseys a day, all the way to the morning of Aug. 31, the day the Wolverines finally kick off the season at The Big House against Central Michigan.

Today, we'll start with Jerseys No. 99 through No. 97.

No. 99

Robert Thompson, outside linebacker (1979-82)

Michigan football players are certainly measured by stats and honors, like all-conference selections and awards.

But, if you make a game-saving play against Ohio State, you'll always have a special place in the hearts of Michigan fans everywhere. And that's exactly what Thompson did in the 1980.

Playing in Columbus with the Big Ten title and a trip to the Rose Bowl on the line, the Wolverines were pushed the brink of a second consecutive loss to the hated Buckeyes.

Ohio State - down 9-3 at the tail end of a hard-fought, defensive struggle - drove into Michigan territory with less that a minute to go in the game. Needing a touchdown to win, the Buckeyes went for it on fourth down - and Thompson, a sophomore, shed his block and took down Buckeye quarterback Art Schlichter for a game-clinching sack.

Thompson finished his career with 214 tackles, 39 tackles for loss and 19 sacks, which ranks eighth in program history. He was a first-team All-Big Ten selection in 1980 as a sophomore and 1982 as a senior. Thompson was also elected team captain twice: 1981 and 1982.

He was taken in the eighth round of the 1983 NFL Draft by the Houston Oilers and played three seasons in the NFL.

No. 98

Tom Harmon, halfback (1938-40)

This was - by far - the easiest selection of the entire run of jerseys. According to the Bentley Historical Library, just one player has ever worn a maize-and-blue No. 98 jersey: Tom Harmon.

But even if hundreds of Wolverines had worn the number before and after him, it would be almost impossible to find a better No. 98 than Harmon.

Michigan's first Heisman Trophy winner, Harmon was the best player on the field, regardless of where the Michigan coaches decided to put him on a particular play. As a senior, Harmon rushed for 977 yards and 14 touchdowns, tossed 43 completions for 506 yards and seven touchdowns, returned six kickoffs for 204 yards and a touchdown, took back 19 punts for 234 yards, averaged 37.0 yards per return, kicked 18 extra points and collected four interceptions.

In his final game as a Wolverine - a 40-0 win at Columbus - Harmon put together one of the finest performances by a Wolverine ever, scoring three rushing touchdowns, throwing for two more scores, kicking three extra points and picking off three Buckeye passes, earning a standing ovation from the Ohio Stadium crowd as he walked off the field.

Harmon led the nation in scoring in both 1939 and 1940 - no other player has ever accomplished that feat - and set Michigan program records for rushing yards (2,134) and rushing touchdowns (30), which stood for 28 and 30 years, respectively.

No. 97

Chris Hutchinson, defensive tackle (1989-92)

In his first three seasons with the Wolverines, Hutchinson had certainly cemented his legacy as a top-flight, productive defensive tackle, with 92 total tackles in those seasons.

But that wasn't enough for Hutchinson, who exploded as a senior to have one of the most prolific seasons of any defensive tackle in Michigan history. He finished the year 47 total tackles, including 11 sacks, which tied a single-season Michigan record, and set the program single-season record with 99 combined yards on sacks.

At the end of the 1992 season - during which he served as co-captain - Hutchinson was named a first-team All-American and the Big Ten Defensive Lineman Of The Year.

A three-time Academic All-Big Ten selection, Hutchinson earned an NCAA Post-Graduate Scholarship upon graduation, which he used to enroll in the University Of Michigan Medical School.


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