Notebook: Gardner final recipient of Legends jersey

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By Liz Vukelich, Daily Sports Editor
Published September 8, 2013

Under the Lights II was familiar in many senses, with typical Michigan-Notre Dame hold-your-breath plays and a record-breaking crowd.

But there was still something incredibly off about the whole thing — seeing a player in a No. 98 jersey taking snaps at quarterback.

But that’s the new normal for Michigan. Redshirt junior quarterback Devin Gardner is No. 12 no more as he was the sixth and final Wolverine to be honored with a Michigan Legends jersey by receiving Tom Harmon’s ‘Ole 98.’

But don’t worry, even Harmon’s son — actor Mark Harmon — is still a little confused by seeing his dad’s number on the field again.

“The only time that I've seen No. 98 on the field in a Michigan jersey was on film,” Mark said. “He was a father, and he was a family guy. He cared about his kids and his family.

“It's important for a young kid somewhere who looks at that and says, ‘Wow, someday I'd like to strap into one of those winged helmets and see if I can't do the same thing.’ ”

Harmon was honored in a pregame ceremony, with Mark as the Harmon family representative.

The relationship between the Michigan Athletic Department and the Harmons began a few years ago when Michigan’s then-club lacrosse team took a trip to California. Coach John Paul was familiar with Mark, and Athletic Director Dave Brandon reached out to Mark through Paul, as a way to build a relationship between Michigan and one of its most legendary players.

“I think it's hugely important that we celebrate these legacies, these traditions and these heroic figures,” Brandon said. “So, let's take it out of the dusty cabinet, let's put it on the field, and let's put his name on it and celebrate it every time Michigan comes out of the tunnel. That makes it special.”

Michigan coach Brady Hoke said honoring Harmon was one of his top-three memories of this year’s night game, and Gardner expressed gratitude for the family that allowed the number to be put back into circulation.

“(Harmon) was a great person and a great athlete, and that’s what I aspire to be,” Gardner said. “Just for my coach and the Harmon family to be able to say that I’m worthy of wearing his jersey, it’s amazing for me that they see me as that type of person.”

COUNTING ON COUNTESS: It probably wouldn’t be a Michigan-Notre Dame game without a couple momentum-shifting turnovers. And this year, it was the Wolverines’ turn to come out on top, thanks to a little help from redshirt sophomore cornerback Blake Countess.

Countess entered Saturday’s contest with no career interceptions. Now, he has two to his name.

The first, in the waning minutes of the first half, gave the Wolverines great field position and helped widened the gap between them and the Fighting Irish by another touchdown.

But the second was a gift that helped make up for Gardner’s own embarrassing interception earlier in the fourth quarter.

Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees’ flukey pass bounced off junior cornerback Raymon Taylor’s knee and into the open hands of Countess.

“It’s definitely a relief to finally get that first (interception),” Countess said. “I just happened to be in the right place at the right time and made the play.”

Added Hoke: “He was pursuing the ball. That’s what you like to see.”

COME ON, FEEL THE NOISE: The 115,109 fans in attendance at Michigan Stadium set the record for the largest crowd to ever watch a football game. They arrived early, stayed mostly until the end and shook the Big House to its core.

Hoke said the fans were unforgettable. But for fifth-year senior left tackle Taylor Lewan, they still left something to be desired.

“The crowd needs to be louder sometimes, because 115,000 people, when it's third down and our defense is out on the field, you shouldn't be able to hear yourself think.”

INJURY NOTES: Redshirt freshman defensive back AJ Pearson received assistance on the field for an ankle injury, but was able to go back in. ... Fifth-year senior wide receiver Jeremy Gallon has a “muscle that he needs to work through,” according to Hoke.