Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about the 1986 Rose Bowl Game®, fumbles, Ronnie Harmon, Michael Franzese, etc.

Did Ronnie Harmon throw the 1986 Rose Bowl Game®?
This site exists to provide information to answer that question.

You can use the press coverage1, documents2, court records3, videos4, timeline5, statistics6, etc. here to learn about what happened, when it happened, why it happened, and who was involved.

The goal of this site is to provide a reference library of materials related to the 1986 Rose Bowl Game®. 

It's up to you to answer the question.
What happened?
In a major upset, #13 UCLA won the 1986 Rose Bowl Game® over #3 Iowa7. 

One of Iowa's star players, Ronnie Harmon, fumbled four times in the first half, threw a halfback pass wildly into the sidelines, and dropped a touchdown pass8. 

Ronnie Harmon later testified under oath that he had taken over $54,000 (worth $152,000 today) from mafia-linked sports agents Norby Walters and Lloyd Bloom9. 

Devon Mitchell, another top Iowa player, was also paid by the mafia-linked sports agents10. 

In the 1986 Rose Bowl Game®, Ronnie Harmon's per-game fumble rate was 47 times higher than in the 202 games of his pro and college senior year career11.

After the Rose Bowl Game®, Ronnie Harmon was one of only five NFL running backs to gain over 10,000 all-purpose yards and have less than 20 fumbles (Harmon had 16 fumbles in his pro career)12.

Ronnie Harmon's four fumbles in the 1986 Rose Bowl Game® were more than seven standard deviations (9.9) of his college senior year, Rose Bowl Game®, and pro career fumbles standard deviation (0.402). In a normal distribution, three standard deviations are 99.9th percentile of outcomes.13 Based on his career, Ronnie Harmon fumbling four times in a game has less than a 0.000000000256% chance of happening in normal play.14

Because of the statistical near-impossibility of Harmon's Rose Bowl Game® fumbles versus the rest of his football career, it has long been rumored that Ronnie Harmon threw the game for the mafia. 

As it happened, Michael Franzese, the Italian mafia Colombo family caporegime (captain) who provided the cash and extortion muscle to Harmon's sports agents, had a plan to build "an army" of college and pro athletes who would be under his control15. 

Franzese's goal was to use those athletes to fix games and generate millions of dollars in winning bets for his operation. 
Why would Ronnie Harmon throw the 1986 Rose Bowl Game®?
There are three primary possible reasons that Ronnie Harmon would throw the 1986 Rose Bowl Game®: revenge, money, and fear. 

Revenge: Ronnie Harmon is on record as stating that he never fit in16 and was looking forward to getting out of Iowa17. 

Newspapers reported that after the 1986 Rose Bowl Game®, Ronnie Harmon took no responsibility and expressed no remorse for the loss18. In addition, he was in an unnaturally good mood at the post-game press conference19. That behavior is not indicative of a person who is emotionally or otherwise aligned with his team.

What could cause him to seek revenge is unknown. It could have been some perceived slight from teammates or the coaching staff. 

For instance, before he broke his leg in November 198420, Harmon was in the Heisman Trophy conversation. But in 1985, all of Iowa's Heisman Trophy efforts were focused on Iowa's record-setting quarterback, Chuck Long21.

Or perhaps a team captain or coach commented negatively on Harmon's impromptu dance performance at the football team banquet a few weeks before the 1986 Rose Bowl Game®.22  

If he was seeking revenge on the state, the community, the university, the football program, the team, or a specific individual, throwing the Rose Bowl was an effective way to get it.

Money: Ronnie Harmon testified in court under oath that he took over $54,000 (worth $152,000 today) from mafia-linked sports agent Norby Walters during his senior year of college23 24. He took so much money that the assistant U.S. Attorney prosecuting Walters termed Harmon a pig25 for being so endlessly greedy. 

That track record demonstrated that Harmon liked money and had a sizable appetite for it.

The typical argument against Harmon taking money is, "He was going to the NFL to make millions, why would he take money to throw a game?"

Harmon was paid $275,000 (worth $647,000 today) per year by the NFL Buffalo Bills.26

Throwing the 1986 Rose Bowl Game® would have been a very quick and easy way to get a significant amount of money, such as the $30,000 (worth $81,000 today) that Harmon received from mafia-linked sports agent Norby Walters after the 1986 Rose Bowl Game®.27 

Fear: The mafia beat heads in with hammers28 and shoot their best friends in the back of the head29. And those are only the cases Michael Franzese has been directly connected with. His father, John "Sonny" Franzese, was implicated in dozens of murders and assaults.30

Colombo mafia family capo (captain) Michael Franzese funded Norby Walters and Lloyd Bloom31, the sports agents who paid over $800,000 (worth $2,172,000 today)32 to Ronnie Harmon and other college athletes. 

That's $800,000 (worth $2,172,000 today) of mafia money, and the mafia is not going to just give that cash away for nothing. 

The mafia needed a way to get back its money paid to Ronnie Harmon and other college athletes prior to the 1986 Rose Bowl Game®. 

The mafia also needed cash to pay all the college athletes Michael Franzese planned to control to fix games after the 1986 Rose Bowl Game®.33 

Winning millions in bets by fixing the 1986 Rose Bowl Game® was a simple way to do that. 

The mafia was also not shy about threatening - and executing - violence to accomplish its goals.

Kathy Clements, a rival sports agent, was stabbed and beaten unconscious.34   

Many of the college athletes paid by Harmon's mafia-linked sports agents related receiving threats from those sports agents of broken hands35, broken legs36, death37, and "never playing football again38." 

The very real and credible threats from the mafia to end his football career before he ever got the chance to play in the NFL would have been plenty of reason and motivation for Ronnie Harmon to throw the 1986 Rose Bowl Game®.

You can make a viable, albeit speculative, case for any of those three possibilities: revenge, money, or fear. 

Occam's razor points to revenge, as it involves no third parties, only Ronnie Harmon. 

If you include the reality of the $54,000 (worth $152,000 today) that he took from his mafia-linked sports agents, then fear efficiently and effectively aligns with Ronnie Harmon, the street-savvy guy from New York City. With that background, he would know full well the implications of the mafia, their money, and their need to get it back. 

Fear also aligns perfectly with everything that Michael Franzese has said in the last 40 years about how the mafia controls athletes to fix games39. 

Money is probably the least likely, but given his proven track record of unbridled greed with it during his senior year40, it remains a viable possibility.

And while it is not at all outside the realm of possibility that Ronnie Harmon threw the 1986 Rose Bowl Game® because some teammate disparaged his clothes41, took his girlfriend42, or, from his perspective, cheated him out of the Heisman Trophy43, it's more likely he did it due to fear. 
How much money did Ronnie Harmon take?
Court testimony showed that Ronnie Harmon received over $54,000 (worth $152,000 today) before and after the 1986 Rose Bowl Game®.44

By comparison, Harmon got more money that football season than any of the Iowa assistant football coaches.45 

Hayden Fry, the Iowa head football coach, earned $86,000 (worth $242,398 today) that year.46

He took more than double what his father's job as a welder paid in 1985, $19,60447 (worth $55,256 today).

Harmon took about one third the amount of his 1986 contract with the Buffalo Bills, which paid him $150,000 (worth $407,315 today).48

For context, in 1985 the median price for a home in the U.S. was $84,30049 (worth $237,607 today) and a new Buick Skyhawk cost $22,00450 (worth $62,020 today). 
But I heard Hayden/Chuck/Michael/Terry/Tony/The Big Ten/etc. said…
Everyone involved has done about what you'd expect people to do in a situation like this. 

People directly responsible denied they had anything to do with it. 

People responsible for teams, athletic departments, universities, conferences, and national organizations did anything and everything they could to do damage control to protect themselves and their organizations. Their goal, understandably, was to get past this as quickly as possible. 

By the end of the 1986 Rose Bowl Game®, everyone with any stake in the status quo was on board with damage limitation and remained so.

Even after all the decades that have passed, anybody left alive remains in a position of protecting their personal brands, organizations, players, teammates, and especially, their legacies.

Nobody wants to go down in history as the leader who let the mafia into their team, program, department, institution, or organization. 

Nobody wants to be the one running the conference whose championship team and premiere bowl game was corrupted by mafia money. 

Nobody wants to be the guy who won a game only because an opposing player threw the game for the mob. 

And nobody wants to be the Fed who didn't pursue and prosecute people conspiring to fix college and pro games.

All of this is not an indictment of them or their behavior. Most people in their position would do the same, including you and me.

Consequently, it is important to consider every post-1986 Rose Bowl Game® quote, statement, action, and lack of action in this perspective: Does this protect this person, their organization, their reputation, and their legacy?

If it does, then the quote, statement, action, or lack of action must be viewed as one that primarily benefits that person and their organization, not the truth of what actually happened and why.
Wasn’t Ronnie Harmon distraught after the 1986 Rose Bowl Game®?
Iowa head coach Hayden Fry and Iowa assistant coach Don Patterson both related that Ronnie Harmon was upset after the 1986 Rose Bowl Game®. 

After the game, Don Patterson told Harmon, "Ronnie, I'm going to really enjoy watching you play on Sunday next fall."

Patterson related, "And he looked at me with tears in his eyes, and he said, 'Coach, after today, they're not going to want me.'"51

So, yes, Harmon was upset after the game, but not about the impact of his turnovers on his teammates, the loss for the team, or Iowa head coach Hayden Fry missing the opportunity to win a Rose Bowl. 

Harmon was distraught because of his turnovers' potential impact on his NFL draft prospects. 
But didn’t the UCLA coaching staff find a secret, fatal flaw in Ronnie Harmon that they exploited?
Prior to the 1986 Rose Bowl Game®, Ronnie Harmon played four years in the Big Ten against some of college football's all-time most successful coaches52 and staffs.

That includes the 1985 Iowa coaching staff, which has been termed "the greatest college football coaching staff of all time."53

To assert that none of the Big Ten coaching staffs had ever noticed some secret, fatal flaw in Ronnie Harmon's ball handling is ludicrous.

The assertions by the UCLA coaching staff of a key pre-1986 Rose Bowl Game® epiphany gained from scouting Ronnie Harmon all fit under the crisis management heading of, "Above all, protect our interests." 

This begins with their reputations as coaches and of the legacy of that year's team. 

The last thing they would ever say is, "We only won because one of their players threw the game." 

That would diminish their UCLA team, their program, and their leadership and coaching.

It was better for them to claim the Iowa turnovers were due to their brilliance in coaching.

That helped their coaching reputations, their program, that UCLA team's legacy, and future recruiting. 
What about the UCLA players hitting hard and trying to rip out the ball?
Excluding the 1986 Rose Bowl Game®, Ronnie Harmon handled the ball 1,616 times in his college senior season and pro career.54 

Out of those 1,616 times, he fumbled 17 times.55 

Out of those 1,616 times, the opposing players were hitting hard and trying to rip out the ball just as much as UCLA.

The difference is if Ronnie Harmon simply let them or not.

A show of effort is not the same as effort.
Wouldn’t UCLA have won anyway?
Comparing post-game statistics is meaningless. 

That ignores momentum, emotion, field position, and how much additional time the Iowa defense was on the field due to the turnovers. 

Take a look at this spreadsheet of the game plays to see how, when, and where the turnovers happened. 

In the first quarter, the Iowa defense was on the field for 38 of the game's first 51 plays.56 

In Iowa's first four possessions, the defense had to return to the field after one, three, and one Iowa offensive plays due to Ronnie Harmon's turnovers. The single non-turnover Iowa possession in the first four was only eight plays.57  

The Iowa defense was ground down by constantly being on the field due to Ronnie Harmon's turnovers. 

By the fourth quarter, the Iowa defense was exhausted.

And that says nothing about the effects of the turnovers on morale, momentum, and emotion. 

Ronnie Harmon fumbled on four of Iowa's first six possessions, including three out of four possessions where he turned it over the first time he touched the ball.58 That's about as demoralizing as it gets.  

Ronnie Harmon fumbled four of the five times that he had the ball with no Iowa teammates in his vicinity in the first half.59

The first Iowa punt came on the game's 128th play in the 3rd quarter.60 When they had the ball, either Harmon fumbled or Iowa scored. The only thing that could stop the Iowa offense was Harmon. 

Ronnie Harmon kept the Iowa offense off the field by fumbling the ball early in Iowa possessions, twice on the first play of the possession and once on the third. After Harmon's fourth fumble of the first half, the Iowa offense had run only 36 plays, 12 fewer than UCLA's offense.61 

After Ronnie Harmon's turnovers, UCLA's drives started on the UCLA 7, Iowa 45, Iowa 34, and UCLA 48.62 UCLA's only bad starting position was after a Harmon fumble that prevented an Iowa touchdown. The subsequent short drives on the latter three possessions put tremendous pressure on the Iowa defense.

Of the ten times he was targeted, the only pass Ronnie Harmon did not catch was for a touchdown.63

All of this adds up to undermining the morale, momentum, and enthusiasm of the Iowa team. 
Didn’t the Feds say that there was no evidence that the 1986 Rose Bowl Game® was fixed?
What the Feds said was that the federal grand jury, the indictment, and the trial of Norby Walters and Lloyd Bloom were about athletes taking money from agents while the athletes were fraudulently representing themselves as eligible to play under NCAA rules and accepting university scholarships.

That grand jury was not empaneled to investigate the 1986 Rose Bowl Game®. 

That grand jury was empaneled to investigate Norby Walters's and Lloyd Bloom's fraud, racketeering, and extortion of athletes and universities. 

The U.S. Attorney was just stating the facts when he said that there was no evidence found by that grand jury for the 1986 Rose Bowl Game® being fixed.

What he omitted was that there was no evidence because they were not looking for that evidence. 

In addition, the U.S. Attorney was well aware of the government's agreement with mafia capo (captain) Michael Franzese and its limitations on his testimony. 

The U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI were intent on keeping Franzese and his testimony reserved for other cases. 

They had bigger fish to fry than Ronnie Harmon throwing a game. 

From their perspective, the "1986 Rose Bowl Game® being fixed by the mafia" problem was corrected by putting Michael Franzese, Norby Walters, and Lloyd Bloom out of the sports agent business.
Why did the Feds protect Ronnie Harmon?
On at least two separate occasions the U.S. Attorney's office squashed investigations of Ronnie Harmon's turnovers in the 1986 Rose Bowl Game®. The first known instance was with the Big Ten64 and the second was with the Iowa legislature.65 

The absolute top priority for the U.S. Department of Justice was to win the case against Walters and Bloom. 

All other considerations were secondary. 

In order for them to win the case, they needed their star witness, Ronnie Harmon, to be credible, believable, and reliable to the jury. 

If it was shown that Ronnie Harmon purposely threw the 1986 Rose Bowl Game®, that would undermine Ronnie Harmon's testimony, including the tape recording Ronnie Harmon made of his mafia-linked sports agent Norby Walters, which was the cornerstone of their case.66

In addition, from their perspective and that of all other stakeholders except outraged Iowa fans, there was zero upside in proving Harmon threw the 1986 Rose Bowl Game®. It was much better for all stakeholders for that to just go away, as quickly as possible.

And again, from the perspective of the U.S. Justice Department, the "1986 Rose Bowl Game® being fixed by the mafia" problem was corrected by putting Michael Franzese, Norby Walters, and Lloyd Bloom out of the sports agent business.
Why did Franzese deny fixing the 1986 Rose Bowl Game®?
While Franzese has continually denied that he used Ronnie Harmon to fix the 1986 Rose Bowl Game®, he has strongly hinted and outright accused67 Harmon of throwing the game. 

The reason he cannot admit his personal involvement is that he survives his leaving the mafia only as long as he never testifies against or otherwise rats out a made member of the mafia.68 

As Franzese has explained, if you have an asset that generates revenue, it must be shared with the mafia family. When Franzese had his multi-billion dollar gasoline tax scam, while he personally kept $50-100 million69, the rest went to the mafia family. 

The same is true with fixing the 1986 Rose Bowl Game®. Untold millions were available and Franzese, as a made man and caporegime, was under an obligation to share that knowledge and opportunity with the mafia family. 

If Franzese admitted that he fixed the 1986 Rose Bowl Game®, then he would also have to share who else knew about it and shared in the millions. 

That would mean ratting out other made members of the mafia, and he cannot do that per the terms of his "get out of the mafia (almost) free" agreement.
Wasn’t Michael Franzese in prison during the 1986 Rose Bowl Game®?
Michael Franzese surrendered and was held without bail on December 20, 198570, just 12 days before the 1986 Rose Bowl Game®.

As Franzese testified at the trial in 1989, he knew he was going to be indicted71 and took care of his business arrangements prior to that.
Did Walters or Bloom go to jail?
Norby Walters and Lloyd Bloom were found guilty of extortion, racketeering, and mail fraud.72 

That verdict was overturned on appeal.73

Subsequently, Norby Walters74 and Lloyd Bloom75 pleaded guilty to mail fraud in a plea deal.

That plea deal was overturned on appeal.76

Norby Walters and Lloyd Bloom never spent a single day in jail for this case.
Wasn’t somebody involved executed by the mob?
Less than two months after the final court action related to this case, Lloyd Bloom was murdered gangland style in his luxury home in Malibu, CA. 

There were no signs of forced entry or struggle and there was no robbery.77 
Why can’t you people just let this go?
History teaches us that as long as there is no clear, believable, and widely accepted resolution to a mystery, people will continue to seek answers to it.

People with vested interests claiming innocence or providing blanket denials of nefarious outcomes is not compelling and convincing evidence. 

Wild tinfoil-hat, anti-Iowa conspiracies including everything from Lisa Jones to Ken Koester are equally low value.

Given the statistically extremely improbable Ronnie Harmon fumble rate, proven mafia payoffs to college athletes, and blanket denials by vested-interest stakeholders, it not a surprise that people remain unconvinced.

On the "Ronnie Harmon threw the 1986 Rose Bowl Game®" side, ironically, if he had simply admitted it any any point in the last few decades, for most people, all would be forgiven and everyone would move on. People love a redemption story.

On the "Nothing to see here, move along, go on home" side, the same question could be asked, "Why can't you people just let this denial go and consider the evidence that has accumulated over the last ~40 years?" People are suspicious of a whitewash story.
Why did you build this site?
This topic came up recently in conversation. 

I hadn't thought about it in many years and could not recall the details. 

When I did a search, most of what I found was wildly inaccurate assertions in various forums.

Since the 40th anniversary of these events is approaching and there will inevitably be some social media chatter about it, I decided to build a reference site so that at least people had a place to find factual information on what happened, when, and why.


  1. 1982-1985 Iowa Hawkeyes Football Game Coverage ↩︎
  2. 1963 to 2023 Resources ↩︎
  3. 1963 to 2023 Resources ↩︎
  4. 1986 Rose Bowl Video ↩︎
  5. Timeline ↩︎
  6. Ronnie Harmon Fumble Rate ↩︎
  7. 1986 Rose Bowl ↩︎
  8. Des Moines Register 1/2/1986 ↩︎
  9. Chicago Sun Times 3/8/1989 ↩︎
  10. Chicago Tribune 3/9/1989 ↩︎
  11. Ronnie Harmon Fumble Rate ↩︎
  12. Wikipedia ↩︎
  13. Ronnie Harmon Fumble Rate ↩︎
  14. Ronnie Harmon Fumble Rate ↩︎
  15. The Atlanta Constitution 2/1/1998 ↩︎
  16. “Playing for Keeps” p240 ↩︎
  17. Los Angeles Times 12/30/1985 ↩︎
  18. Des Moines Register 1/2/1986 ↩︎
  19. UPI 1/1/1986 ↩︎
  20. Des Moines Register 11/4/1984 ↩︎
  21. The Gazette 10/25/2015 ↩︎
  22. Los Angeles Times 12/30/1985 ↩︎
  23. The Chicago Sun Times 3/8/1989 ↩︎
  24. “Playing for Keeps” p68 ↩︎
  25. “Playing for Keeps” p69 ↩︎
  26. The Buffalo News 3/20/1990 ↩︎
  27. Case 88-CR-00709 transcript; Harmon cross, p295 ↩︎
  28. Vanity Fair 4/5/2012 ↩︎
  29. FBI Interview Report 9/30/1993 ↩︎
  30. Los Angeles Times 2/25/2020 ↩︎
  31. Chicago Tribune 3/15/1989 ↩︎
  32. “Playing for Keeps” p152 ↩︎
  33. The Atlanta Constitution 2/1/1998 ↩︎
  34. “Playing For Keeps” p10 ↩︎
  35. Sports Illustrated 8/3/1987 ↩︎
  36. Chicago Tribune 3/16/1989 ↩︎
  37. Atlanta Constitution 7/15/1987 ↩︎
  38. Chicago Tribune 3/22/1989 ↩︎
  39. Michael Franzese interview 4/25/2019 ↩︎
  40. “Playing for Keeps” p69 ↩︎
  41. Los Angeles Times 12/30/1985 ↩︎
  42. Case 88-CR-00709 transcript; Harmon cross/Gold, p289 ↩︎
  43. 1985 Heisman Trophy Voting ↩︎
  44. The Chicago Sun Times 3/8/1989 ↩︎
  45. 1985-1986 University of Iowa Football Coaching Staff Salaries ↩︎
  46. 1985-1986 University of Iowa Football Coaching Staff Salaries ↩︎
  47. Weekly Earnings by Occupation in 1985 ↩︎
  48. Case 11059-014 Walters v Harmon ↩︎
  49. Median U.S. Home Price by Year ↩︎
  50. New Car Costs by Year ↩︎
  51. hawkfanatic 4/21/2020 ↩︎
  52. Bo Schembechler ↩︎
  53. Trojans Wire 7/17/2023 ↩︎
  54. Ronnie Harmon Fumble Rate ↩︎
  55. Ronnie Harmon Fumble Rate ↩︎
  56. 1986 Rose Bowl Game® plays ↩︎
  57. 1986 Rose Bowl Game® plays ↩︎
  58. 1986 Rose Bowl Game® plays ↩︎
  59. 1986 Rose Bowl Game® plays ↩︎
  60. 1986 Rose Bowl Game® plays ↩︎
  61. 1986 Rose Bowl Game® plays ↩︎
  62. 1986 Rose Bowl Game® plays ↩︎
  63. 1986 Rose Bowl Game® plays ↩︎
  64. Des Moines Register 6/28/1987 ↩︎
  65. “Playing for Keeps” p240 ↩︎
  66. Case 88-CR-00709 transcript; Harmon direct, p127 ↩︎
  67. CBS Sports 247Sports 7/24/2002 ↩︎
  68. Vanity Fair 4/5/2012 ↩︎
  69. “Playing for Keeps” p132 ↩︎
  70. Newsday 12/21/1985 ↩︎
  71. Case 88-CR-00709 transcript; Franzese direct, p1185 ↩︎
  72. Atlanta Constitution 4/14/1989 ↩︎
  73. Atlanta Constitution 9/18/1990 ↩︎
  74. Chicago Tribune 9/18/1992 ↩︎
  75. Chicago Tribune 8/28/1992 ↩︎
  76. Chicago Sun Times 7/1/1993 ↩︎
  77. Los Angeles Times 8/28/1993 ↩︎


Reference material related to the 1986 Rose Bowl Game®, Norby Walters, Lloyd Bloom, Michael Franzese, and Ronnie Harmon



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