January 10, 2017 Happy Birthday Anniversary John McLean

Michgian Football Team 1898
John McLean shown here with the 1898 Michigan Football Team. He is standing in the back row and is the third man from the left. The 1898 team was the first Wolverine football team to win a Western Conference Football Championship. Hail to the Victors! Photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library.

Today is a perfect day to remember John McLean and recognize his birthday anniversary. John Frederick McLean was born on this day way, way back in 1878. Yes, that was a very, very long time ago. Interestingly, John McLean was another Wolverine who was born in Menominee, Michigan. Actually, he is the second one this month on the Big Blue Football History website! After a successful high school career, John McLean sought to fulfill his college destiny at The University of Michigan.

Aspiring Michigan Man

John McLean, a multi-sport athlete, came to Ann Arbor in 1897 with some big ambitions. He intended to pursue his degree and compete in football and track and field for the Michigan Wolverines. McLean’s name first showed up on a Michigan Football Roster in 1897. He was a speedy halfback who did not play in his first Wolverine season. Unfortunately, John McLean did not earn a letter in year one. However, Michigan had a respectable season in 1897. The Wolverines won 6, lost 1 and tied 1 game. Their conference record of 2-1-0 was only good for third place.

Football Starter and Record Setting Trackster

Coach Gustave Ferbert expected more from himself and his players in 1898 and he got more from everyone! Michigan had a record setting season in year two of the Gustave Ferbert Era.  The Wolverines posted a record of 10 wins, 0 losses and 0 ties. They were perfect in the conference with a record of 3-0-0. Most importantly, Michigan won their first Western Conference title in 1898. John McLean contributed to the great success of the 1898 team with his speed and his toughness. He started two games at right halfback, played in every game, and earned a letter in his second year on the football team.

John McLean’s third year on the Michigan football team was his best season. However, the Wolverines slipped a little in the won-loss column. McLean made more starts than any halfback on the Michigan roster in 1899. He became famous for his dashes around left end or right end. Many of these runs produced big yardage and lots of trips to the end zone in 1899. Michigan finished the last season of the nineteenth century with an excellent record of 8 wins and 2 losses. The Wolverines went 1-1-0 in the conference which dropped them to third place.

John McLean | bibbluefootballhistory.com

John McLean was the first Michigan football player to compete in the Olympics and win a medal. Photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library.

John McLean finished his football career by earning All-American honors from two newspapers in 1899, but they are not recognized by the Michigan Athletic Department. He also left as a Wolverine record holder in track and field (110 yard hurdles and the Broad Jump). McLean was also a winner of multiple Western Conference Track and Field Championship Events from 1898 to 1899.

Michigan Football Firsts

The multi-talented McLean was fortunate to be part of some important Michigan football and athletic firsts. Check this out:

·         He was on Coach Gustave Ferbert’s first football team at Michigan (2nd and 3rd too!).

·         McLean played on the first ten-win team in Michigan Football History.

·         John McLean played with Michigan’s first All-American, William Cunningham (1898)

·         He was also a proud member of Michigan’s first Western Conference Champions in 1898

·         John McLean was the first Michigan football player to be an Olympian (1900) when he competed in the long jump, 110 yard hurdles, triple jump and the standing triple jump. He won silver in the hurdles which meant that he was the first Michigan football player to win an Olympic Medal!


So, John McLean came to Ann Arbor with some big ambitions and he left with a long list of accomplishments and many great Big Blue memories. It is certainly a good day to remember this “Wolverine Pigskin Pioneer” on the one-hundred thirty-ninth anniversary of this birth. John McLean was a true-blue Michigan Wolverine who died on June 4, 1955 at the age of seventy-seven. May he always rest in peace. Go Blue!



Barry Gallagher

Barry Gallagher

Barry Gallagher is a self-proclaimed Michigan Football Archeologist. He spends a considerable amount of his time digging into the 138-year history of Wolverine Football. He is on a mission to share his findings with Maize and Blue football fans everywhere. He is the author of one book about Michigan Football titled "21-194-13 Michigan Football's Greatest Era". His second book titled, "The Legend of Bo Schembechler-How an Unknown Buckeye Became the Winningest Coach in Michigan Football History" was released on September 12, 2017. You can learn something about Michigan Football everyday by going to his website at: bigbluefootballhistory.com. You can also follow him on Social Media.
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