Iowa man on Harbaugh: ‘He hit me, let’s get this right’

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Jim Harbaugh and Dan McGivern enjoy a toast with milk on Wednesday.

The last day has been a bit of a whirlwind for Dan McGivern, now immortalized in consecutive tweets by Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh.

“Today’s been interesting,” McGivern said Thursday with a laugh.

McGivern and Harbaugh met Wednesday in Iowa City while Harbaugh was visiting recruit Oliver Martin, and McGivern answered questions and shared what he remembered about an event 46 years ago that linked the two.

Harbaugh has told the story so many times, it has become legend. He shared it against last fall on his radio show the week Michigan prepared to face Iowa.

In 1971, after his father Jack, took a job on the Iowa football staff, Jim, who was 7 at the time, and brother John, older by 15 months, were heading home from Roosevelt Elementary.

“First day we’d moved there, found some kids to play with after school,” Harbaugh said on his radio show, “Inside Michigan Football. “It was getting dark. John said, ‘We gotta go.’ So we picked up our stuff and we’re running.

“I was trying to put my jacket on over my head all at once. And I was just following after him, and he crossed the street. Busy street there. The next thing I know, I woke up in a hospital bed. I’d got hit by a mail truck. Broke my leg in two places. Had a cast on for about six months. I was in the first grade. Second half of first grade.”

This is not the story as McGivern remembered. After all, he was the one whose car Harbaugh hit, he says.

“He hit me, let’s get this right,” McGivern said, laughing. “It’s not Jim’s fault – it’s what he was told. He’s retold what he was told.”

Last week, McGivern sent Harbaugh a letter and told him he was the guy he hit. He added that two of his four kids attended Michigan, and his son and son-in-law are big fans. He simply requested an autographed photo for them.

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Twenty years after the accident, McGivern realized the little boy in the accident became Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh, then a Chicago Bear, was in Iowa City visiting his elementary school to talk to the kids. McGivern was in the back with a bunch of the other dads. One kid asked Harbaugh about his worst injury in football. Harbaugh said it didn’t happen in football and told the story about the accident.

What McGivern thought at that moment can’t be printed in a family newspaper.

His wife told him not to tell the story to his kids because they would be devastated. They were Bears fans. Dad couldn’t have been the one in the Harbaugh story! McGivern didn’t share the story for a long time until before one Michigan game in Iowa City, he drove past the accident spot and pointed it out to his son and son-in-law and told the story.

‘I know it wasn’t your fault’

On Tuesday, his phone rang:

“This is Dan.”

“Dan, this is Jim Harbaugh.”

“Jim, how are you?”

“I just read your letter, and I had to call you.”

They were on the phone for a half-hour, and Harbaugh wanted the facts and asked questions.

McGivern was 20 years old and a student at Iowa and was paying his way through school by working at the U.S. Postal Office. He was heading home from work and was driving his ’67 Mustang, not a postal truck, but he was still in his uniform. The accident occurred about 100 yards from his apartment.

“It was on a really busy street, up a hill and on a flat section I see one kid run across so I’m aware,” he said. “I look over and see another kid. He throws his coat up in the air like he was signaling touchdown, the coat comes over his head and he runs straight ahead. He’s going to hit the front corner of my car, I swerve, and he hit the right rear. He dented the back panel.

“I jumped out, took off my coat and put it around him. Cars stopped. There was a lady with baby carriage. She yelled to me, ‘I saw the whole thing. It was not your fault.’ The ambulance came. He’s moaning a little bit. He tried to stand up, but his leg was off on a funny angle and I told him to stay down.”

The responding police officers suddenly had to leave the scene because of a race riot at Iowa, so McGivern filed a police report the next day and then went to the hospital to visit the boy.

“My dad raised me to be responsible,” McGivern, 66, said. “He’s got a cast up to his knee, maybe higher and his mom was there. I told her, I was sorry, and she said, ‘I know it wasn’t your fault.’ I sat with her a half hour.”

McGivern received another phone call from Harbaugh, 53, on Wednesday and told him of the coincidence since he was in Iowa City for the recruiting visit and wanted to meet. Harbaugh was going to be watching Martin at swim practice at the Coralville Rec Center, and that was the chosen meeting place.

“Harbaugh sees me, gives me a big hug,” McGivern said. “We started hashing the details. His assistant coach, Chris Partridge said, ‘I have been hearing this story for years.’”

They wanted to take a picture and Harbaugh saw an American flag and decided that would be the perfect backdrop. McGivern said his brother Mike was an All-American wrestler at Iowa in the ’70s for legendary coach Dan Gable.

“If you get to know elite athletes, you discover they’re goofy,” McGivern said.

So he wasn’t shocked when after swim practice, Martin emerged with two of his teammates, just out of the pool and wearing towels. They wanted to take a photo with Harbaugh.

“(Harbaugh) took his glasses off and put on a West High swim cap and goggles and took a picture with them like that,” he said, laughing.

Happy ending

Then Harbaugh decided he had to tweet the photo of him with McGivern. A grinning Harbaugh is pointing to McGivern in the picture.

“He was working on this tweet and he said he was going to use hashtag ‘lifesaver,’” McGivern said. “I said, ‘How about hashtag ‘not killer’? He said, ‘Did you swerve?’ Yeah. ‘Well, you saved my life. Hashtag defining moment.’”

UM's Harbaugh meets driver who hit him when he was 7

Harbaugh wrote on Twitter:  With Dan McGivern of Iowa City. Driver, when I ran into traffic & took on his car @ age 6 #LifeSaver #DefiningMoment”

But Harbaugh wasn’t done.

McGivern sells life insurance.

“Hold on, we’ve got to do something with that,” Harbaugh told him. “I can’t tweet the same photo. Let’s take another.”

A photo was taken of them toasting with bottles of Fairlife milk – Harbaugh has done commercials for the company. He wanted to make a pitch to “call Dan McGivern for comprehensive life insurance planning.”

“I told him, ‘Can’t say planning. There would be an issue with compliance,’” McGivern said. “He said, ‘Don’t you just hate compliance?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘They ruin my life.’”

Harbaugh adjusted the text of his tweet and added McGivern’s work phone number. Calls transfer to his cell phone.

Within 30 seconds, McGivern’s phone rang.

“It was a guy named Brian. He wanted to make sure it was a live tweet and wanted to talk to Harbaugh,” McGivern said. “I gave the phone to Jim, and Jim talked to him for a while. Jim handed it back to me and said, ‘I think he wants life insurance.’ He said, ‘I don’t want life insurance, I want to talk to coach.’”

McGivern has received a number of emails and texts about his meeting with Harbaugh, who has invited him and his family to a game next fall. He also received one call from someone in Scottsdale who is interested in purchasing life insurance after getting his number from the tweet.

It has been a crazy 24 hours for the good-natured McGivern, who after 46 years cleared up the details of an old story and now has another to tell.

“I’m almost at the end of my 15 minutes of fame,” he said, laughing.