Mike McGlinchey was an industrial-size baby who was the first of six siblings, making him, by size and birth order, a natural protector.
The 10-pound, 6-ounce infant grew into a 6-foot-8, 315-pound rookie right tackle who will make his NFL debut when the 49ers visit Minnesota in their season opener Sunday. His ability to shield others from harm made him a first-team All-American at Notre Dame and the No. 9 pick in the draft.
His elite skill to safeguard isn’t limited to quarterbacks.
As the oldest sibling by three years, McGlinchey’s protective instincts kick in with his gigantic and athletic family. It includes an uncle, brother and eight cousins, including Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan, who have played college football.
And McGlinchey, who has 24 first cousins, is particularly fierce when it comes to two relatives who could not play organized sports.
McGlinchey’s brother, Jim, 15, was diagnosed with autism at 18 months. And his cousin and best friend, Dan McCain, 26, continues to deal with significant health issues: He was born with microscopic holes in his lungs, had open heart surgery at 16 and underwent another procedure in February to replace the valve that was inserted 10 years earlier.
At one point when discussing his bond with Dan, McGlinchey, a genial giant with a passion for karaoke, politely but firmly made a request when it came to how his cousin would be portrayed: “As long as he’s perceived as my biggest fan, best friend and coach,” McGlinchey said, “and not the story that’s heartwarming.”
And when it comes to both Jim and Dan, McGlinchey protects them from potential pity. This story, he says, is not about what he’s done for them.
“It’s hard to put into words what the two of them have shaped me to be,” McGlinchey said, “but they certainly have had their fair share in my development, that’s for sure.”
McGlinchey credits his brother and cousin for keeping him grounded and connected to his family-first, blue-collar suburban Philadelphia roots.
Last month, a few weeks after signing a four-year, $18.4 million fully guaranteed contract, McGlinchey bought a house that remains largely vacant and undecorated. The only artwork is a framed picture that Jim, a talented artist, drew for him the day after he was drafted. It depicts them, together, celebrating his selection above the words, “Congratulations, Mike McGlinchey!”
A few weeks ago, Dan, after receiving permission from his cardiologist to fly, was the first of McGlinchey’s brothers or cousins to visit him in the Bay Area. On an off day, Dan toured the 49ers’ facility and met quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, among others.
“They keep me tied back to home, which is where I should be,” McGlinchey said. “They have given all of us perspective on what to appreciate out of life and what’s important to us. Like my grandfather always said, remember who you are and remember where you came from. And Jim and Dan are the anchors in which all that is experienced in our family.”
In a family filled with accomplished athletes, McGlinchey stood out.
Despite his size, McGlinchey played eight positions, including quarterback and wide receiver, at William Penn Charter in Philadelphia. As a high school sophomore, he dunked on Ryan, then an NFL quarterback, during a driveway game that’s part of family lore. And that same year, he took up the shot put to strengthen his lower body for football. The result: He won two state titles in the event.
“I figured out how to do it pretty good,” he said.
At Notre Dame, McGlinchey was a two-time captain, and his blend of size, skill and character placed him on the 49ers’ wish list. Adam Peters, the team’s vice president of player personnel, acknowledges that background work on college prospects often yields varying degrees of positive feedback. McGlinchey was different.
“With Mike, it was superlatives, superlatives, superlatives, superlatives,” Peters said. “And then you meet him, and he’s everything that everyone described. … He’s more mature than a lot of the (veterans) we have. He might be more mature than I am.”
In their digging, the 49ers presumably didn’t track down the senior-citizen stadium ushers McGlinchey befriended at Notre Dame. Or the maintenance workers with whom he connected in high school. McGlinchey’s mom, Janet, says Mike’s upbringing is why her son’s lofty accomplishments didn’t cause him to elevate himself.
“Growing up, we called Mike ‘Midas’ — everything he did turned to gold,” Janet said. “But Jim and Dan have helped him keep him grounded to know that there is another world out there. And some people aren’t as gifted as you. So stay humble, remember where you came from, and remember to give back.”
McGlinchey has given as much as he has gained in his relationships with Jim and Dan.
Like many with autism, Jim craves routine, which explains why he attended only four of his brother’s games in college (Dan went to too many to count). Last season, when Notre Dame played in the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, the family tried to cajole Jim by explaining it was the home of Disney World. Jim wasn’t interested. Moments after McGlinchey was drafted, Jim, who has not flown, made an announcement: He was never traveling to San Francisco.
McGlinchey’s football prowess means little to Jim, who think he’s at his best in another role.
“He’s good at being my brother,” Jim said in 2016 in a Bleacher Report video on their relationship. “He takes care of me.”
Mike has done that since Janet sat down her older children shortly after Jim’s diagnosis. At the time, they were told they would have to take particular care to look out for Jim as he grew up. In later years, it was explained they would care for Jim if there came a time when Janet and her husband, Mike Sr., no longer could.
“I explained this is our family,” Janet said. “This is what happens.”
And what has happened with Jim has been unexpected. He initially was not expected to talk, but now “he won’t shut up,” says Janet, laughing. He was an honor student in middle school, and the family has started rethinking whether he could live independently.
Jim still struggles with emotional control and social cues, and he has a very specific list of intense likes (hotel pools) and dislikes (being told what to draw). McGlinchey highlights his brother’s grades, spot-on drawings of Nickelodeon characters and gift for creating videos.
“Jimmy,” McGlinchey said, “is absolutely smarter than everybody in our family.”
Unlike Jim, Dan grew up as sports-crazed as his four younger brothers and collection of cousins. However, his health issues meant he couldn’t truly channel his competitive drive into athletics.
He was born with a heart murmur and a disorder that caused his lungs to leak oxygen. Dan slept with an oxygen tank growing up, and Mike, with his size, often would lug it upstairs when the family members gathered for their annual summer vacation in North Wildwood, N.J.
“Mike, from an early age, sensed that Dan had a tough time with things,” said Dan’s mother, Mary. “He’s always been that type that just wants to protect people. … Mike isn’t happy until he gets Dan happy. He’s shared all his success with him.”
Mike and Dan grew up in the same neighborhood and were constant companions. In pickup football games, Dan was the all-time quarterback. In Wiffle ball, he was the all-time pitcher.
However, there were times he got carried away in a family in which the boys once played a tackle football game, in suits, at McGlinchey’s grandmother’s wake. As Mary says, even “Monopoly became fisticuffs.”
“Dan always went at it with them on our front lawn,” Mary said. “I couldn’t even watch. If I tried to hold him back, he’d get really mad at me.”
Mike and Dan were separated for the first time when Mike went to Notre Dame, but the pattern was established: Dan would remain in the game.
Through McGlinchey’s college career, Dan was a regular in South Bend and became friends with several of his Notre Dame teammates. Mike would FaceTime Dan the day after every game to “get his report,” which could include praise and critiques.
In 2015, after previously unbeaten Notre Dame lost 24-22 at Clemson, McGlinchey called Dan twice the day after the game. No response. He texted him. Nothing. Finally, Dan called back about four days later.
“He was like, ‘Sorry, I had to take some time to decompress from that one,’” McGlinchey said, laughing. “I told him, ‘Yeah, I hear ya.’”
For Dan, Mike’s setbacks and successes cause wild emotional swings.
“I definitely have that competitive drive,” Dan said. “I don’t think it’s as prevalent as it was back then (growing up) because I’m not playing. But I definitely like to consider with Notre Dame, and now all the way up to the 49ers, (Mike’s) wins are kind of like my wins in a way.”
Dan’s lung disorder eventually resolved itself, but for years, it stressed his other organs, particularly his heart. In February, the valve that was inserted when he was 16 was replaced. Doctors didn’t think his body could withstand a second open-heart surgery, so they performed a TAVR procedure, which is less invasive and involves guiding a catheter through the leg to the heart to replace the valve.
However, it is a temporary fix. And it’s unlikely the TAVR can be repeated when Dan requires another procedure in as soon as five years. The families are praying a medical advancement can resolve the issue.
The uncertainty is a reason the months after the surgery were difficult for Dan, and Mike hoped his recent visit to the Bay Area would raise his spirits. His plan worked. After Dan arrived home, it was clear he officially was part of his best friend’s new team.
“He feels like he belongs,” Mary said. “… It gives him a whole new kind of purpose.”
For Mike, he has a specific purpose as he begins a journey that, if his Midas touch remains, will include fame to go along with rookie fortune. He wants to keep the proper perspective as a pro. And he thinks that those he has safeguarded the most will shield him from losing his way.
Postgame calls to his best friend, and a picture on his otherwise vacant wall, will protect him from forgetting who he is and where he came from.