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November 21, 2016 – Harry Potter and a Magical Michigan Football Season!

Posted on November 21, 2016 by Barry Gallagher

Did you know that Harry Potter may have been partially responsible for Michigan’s Magical Football season in 1898? Well, it’s true! Harry Barent Potter died on this day in 1940. He never played a down at Michigan, but he played an important role for second-year Wolverine coach Gustave “Dutch” Ferbert.

After starring at Michigan as a player, Gustave Ferbert was trying to take the Wolverines to a place they had never been before. Michigan was entering their third year of competition in the Western Conference.

The Wolverines, led by Coach William Ward, finished the 1896 season with a record of 9 wins and 1 loss in 1896. Unfortunately, that magical season ended with a loss to Chicago on the last game of the year. Michigan had tied their own record for wins in a season (nine), but they finished second in year one of conference play. Not good enough!

The 1897 season was Coach Ferbert’s first and he wanted more. Michigan finished the season with a record of 6 wins, 1 loss and 1 tie. Once again, Michigan’s only loss was to Stagg’s Chicago Maroons to end the season. Michigan finished with a record of 2-1 in the conference which was only good enough for third place. Obviously, not good enough for Gustave Ferbert!

Chicago Program 1897 | bigbluefootballhistory.com

Michigan and Chicago were fierce rivals in the early years. The Wolverines lost to Chicago in the first two years of Western Conference play. Michigan knew they would have to defeat the Maroons in Chicago in 1898 in order to be called “Champions of the West.” Image courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library

Gustave Ferbert had a strong cast of returning players, but he was looking for an edge. How would he get his team over the championship “hump” in 1898? As it turned out, his biggest and best decision may have been to bring on a man named Harry Barent Potter as Team Manager for the 1898 season.

Harry Potter was a law student at Michigan who apparently had some time on his hands. There are no details about his involvement with the team, but I am sure that he was a “wizard” at his duties and he may have been partially responsible for some of the wonderful things that happened during Michigan’s first “magical football season.”

Ferbert’s Wolverines didn’t need a lot of “magic” during the season. They crashed through their schedule and defeated every team by at least eighteen points.  However, maybe Potter did a little something to help the Wolverines win close games against Northwestern (6-5) and Illinois (12-5). Once again, Michigan would have to journey to Chicago and defeat the Maroons in order to cap an undefeated season and win their first conference championship. Fortunately for Michigan, that’s exactly what they did!

The Wolverines faced off against the Maroons on Thursday, November 24, 1898. It was billed as the game of the season in the west. It turned out to be a classic with Michigan winning by a score of 12-11. Dutch Ferbert’s footballers finished the season with a perfect record of 10-0-0. They were the unbeaten (3-0) Western Conference champions for the first time in Michigan football history!

For some strange reason, Chicago was off the Michigan schedule in 1899.  A second straight conference championship seemed to be in Michigan’s grasp. However, things didn’t quite work out that way as the Wolverines finished the season with a record of 8-2-0. They didn’t have enough “magic” at the end. Michigan lost the final conference game to Wisconsin and finished in a third-place tie in the final conference standings. Of course, Harry Potter was not the Team Manager in 1899 which may have had something to do with it.

Harry B. Potter must have focused on his studies in 1899 because he graduated from Michigan’s Law School in 1900. According to a footnote in the Wikipedia article below, he practiced law in Saginaw, Michigan and New York City before his death at Scarsdale, New York in 1940.

Here is a summary of some of the “magical” things that happened during the 1898 Michigan Football season:

  • First team play/win against Michigan Agricultural College. UM 39 MAC 0
  • First team to achieve a ten-win season. Final record 10-0-0
  • First team to win the Western Conference Championship (3-0-0).
  • First Michigan All-American player: William Cunningham

Maybe Louis Elbel felt some of Harry Potter’s magic as well since he penned Michigan’s legendary fight song after the historic win at Chicago.

So, I am not saying that Harry Potter was responsible for any of the “magical” things that happened during the 1898 football season. But, I’m not saying he wasn’t either!

Today is a good day to honor the memory of Michigan Man Harry Barent Potter. As Team Manager, he played an important role on the 1898 Wolverine football team. I’m betting that he did his job well and may have done a little more than required, who knows? The good thing is that he was on the sidelines for Michigan’s first “magical season.” May Michigan’s Harry B. Potter always rest in peace. Go Blue!


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