Illlini Beetle

Keith McLean drives his “helmet” to Fighting Illini games

Keith McLeon and family jumping in front of orange and blue colored VW Beetle The McLean family bleed Orange and Blue—from the Illini shrine in their home’s basement to the VW Beetle, painted and decaled like a Fighting Illini football helmet, parked on their driveway. Alumnus Keith McLean (second from the left) jumps for joy along with daughter, Mackenzie; wife, Karen; and son, Walker. (Image by Scott Thompson)
Keith McLean drives his “helmet” to Fighting Illini games

Anyone visiting Keith McLean’s Orland Park, Ill., home can easily see the depths of his University of Illinois devotion. His basement is an orange-and-blue shrine, and McLean, ’88 LAS, a cardiologist by day, also takes his spirit on the road—in a 2003 Volkswagen Beetle painted to look like an Illini football helmet.

Sports fandom is what drew McLean to Illinois; his senior year of high school, in Oak Forest, coincided with the Illini’s Rose Bowl appearance. McLean attended Stritch School of Medical at Loyola University Chicago, and bought season tickets for football and basketball once he finished his residency. He even proposed to his wife, Karen, in 1994 by having a plane with a banner fly over Memorial Stadium.

He’d also travel to away games, and once in Ann Arbor, saw a Michigan fan’s Beetle that inspired him. So, he bought a new orange bug and took it—along with several Illinois helmets—to a paint shop in Joliet. There, they added the school name on the side, a face mask and a Big 10 logo on the front, and air holes on the top.

On the back is number 15—the one his brother Mark, ’90 LAS, PHD ’97 LAS, wore when he walked on to the team in 1987. (Mark is now a research scientist in the U of I School of Molecular and Cell Biology.) Inside, McLean covered the seats and steering wheel with Illinois covers and added a school flag in the car’s built-in bud vase.

The car has taken McLean to countless games and events, including two trips to Indianapolis for the 2005 NCAA tournament—the second on the day before his son, Walker, was born.

McLean doesn’t drive the car every day, but he enjoys honks and waves from fellow fans when he does. Two decades later, it’s held up well enough that his 16-year-old daughter, Mackenzie, has been learning to drive in it. She plays clarinet in her high school band, and just might join the Marching Illini in a few years—music to her diehard dad’s ears.

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