Portions of below Courtesy guest post Susan K. Donius, Director of the Office of Presidential Libraries at the National Archives and images courtesy National Archives
ONE & TWO: Presidents Trump (2017-) and Obama (2009-2017) are avid football fans, Trump having played the game in high school, as an owner of a USFL team, the New Jersey Generals, visited the Pro Football Hall of Fame in October during his campaign and attended the 2016 Army-Navy game as President Elect. While Obama is best known as an avid basketball fan (including participating in the March Madness brackets) he had a keen interest in football, attending many Army-Navy games and hosting the Super Bowl Champions at the White House. Future Presidents have played football in high school and college and other Presidents have enthusiastically assumed the role of First Fan by hosting football teams, viewing parties, and sports writers at the White House. In fact, the history of modern American, football is full of Presidential cameo appearances, both on and off the field.
THREE: William J. Clinton (1993-2001) hosted Super Bowl parties at the White House. President Clinton invited friends and family to watch the Super Bowl from the Family Theater at the White House in 1993, 1994, 1997, and 2000. The Clintons’ Super Bowl party was held at Camp David in 1999.
FOUR: George H. W. Bush was the first President to perform the Super Bowl coin toss in person. On February 3, 2002, former President Bush went onto the field of the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans to conduct the coin toss for Super Bowl XXXVI. It was the first time Super Bowl Sunday occurred in February as the NFL had rescheduled a week of games after the September 11 attacks. Former President Bush was accompanied by Dallas Cowboys quarterback alum, Roger Staubach. The President later join his son George H for a coin toss in the 2006 Super Bowl and then this year, George and Barbara Bush were at the coin toss for SB XI.
FIVE: President George H Bush (2001-2009) Bush's connection to professional football, however marginal, is one that will live in infamy. The future of the free world was nearly changed in January 2002 when the 43rd U.S. president briefly lost consciousness after he choked on a pretzel while watching Sunday football. Bush fell off his couch and received a scrape and a large bruise on his left cheek bone as a result. He later was seen wearing a Band-Aid on his face to cover a cut he received from his glasses. The lesson: "Always chew your pretzels before you swallow," Bush said
SIX: President Ronald Reagan’s (1981-1989) second inauguration marked the first time Super Bowl Sunday coincided with Inauguration Day. Ronald Reagan was sworn in for his second term on January 20, 1985, the same day as Super Bowl XIX. President Reagan also performed the game’s coin toss via satellite from the Oval Office. Earlier that day, President Reagan had taken the Oath of Office privately at the White House since Inauguration Day fell on a Sunday. The next day, the swearing-in was repeated in a public ceremony at the U.S. Capitol.
The 1971 recipient of the NFF Gold Medal, Ronald Reagan played guard at Eureka College (Ill.), lettering during three years in the early 1930s. Before entering politics, Reagan’s distinguished acting career included a well know role as Notre Dame’s star halfback George Gipp in the 1940 film “Knute Rockne: All-American.” He also briefly worked as a radio announcer, calling Iowa football games for a local radio station early in his career. His connection to football would endure, and his football related quotes include:
“I am indebted to football for so many things. Football provided an education. As a matter of fact it provided my career. In 1932, when you graduated you didn’t start out to have a career. You just hoped that in some way you could find a job, any kind of job. I received $5 and bus fare to broadcast the Iowa-Minnesota game for a local radio station. That turned into a sports announcing career. And even later, in Hollywood, when I found myself bogged down making some pictures… the Gipper won one for me and made possible everything that has happened since.”
“There is a mystic something about football… Anyone who has played in more than the one sport – and most athletes do – knows there is something unique, something that captures the spectator and the player-captures him emotionally-about football that he can feel about football more seriously than he can feel about other sports.”
“What does it matter if it’s only a game if it has the power to make boys become men capable of self-sacrifice and unselfish, noble deeds.”
“I don’t if we will ever be able to identify and prove what each man learns from football so that we can list it and hang it on a wall like a diploma or like a license for the practice of a profession. I do know that down through the years I’ve somehow placed my faith in men of the sports world and seldom has that faith ever been betrayed.”
Extra Point: The New York Giants treated President Reagan to the now-familiar Super Bowl tradition of pouring Gatorade on the winning coach in 1987. The team visited the White House after their Super Bowl XXI victory, where player Harry Carson poured a Gatorade cooler full of popcorn over President Reagan.
SEVEN: President Gerald R. Ford (1974-77) received offers from two professional football teams, the Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers. In college, young “Jerry” played for the University of Michigan football team. In his first year he won the Meyer Morton Most Promising Freshman trophy and would go on to receive other honors, including Most Valuable Player in his senior year.
After graduation, the Green Bay Packers offered Jerry $110 dollars a game for fourteen games, while the Detroit Lions offered a higher paycheck of $200 dollars per game. The future President could have made a living playing pro football, but it conflicted with his primary goal: law school. He choose instead to take a position as boxing coach and assistant varsity football coach at Yale, where he hoped to attend the Law School. He was admitted in the spring of 1938.
The 1972 recipient of the NFF Gold Medal, Gerald Ford excelled as a center and linebacker at Michigan, distinguished himself as the best player to ever serve in the White House. His efforts contributed to Michigan claiming the national crown in 1932 and 1933 and the Big Ten Conference titles in 1932 and 1933. After graduating, he played in the 1935 College All-Star Game against the NFL champion Chicago Bears. His quotes include:
“Thanks to my football experience, I know the value of team play. It is, I believe, one of the most important lessons to be learned and practiced in our lives.”
“But what about winning? How about a good word for the ultimate reason any of us have for going into a competitive sport? As much as I enjoyed the physical and emotional dividends that college athletics brought me, I sincerely doubt if I ever suited up, put on my helmet without the total commitment of going out there to win, not to get exercise, gold, or glory, but simply to win. To me, winning is not a shameful concept. I would like to think that winning is in the great American tradition. Two hundred years ago we fought for our freedom, and we won; and for the next hundred years we challenged a continent, and we won.”
“There are plenty of parallels between football and elective politics. You play hard, you play to win, but you don’t last long if you don’t play clean. You have to train and stay in top condition. Fumbles and lucky breaks you take in stride, and you soon learn you can’t win ‘em all. You fight your heart out for 60 minutes – you shake hands – and you get ready for the next game. In both cases you have lots of Monday morning quarterbacks.”
“I think the biggest carryover from the gridiron to government – or any other competitive career – is the concept of teamwork. There never was a football star so brilliant that he could shine alone without 10 other guys whose names are now forgotten. And, if you take a close look at history, this is also true of our greatest political leaders. They have been stellar players, but even more they have been great captains of great teams.
EIGHT: President Richard Nixon (1969-1974) was the first sitting President to attend a regular season NFL game. On November 16, 1969, President Nixon went to Robert F. Kennedy Stadium to see the Washington Redskins play the Dallas Cowboys in Washington, D.C. Nixon was a huge sports fan. He would often visit the Washington Redskins practice facility and talk football with his good friend, head coach George Allen.
The 1969 NFF Gold Medal recipient Richard Nixon played substitute tackle at Whittier College (Calif.) from 1932-34. His accomplishments on the field were minimal, but the game’s impact on his life was significant. He remained a passionate fan who appreciated the game’s role in instilling the competitive spirt in the young men who played the game. His quotes include:
“What does [football] mean, this common interest in football of Presidents, of leaders, of people generally? It means a competitive spirit. It means, also, to me, the ability and the determination to be able to lose and then come back and try again, to sit on the bench and then come back. It means basically the character, the drive, the pride, the teamwork, the feeling of being in a cause bigger than yourself.”
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