(Charleston, West Virginia) – Every year on Super Bowl Sunday, I write about the intersection of politics and sports, which happens more often than we know. Sometimes it’s about former athletes running for office, or about politicians thinking they are top-notch athletes. This year we’ll look at the nine Presidents in office during 50 years of Super Bowls - plus one hopeful - with an eye on what they did on the playing field:
“That’s Quite a Class” – New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick will be coaching his sixth Super Bowl team this year. Belichick is a 1971 graduate of the prestigious Phillips Academy Andover. His classmates included former Governor Jeb Bush (R-FL) – a potential candidate for President in 2016 - and former Governor Lincoln Chafee (D-RI). Patriots executive Ernie Adams was also in that class. At one of his White House Super Bowl receptions, Belichick posed with President George W. Bush, who graduated from the same prep school in 1964 (photo above).
“Basketball Barry” – President Obama is well known as a big basketball fan, and every year a big splash is made about his picks in the NCAA March Madness brackets; but, in his day, he was a pretty good high school basketball player. My friend Candace Andersen - who is a County Supervisor in Contra Costa, California - was a high school classmate of Obama in Hawaii. She tells me that back then Barack was known simply as "Barry!"
“Of Bushes and Baseball” – President George W. Bush played baseball in high school, and later went on to be the co-owner of the Texas Rangers major league baseball team. Bush also played rugby at Yale. His dad, former President George H.W. Bush, played college baseball at Yale. Somehow, the baseball bug did not bite Jeb Bush although, at 6 foot 4 inches, he was a stand-out tennis player at Phillips Academy.
“The Clinton Clique” – Bill Clinton was more of a musician and less an athlete in high school and college. He did, though, have a passion for jogging. When he was President, he liked to take daily runs through Washington, D.C. Soon, it became the “in thing” to join the group running with the President, but then traffic gridlock ensued. The daily jog also had the odd stop at McDonalds for an Egg McMuffin. Eventually, the President kept his jogging to the fenced-in White House lawn.
“The Gipper” – By all accounts, Ronald Reagan was always in great physical shape. He played football and was on the swim team at Eureka College in Illinois. Yes, he played the movie role of football player George Gipp, earning him the lifelong moniker of “The Gipper!” But Reagan probably owes the sports world a great big "thank you" for his political success. After college, Reagan worked as a Chicago Cubs baseball radio announcer. On a trip to the West Coast with the ball club, he did a screen test in Hollywood; and the rest is history. His acting career and political activism led him to the governor’s mansion in Sacramento, then on to the White House.
“It’s Not Just Peanuts!” – Jimmy Carter played basketball in high school; loved fly-fishing; and, was an avid jogger. Beyond that, he was never really known for his athletic prowess. But he must be doing something right, as he is 90 and is still going strong!
“Ford Motors” – Certainly the most athletic of our Presidents was Gerald Ford. He was an All-American in football at the University of Michigan and was drafted to play in the NFL by the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers. But Ford chose to go to Yale Law School instead, and helped coach the Ivy League football team. He also was an assistant football coach at my alma mater, St. Mary’s College of California, which was a national football powerhouse back in the 1940s and 50s. Like most modern Presidents, Ford was an avid golfer.
“Nixon’s the One!” – Richard Nixon had a childhood scare with tuberculosis and was discouraged from athletic activity. But he would eventually play basketball and football at Whittier College. Nixon loved football; and - in fact - while he was President, he would call Washington Redskins head coach George Allen to suggest football plays. The political and sports relationship with Allen eventually paid dividends, as Allen’s son George became a Republican Governor of Virginia, and later a U.S. Senator.
“Johnson Scores” – When the first Super Bowl was held in 1967, Lyndon Johnson was President. He was also in office for Super Bowls in 1968 and 69. Johnson played baseball in high school, but was never really known for his athletic ability.
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© 2016, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.
Photo Courtesy: NFL.com
(Note this column is an updated reprint from February 1, 2015)