Football & Presidents- From Teddy To Donald

Posted 11/13/16

The connection between U.S. Presidents and football goes back to the early years of the 20th Century.  In 1904, the ruffian and violent sport of the day saw 18 deaths, spurring calls for a ban on the game. 

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Football & Presidents- From Teddy To Donald

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The connection between U.S. Presidents and football goes back to the early years of the 20th Century. 

In 1904, the ruffian and violent sport of the day saw 18 deaths, spurring calls for a ban on the game.  It was Teddy Roosevelt who intervened to save football by encouraging safer rules and helping to create what would become the NCAA.

Dwight Eisenhower was the first college footballer to reach the White House, playing at West Point and even getting injured tackling the legendary Jim Thorpe during a match in 1912. 

John Kennedy, whose brothers Robert and Edward were both Harvard football lettermen, played briefly though he didn't get past JV due to ailments. 

Richard Nixon joined his college squad but showed more enthusiasm on the bench than action on the field.  In later years, "Tricky Dick" would take his passion for the game into his political career, rubbing elbows with renowned Ohio State football coach Woodey Hayes who helped him carry Ohio in his failed 1960 presidential bid.  

By the time Nixon settled into the executive office, football surpassed baseball as America's most popular sport and the President was eager to exploit its popularity. 

Stories abound how in 1971 Nixon called Redskins coach and friend George Allen with a play suggestion for a post season game. The play failed, the Redskins lost, and so did Nixon's strategy of promoting himself as a football savant. 

The best footballer who went on to occupy the nation's highest office was Nixon's successor, Gerald Ford.  The accidental 38th President played at the University of Michigan and was named MVP his senior year.  

After graduating, the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers came calling but instead Ford decided to coach at Yale in hopes of attending its law school. 

The man who carried football from his college days into the big screen was Ronald Reagan.  The two-term President played at Eureka College and years later starred as Notre Dame's George Gipp in the 1940 film "Knute Rockne, All American".  

Reagan's "Gipper" nickname stuck with him well into his political life. 

And the figure whose association with football was less on the field and more in the board room is not surprisingly, President-elect Donald Trump.  The Manhattan real estate investor ventured into the USFL in 1984 by buying the New Jersey Generals. 

His push to take the fledgling USFL head-to-head against the established NFL contributed to the league's demise, ending in the courts with lawyers instead of in the bank with cash. 

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