10 Football Facts Featuring U.S. Presidents

Today’s guest post comes from Susan K. Donius, Director of the Office of Presidential Libraries at the National Archives.

President Obama is an avid football fan, an interest shared by many of his predecessors in the White House. As young men, several future Presidents played football in high school and college. 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. With the big game this weekend, here are ten football facts featuring U.S. Presidents.

We’ve also put together a gallery of football-related images from the holdings of the Presidential Libraries of the National Archives.

ONE: William J. Clinton 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.

TWO: 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.

THREE: Ronald Reagan’s 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.

FOUR: Gerald R. Ford 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.

FIVE: Richard Nixon 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.

SIX: Lyndon B. Johnson was President during the first Super Bowl in 1967. President Johnson did not attend what was then called the AFL-NFL World Championship Game on January 15, 1967. However, on June 7 of that same year he received a solid-gold lifetime pass to all NFL games from NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle.

SEVEN: John F. Kennedy played on the junior varsity football team at Harvard. He would later quip, “Politics is an astonishing profession – it has…enabled me to go from being an obscure member of the junior varsity at Harvard to being an honorary member of the Football Hall of Fame.”

EIGHT: Dwight D. Eisenhower was injured tackling Jim Thorpe. On November 9, 1912, Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower was injured tackling Jim Thorpe, the legendary American Indian athlete and future first President of the National Football League. Thorpe had just won gold at the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm, and Ike was a cadet at West Point. The two men faced off in a game between the Carlisle Indian Institute and the Army. Contrary to popular belief, Ike’s tackle of Thorpe did not result in the injury that ended his football career, which instead occurred in a later game against Tufts University.

NINE: Herbert Hoover attended the first-ever football game between Berkeley and Stanford. Hoover entered Stanford University in its inaugural year, 1891. One year later, he was present for the first “Big Game” football rivalry between the University of California at Berkeley and Stanford University.

TEN: Theodore Roosevelt helped to legalize the forward pass. In 1905, football was under scrutiny after 18 deaths related to the sport were reported. President Roosevelt invited college officials to the White House saying “Football is on trial. Because I believe in the game, I want to do all I can to save it.”

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.

1-HH Army Navy football 1930
Herbert Hoover, Secretary of War Patrick Hurley, and members of both teams signed this football auctioned off at the 1930 Army-Navy game in Yankee Stadium to raise money for the unemployed.
Groton School’s 1899 football team. Franklin D. Roosevelt is sitting second from left, first row.
3_HST_Army Navy coin toss
Harry S. Truman tossing a coin in the air before the annual Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia, as the captains of the Army and Navy teams watch. 12/2/1950.
Dwight D. Eisenhower kicking a football at West Point. 1912.
Harvard University’s 1937 junior varsity football team. John F. Kennedy is standing third from the right in the second row.
6_LBJ_NFL Gold Pass 1967
Lyndon B. Johnson receives a solid-gold lifetime pass to all NFL games. Edward Bennett Williams (President of the Washington Redskins), Senator Everett Dirksen, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, and Congressman Gerald Ford are also pictured. 6/7/67.
Richard Nixon meeting with the Washington Redskins football team. 11/23/1971.
8_GRF_Green Bay Packers offer
Letter from the Green Bay Football Corporation to Gerald R. Ford. 2/11/35.
Jimmy Carter hosting a reception for members of the Pittsburgh Pirates Baseball Team and Steelers Football Team in honor of their championships. 2/22/1980.
New York Giants football player Harry Carson dumping a Gatorade cooler of popcorn on Ronald Reagan with Nancy Reagan watching at the White House Diplomatic entrance. 2/13/87.
11_GB_Super Bowl at WH
George H.W. Bush watches the Super Bowl with family and friends in the White House Theater. 1/22/89.
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones presents William J. Clinton with a Super Bowl XXVIII winners ring at a White House ceremony. 5/1/94.
George W. Bush kicks a football at the 2008 Army–Navy game. 12/6/08.
President Barack Obama throws a football at Soldier Field following the NATO working dinner in Chicago, Ill., 5/20/12. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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