College Football & The Presidency

With Inauguration Day upon us it’s a good time to look back at some connections between college football, the oval office and voting.

1. The Man Who Saved The World. President Teddy Roosevelt is the President who saved football. By the early 1900s the game had grown incredibly brutal. In 1905 alone The Chicago Tribune reported 18 deaths in football games, resulting in tremendous political pressure to abolish the violent game. Roosevelt met with representatives from Harvard, Princeton and Yale at the White House to impress upon them the need to make changes. After that sixty-two schools met and implemented rule changes including the forward pass to make it a safer game.

To his core Roosevelt believed in the nobility of football’s character test. Speaking at Harvard on February 23, 1907 he said of athletics “they encourage a true democratic spirit, for in the athletic field the man must be judged, not with reference to outside or accidental attributes, but that combination of bodily vigor and moral quality which go to make up prowess.” He also said of football “Don’t flinch, don’t foul, but hit the line hard.” Not bad advice from the man who saved the world of football.

2. The Best Football player to occupy the Oval Office? Without question it was Gerald Ford a starter on Michigan’s National Championship teams in 1932 and 1933 and the team’s MVP in 1934. There was a GOP run of 3 college football alums. Ford succeeded Richard Nixon who played at Whittier College and in 1980 Eureka College Football Alum Ronald Reagan became President. As an actor Reagan also played Notre Dame star George Gipp in the movies earning the nickname The Gipper (along with others). ----The best player on the Supreme Court? Colorado All-American running back Justice Byron “Whizzer” White. He also played in the NFL and was the league’s leading rusher as a rookie and is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.

3. Penn State’s Presidential Father-In-Law. President Bill Clinton’s Father-in-law Hugh Rodham played football at Penn State in the 1930s, lettered in 1934 and was a long time Penn State fan until his death while President Clinton was in office. In delivering the eulogy for his father in-law President Bill Clinton mentioned that his father-in-law thought there was one perfect person in the world—Joe Paterno.

4. Not That Kennedy…and Not That Crimson. There was a Kennedy who played football for the Crimson (Harvard Crimson not the Alabama Crimson Tide) but it wasn’t the future President John Kennedy. Robert Kennedy played for Harvard in his college years.

5. Can We Get A Recount?? How many Heisman Voters would love to have a re-vote after watching DeShaun Watson’s run through the college football playoffs? One has to wonder if the Heisman voting took place AFTER the bowls how many other results would’ve changed….Vince Young in 2005 immediately comes to mind.

6. Last but not least…Here’s A Penn Stater Who Defeated Trump. Penn State alum Terry Pegula and his wife Kim beat Donald Trump in bidding for the Buffalo Bills. While he never made it to the NFL, Donald Trump did own the USFL New Jersey Generals. But they never won a title despite signing two Heisman Trophy winners Doug Flutie and Herschel Walker. The USFL’s final title game was played at Giants Stadium (the Generals’ home field) where division rivals The Stars beat the Oakland Invaders. My brother and I went to that game with our dad and Joe DiMaggio and sat with New York Giants’ GM George Young. But that is another story for another time.

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