Barack Obama isn’t the only U.S. president to demonstrate an avid interest in football. Former President Gerald Ford was a great player at Michigan, Dwight Eisenhower was a great player at West Point before hurting his knee, Ronald Reagan played George Gipp in a Hollywood movie, and Teddy Roosevelt helped save the sport itself from extinction. But the biggest football fan to serve in the White House was probably Richard Nixon.
The 37th president did himself no favors with his infamous Oval Office taping system, but at least two of those taped calls make him endearing to us. Listen to Nixon and Washington Redskins coach George Allen talk a little pigskin in 1972, via Youtube. And who among us can’t relate to Nixon here, on the phone with daughter Julie but unable to contain his anger when something (what, we wonder: a sack? a turnover? a bad call?) goes terribly wrong in the game he’s watching on TV.
Much has been made over the years of two episodes in which Nixon is reported to have funneled plays to coaches — both times with dismal results. Legendary Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula shed some new light this week on Nixon’s supposed contribution to the Dolphins’ game plan in Super Bowl VI against the Dallas Cowboys. According to Yahoo! Sports, Shula debunked the legend that Nixon called him at 1:30 a.m., but the prez did say the Dolphins could hit wide receiver Paul Warfield on a “down-and-in pattern.”
“I said, ‘Yeah, that’s a good idea,’” Shula said. “Warfield was a great receiver, one of our biggest threats, so I’m sure we game-planned him to be a big part of what we were trying to do offensively.”
It was really moot, of course, in a 24-3 Miami loss, but the other play Nixon is often blamed for figured prominently in the Redskins’ 24-20 playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers that same season. Nixon reportedly called Allen, who handed the phone to Redskins quarterback Billy Kilmer. Nixon suggested a double-reverse to Redskins wide receiver Roy Jefferson. The play was called during the game and was sniffed out for a 13-yard loss, forcing an unsuccessful field-goal attempt.
To summarize, Richard Nixon could handle Nikita Khrushchev, Chairman Mao and two U.S. presidential elections. NFL play calling? Now that’s tough.