You’ll Never Believe How Many U.S. Presidents Loved and Even Played Football
Just like the rest of America, many occupants of the White House have loved football. Presidents have enjoyed a variety of hobbies in the White House. And while few still appeared on the football field during their time in office, many presidents have loved cheering on their favorite teams from the sidelines.
Below, get the details on which presidents loved football and which commanders-in-chief played the game. And on page 15, don’t miss the chance to get the details of Donald Trump’s football-playing days.
1. Theodore Roosevelt helped legalize the forward pass
The White House Historical Association notes that Theodore Roosevelt never played collegiate football because of his nearsightedness. Yet Roosevelt had a big impact on the sport. He (and many other Americans) grew concerned with “the viciousness of the college game.” Players didn’t wear helmets or face guards. There was no neutral zone between teams. And the game didn’t limit the number of players on the line at once. Almost 40 college and prep school players died from football injuries during the 1904 and 1905 seasons.
In October 1905, Roosevelt summoned representatives of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton to the White House. He told them that unless the game was reformed, college football would be outlawed. So officials formed the Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States. The group instituted rule changes, such as allowing the forward pass, that ultimately made football safer and more popular.
Next: This president served as a business manager for his college’s football team.
2. Herbert Hoover served as business manager for Stanford’s football team
The White House Historical Association reports that Herbert Hoover doesn’t number among the presidents who played football. But Hoover did serve as the business manager for the football team at Stanford University. In that capacity, he “played a crucial role in arranging for Stanford to play the University of California on March 19, 1892 — one of the first major intercollegiate football games on the west coast.”
Hoover rented a baseball field in San Francisco for $250. He had 5,000 tickets printed, with admission at $2 each. The tickets sold out quickly. But on game day, so many extra fans arrived — and paid cash for admission — that Hoover and his fellow students had to search the neighborhood for buckets, bags, pots, and pans to hold all the bills and coins. Hoover ended up returning to his hotel room to guard the money — all $20,000 of it — instead of enjoying the game.
Next: This president sets the record for the most college football games attended while in office.
3. Harry Truman attended more college football games than any other president
As SB Nation reports, presidents have a long history of attending college football games while in office. Most presidents who enjoy football go to a game or two during a four-year term. But during his time in office, Harry S. Truman went to more college football games than any other president. We Are the Mighty reports that Truman also sets the record for attending the most Army vs. Navy games while in office.
In fact, he made a tradition of attending the Army vs. Navy games most years. He attended the December 1 game in 1945, the November 30 game in 1946, the November 29 game in 1947, the November 27 game in 1948, the November 26 game in 1949, the December 2 game in 1950, and then the November 29 game in 1952. When presidents attend Army vs. Navy games, it’s tradition for them to walk across the field at halftime to switch sides midway through the game. But Truman didn’t stick with that tradition — the only president to skip it.
Next: This president played football at West Point.
4. Dwight D. Eisenhower played football at West Point
As a student at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, future president Dwight D. Eisenhower played football. The White House Historical Association reports, “In the days when players appeared on both sides of the ball during games, Ike was a running back on offense and a linebacker on defense.” The National Archives notes that Eisenhower was injured when he tackled Jim Thorpe, the legendary native American athlete.
But in November 1912, Eisenhower sustained a severe knee injury in a game against Tufts. That put an end to his football career. The Historical Association reports that Eisenhower became so depressed “that he seriously considered quitting the academy.” He explained years later, “Life seemed to have little meaning. A need to excel was almost gone.” Fortunately, he came out of his depression and coached West Point’s junior varsity football team.
Next: This president played football at Harvard — but wasn’t a star athlete.
5. John F. Kennedy played football at Harvard
The White House Historical Association reports that when John F. Kennedy transferred from Princeton University to Harvard in 1936, he wanted to play football. Kennedy tried out for the varsity football team, but was underweight at 156 pounds. So he ended up playing wide receiver on the junior varsity squad.
Years later, speaking in 1961 at the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame Banquet, President Kennedy characterized politics as “an astonishing profession.” He marveled that politics “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.”
Next: This president regarded football as a social event.
6. Lyndon B. Johnson as president during the first Super Bowl
The National Archives reports that Lyndon B. Johnson was president during the first Super Bowl in 1967. Johnson didn’t attend what was then called the AFL-NFL World Championship Game on January 15, 1967. But on June 7 of the same year, he did receive a solid gold lifetime pass to all NFL games, courtesy of NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle.
Most fans would have been honored. But George Reedy, a longtime member of Johnson’s staff, said that the president went to games only “because other people went. He could meet people there, he could talk to them. He knew that every red-blooded American had to go to baseball and football games.” Doris Kearns Goodwin, a former aide, wrote that when LBJ went to a game, “He would wait impatiently for the action to end so that he could talk politics.” She even described him as “constitutionally incapable of enjoying a spectator sport.”
Next: This president loved playing and watching football.
7. Richard Nixon enjoyed playing and watching football
The White House Historical Association reports that Richard Nixon loved football. He played for Whittier College in California from 1932 to 1934, serving as a substitute tackle. The Association adds, “Although his collegiate football career did not go entirely as he had hoped, Nixon remained a devoted fan and as president enjoyed interaction with college teams and their coaches.”
The National Archives notes that Nixon became the first sitting president to attend a regular season NFL game. On November 16, 1969, he went to Robert F. Kennedy Stadium to see the Washington Redskins play the Dallas Cowboys. In fact, he’d often visit the Redskins practice facility to talk football with head coach George Allen. Also in 1969, Nixon said at the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame, “I look back on football and have many pleasant memories. I just enjoyed playing it, watching it, reading about it over the years.”
Next: This president could have had a professional football career.
8. Gerald Ford could have played professional football
According to the White House Historical Association, Gerald Ford “had the most distinguished college gridiron career of any president.” Ford played on the University of Michigan’s 1932, 1933, and national championship teams. The Wolverines won Big Ten Conference titles in 1932 and 1933 with Ford on the roster. When he graduated in 1935, he played in the College All-Star Game against the NFL champion Chicago Bears.
Interestingly enough, Ford received offers from the Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers to play professionally. The National Archive reports that the Packers would have paid Ford $100 a game for 14 games, while the Detroit Lions would pay $200 per game. Yet Ford turned both down. He said 30 years later, “Pro ball did not have the allure it has now. Though my interest was piqued at the time, I didn’t lose sleep over the offers.” Instead, he enrolled at Yale University Law School.
Next: This president attended several college football games while in office.
9. Jimmy Carter attended several college football games as president
Jimmy Carter didn’t play football. But he seems to enjoy the game. As SB Nation reports, Carter attended two college football games as president. But interestingly enough, despite having gone to the Naval Academy, Carter never attended an Army vs. Navy game while in office.
As SB Nation notes, Carter added to the long history of presidential visits to college games, “which dates at least back to Theodore Roosevelt and includes Richard Nixon’s declaration that 1969 Texas-Arkansas should function as the national title game.” The majority of college games that presidents have attended are Army vs. Navy. In fact, at least one high-level executive branch member attends that game, whether it’s the president, the vice president, or the secretary of state or defense.
Next: This president played football in a movie.
10. Ronald Reagan played football, both in a movie and in real life
Many Americans know that Ronald Reagan portrayed Notre Drame’s star halfback George Gipp in the 1940 film, Knute Rockne: All-American. But what many people don’t know is that Reagan also played football in real life. Reagan played as a starting guard for the Golden Tornadoes of Eureka College, where he also belonged to the swimming team and the track-and-field relay team. After he graduated from Eureka, near Peoria, Illinois, in 1932, he worked part-time as a radio announcer for University of Iowa home football games.
The National Archives notes that Reagan’s second inauguration marked the first time that Super Bowl Sunday coincided with Inauguration Day. Reagan was sworn in for his second term on January 20, 1985, the same day as Super Bowl XIX. Reagan performed the game’s coin toss via satellite from the Oval Office.
Next: This president enjoyed watching football, especially the Super Bowl.
11. George H.W. Bush was the first to perform the Super Bowl coin toss in person
George H.W. Bush was once famously athletic, enjoying activities as diverse as football, baseball, soccer, wrestling, tennis, squash, golf, fishing, hunting, jogging, horseshoes, boating, and skydiving. But Bush also enjoys watching football. The National Archives reports that 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,” the Archives explains. The occasion marked another first for the big game, too. As the Archives notes, “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.”
Next: This president hosted Super Bowl parties at the White House.
12. Bill Clinton hosted Super Bowl parties at the White House
Bill Clinton famously loves football. And as the National Archives note, Clinton wasn’t shy about hosting yearly Super Bowl parties even when he was in office. The Archives notes that Clinton invited friends and family to watch the Super Bowl in the Family Theater at the White House in 1993, 1994, 1997, and 2000. Additionally, he held the party at Camp David in 1999.
As the NFL reports, Clinton is an unabashed fan of the Arkansas Razorbacks. He once told an audience in Arkansas, “When something is really important to us — like football — we care about the facts.”
Next: This president choked on a snack while watching football.
13. George W. Bush choked on a pretzel while watching football
George W. Bush attended three Army vs. Navy games as president. But the NFL notes that George W. Bush has an infamous connection to football. “The future of the free world was nearly changed in January 2002 when the 43rd U.S. president briefly lost consciousness after he choked on a pretzel while watching Sunday football,” the league notes.
“Bush fell off his couch and received a scrape and a large bruise on his left cheek bone as a result. He later was seen wearing a Band-Aid on his face to cover a cut he received from his glasses. The lesson: ‘Always chew your pretzels before you swallow,’ Bush said.”
Next: This president loves watching football.
14. Barack Obama loves watching football
The NFL jokes that “In 2008, Obama was elected president in large part due to his campaign promise for a new major college football playoff system (well, the extent of his playoff stance’s impact on his election is debatable, at best).” Obama’s first interview as president-elect concluded with a conversation on the importance of a playoff in major college football.
“Six years later,” the NFL notes, “a playoff system finally came to fruition … though not the eight-team incarnation that Obama imagined.” During his presidency, Obama attended many sporting events, including basketball games, baseball games, and the Army vs. Navy game in 2011.
Next: Here are the details of Donald Trump’s love for football.
15. Donald Trump played football in high school — and once owned a football team, too
He may or may not make the list of the healthiest presidents now, but Business Insider reports that Donald Trump was quite the athlete in high school. At the New York Military Academy, Trump played on the varsity soccer, baseball, and football teams. One former classmate said that he heard coaches saying that Trump could play professional baseball. Trump may not be known as a football fan anymore, but has had plenty to say about the sport over the years.
Trump said on the campaign trail that he likely wouldn’t be running for president if he’d successfully bid to buy the Buffalo Bills. (That wasn’t Trump’s only bid to purchase a professional football team. He also bought a team in the fledgling United States Football League, though that didn’t last long.) MSNBC notes that “Trump has a long preoccupation with what has become America’s most popular sport, and he has routinely invoked it at times both appropriate and random on the campaign trail.”
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