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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)

A big cheese for the Big Cheese in 1837

In 1836, President Jackson accepted 1,400-pound wheel of cheese from Col. Thomas Meacham, a dairy farmer near Sandy Creek, NY. The cheese was mammoth, and it sat, ripening, in the White House for over a year. Eventually, Jackson invited everyone in Washington, DC, to stop by and help consume the massive wheel. He threw the doors open, and in just two hours, the cheese was gone.

Patent for a cheese press, given to Luke Hale in June, 1838. National Archives.

Patent for a cheese press, given to Luke Hale in June, 1838 (National Archives at Kansas City). This patent shows a cheese press from around the same year as Jackson’s cheese giveaway.

Even members of Congress went crazy for cheese and were absent from their seats. From the Vermont Phoenix, March 3, 1837:

Mr. Alford opposed the motion for a recess. He said it was time, if they intended to do any public business this session, that they forthwith set about it, for they had wasted enough time already.  As for the battle with the great cheese at the White House, he was for leaving it to those whose tastes led them there, and to-morrow they might receive a full account of the killed and slain.  The gentleman from Maine, (Mr Jarvis) could as well finish the speech he was making to the few members present, as not.

Mr. Wise remarked that it was pretty well understood where the absent members had gone. There was a big cheese to be eaten at the White House to-day, and the appetites of members had driven them there to partake in the treat. To obtain a quorum he therefore moved that the Seargent-at-arms be directed to go to the President’s house, and invite the members there to return to their seats.  ["Those that have done eating!"—exclaimed a member.] “Oh yes,” continued Mr. W. “those that have done eating their cheese, of course.”  ["And let them bring a portion with them," said a third.]  “No, he did not want any of it—he had no wish to partake of any thing at the White House.”

A motion was again made that the House take a recess till 4 o’clock.

This true story is the basis for today’s first virtual “Big Block of Cheese Day” at the White House, which is hosting an online open house for citizens to ask questions. Sadly, there will be no physical cheese giveaway!

When we heard about the event, our archivists hunted through our records, but there are no official Federal documents relating to the cheese, probably because the cheese was a private gift. (In fact, we only turned up a handful of cheese-related records, including a recipe for making “loaf” from cottage cheese.)

However, we did find a mention of Jackson and cheese in this handwritten note (see page 4 and 5) from President Truman in 1952. The White House was being renovated, and Truman was thinking of previous Presidents and their treatment of the official furnishings. Truman wrote, “Then old Andy Jackson and his rough, tough backwoods [illegible] walking on the furniture, with muddy boots and eating a 300-pound cheese, grinding it into the lovely Adams and Monroe carpets!”

Jackson was not the first President to receive a giant wheel of cheese as a gift. President Jefferson received one as well. There is even a monument in Cheshire, MA, to the cheese press used to make the cheese for Jefferson.

Alas, this cheese slicer was patented 30 years too late to help President Jackson get rid of his cheese more quickly….

Patent for a cheese slicer, granted to J. G. Barker in 1860 (National Archives at Kansas City)

Patent for a cheese slicer, granted to J. G. Barker in 1860 (National Archives at Kansas City)

Monuments Men Coming to the National Archives

A new movie due for release next month tells the story of a special unit of Allied soldiers in Europe at the end of World War II. They were charged with finding and savings works of art and other cultural artifacts that the Nazis had seized.

Officially, this unit was called the Monuments, Fine Art, and Archives (MFA&A) section, but unofficially, they were the Monuments Men. But you don’t have to wait until the movie, also called Monuments Men, is released to learn about them. Greg Bradsher, a senior archivist and a specialist in this period in history, tells one story of the Monuments Men in the latest issue of Prologue magazine.

Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA) Officer James Rorimer supervises U.S. soldiers recovering looted paintings from Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany during World War II, April-May, 1945.

Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA) Officer James Rorimer supervises U.S. soldiers recovering looted paintings from Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany during World War II, April-May, 1945.

Bradsher is a frequent contributor to Prologue and an archivist specializing in World War II intelligence, looted assets, and war crimes.
In his article, Bradsher provides an account of how U.S. soldiers found a cache of treasures and called in the Monuments Men.
The most unusual find was a group of four caskets—with the remains of Frederick the Great, Frederick William I, and President Paul von Hindenberg and his wife. What happened to them? Bradsher has the answer.

The movie has an all-star cast: Oscar winners George Clooney, Matt Damon, and Cate Blanchett as well as Bill Murray and John Goodman. Clooney directs and is one of the producers. The film is based on a book by Robert M. Edsel, The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History.

Several programs at the Archives are planned to coincide with the release of the movie or are related to the Monuments Men.

On Thursday, January 23, at noon we will present a free screening of the film, The Rape of Europa. It chronicles Nazi Germany’s plundering of Europe’s great works of art during the war and allied efforts to minimize the damage.  You can also see our Featured Document display, a Monuments Men album.

On February 19 at 7 p.m. in the McGowan Theater at the National Archives, Edsel will discuss his book and the film adaptation along with Bradsher and others. A book signing will follow the program.

Celebrating Benjamin Franklin’s Birthday with Founders Online

Today’s post comes from Keith Donohue, Communications Director for the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) at the National Archives. This post was also published on the White House blog.

“The noblest question in the world is What Good may I do in it? – Poor Richard’s Almanack, 1737

Joseph Siffrein Duplessis portrait of Benjamin Franklin c. 1785, courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.

Joseph Siffrein Duplessis portrait of Benjamin Franklin c. 1785, courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.

Today we celebrate the 308th birthday of Benjamin Franklin, who answered that question time and again as a writer, printer, inventor, American diplomat, and godfather to a free and independent nation. He was called “The First American” and was in many ways the very idea of what an American could and should be during the Founding Era of our nation.

This Friday, January 17, marks his birthday in 1706, and the National Archives is celebrating by adding the annotated volumes from The Papers of Benjamin Franklin to Founders Online.

You can now read every issue of Poor Richard’s Almanack, trace Franklin’s views on picking the turkey as our national emblem, pore through his autobiography, read the correspondence between Franklin and the leading thinkers of the day, and find the trove of letters written between Benjamin and his beloved sister Jane Mecom that show the personal side of the First American.

Launched on June 13, 2013, Founders Online is the result of a partnership between the National Historical Publications and Records Commission and the University of Virginia Press. Readers can access a single database containing the works of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison and read the firsthand accounts of the growth of democracy and the birth of the Republic.

Front cover to "Poor Richard, 1737, an almanac for the Year of Christ 1737, by Richard Saunders, Philom." [Philadelphia: Franklin, 1736], courtesy of the Presbyterian Historical Society.

Front cover to “Poor Richard, 1737, an almanac for the Year of Christ 1737, by Richard Saunders, Philom.” [Philadelphia: Franklin, 1736], courtesy of the Presbyterian Historical Society.

With the addition of the Franklin Papers as well as 16,000 previously unpublished Founding Fathers papers, readers can search almost 150,000 documents of all six Founding Fathers at one time in one place.

The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, now online as the Franklin Papers, come from a collaborative undertaking by a team of scholars at Yale University to collect, edit, and publish a comprehensive, annotated edition of Franklin’s writings and papers: everything he wrote and almost everything he received in a long life that spanned from 1706 to 1790.

The entire edition is projected to reach 47 volumes and will encompass approximately 30,000 extant papers. The project was established in 1954 under the joint auspices of Yale University and the American Philosophical Society. A Digital Franklin Papers edition, sponsored by the Packard Humanities Institute, is also available at

On display: Finding stolen art using this album

A recently discovered album donated to the National Archives by Monuments Men Foundation President Robert M. Edsel is on display until February 20, 2014. The album is open to a photograph of an important painting by master French painter Jean-Honoré Fragonard. Girl Holding a Dove was repatriated by the Monuments Men in 1946. It sold at auction in 2000 for over $5 million.

In addition to the Featured Document display, the National Archives will host an evening with Robert Edsel on Wednesday, February 19, at 7 p.m. Edsel will discuss his books and the recent film adaptation starring George Clooney, and his work as founder and president of the Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art.

This month's Featured Document display is a piece of Monuments Men history.

This month’s Featured Document display is a piece of Monuments Men history. (Photo by Amanda Perez)

Perhaps the most unlikely heroes to emerge from World War II, the Monuments Men (and women) were a multinational group of curators, art historians, and museum directors who saved centuries of artistic and cultural treasures from destruction. Trading hushed galleries and libraries for besieged European cities, the men and women of the Monuments, Fine Art, and Archives Program risked their lives to protect museums, churches, and monuments from combat.

They also tracked down and recovered thousands of priceless artworks stolen by the Nazis—much of it from Jewish families. In the final weeks of the war, the Monuments Men discovered numerous hiding places—including mines and abandoned castles—where the Nazis had buried priceless works of art and where they planned to destroy it if they lost the war.

The Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg, or ERR, was the main agency involved in the systematic looting of cultural treasures in Nazi-occupied countries. The ERR created a series of albums meticulously documenting the thefts. The Monuments Men discovered 39 of these albums in 1945 and used them to restore artworks to their owners. These volumes also served as evidence in the Nuremburg trials and are in the holdings of the National Archives.

Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg Foto-ERR ALBUM 7 Artist: Jean-Honoré Fragonard Title: Girl Holding a Dove  Confiscated Collection R38 (Rothschild Collection, France) National Archives, Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation Art Collection

Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg Foto-ERR ALBUM 7. Artist: Jean-Honoré Fragonard. Title: Girl Holding a Dove. Confiscated Collection R38 (Rothschild Collection, France), National Archives, Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation Art Collection