Baseball may be the great American pastime, but it can’t challenge football as the quintessential American sport. Football requires a unified team effort and outstanding individual performances for success on the field. The players, as well as the fans, embody the competitive American spirit, and from kick-off until the clock reaches zero, the game provides a temporary relief from the burdens of everyday life. These are among the reasons that football was President Nixon’s favorite sport—“the spirit, the teamwork, the friendship.”
President Nixon was on his high school football team, as well as on the team at Whittier College—he mostly played the bench.
“As a 150-pound seventeen-year-old freshman I hardly cut a formidable figure on the field, but I loved the game… There were only eleven eligible men on the freshman team, so despite my size and weight I got to play in every game and to wear a team numeral on my sweater. But for the rest of my college years, the only times I got to play were in the last few minutes of a game that was already safely won or hopelessly lost.”
That time on the bench, however, was not wasted. After finishing his undergraduate, and earning a scholarship to Duke University Law School, a young Richard Nixon was unsure whether he had a future in law. An upperclassman, Bill Anderson, listened to his doubts and reassured him, “You have what it takes to learn law—an iron butt.” This was a talent developed, no doubt, while on the football team.
President Nixon’s love for the game continued his whole life. After being elected President, on December 1, 1969, he received an invitation to attend the Texas—Arkansas Football game. The match-up was billed as the game of the year, and has subsequently been called the ‘Game of the Century.’ See the telegram invitation here.
A significant amount of effort went into preparing for the trip, especially given there was only five days before the game. Those memos and other documents can be seen by clicking the link below, and include suggested remarks for when the President addresses the winning team after the game, the plaque to be presented, and a detailed itinerary for the entire day of December 6.
Later during his Presidency, Richard Nixon talked about the career path he would have taken, if he had not gone into public service. In an interview on July 31, 1971 with ABC Sports commentator Frank Gifford, the President commented,
“I have often thoughts that if I had my life to live over again and did not go into politics I would have had your job—you know, a sportscaster, or writer.”
And, President Nixon was not just a Sunday fan, he also attended events off the field related to his favorite sport.
Speaking at Vince Lombardi’s funeral President Nixon commented on the famed coaches attitude on and off the field.
“Vice Lombardi believed in fundamentals. On the football field this meant blocking and tackling and running to daylight. Off the field it meant his church, his home, his friends, and his family. He built his life—as he built his teams—around basic values and that is why his greatness as a coach was more than matched by his greatness as a human being.” –September 9, 1970
President Nixon also visited the Redskins during practice, checking in the team to see how their season would be shaping up.
This life long enthusiasm for the sport of football reflects President Nixon’s title of Number One Fan.