The previous post revealed some of Richard Nixon's ties to professional football. Even though Ronald Reagan has forever been associated with college football because of his sportcasting and Gipper role in 1940's Knute Rockne All American, you can make the case that Trickie Dick was even more closely intertwined with the collegiate gridiron. In honor of Nixon's other jersey number (23), we present 11 of his college football moments (as 11 plus 12 for the pro football moments equals 23).
Yorba Linda-born Nixon was known as a fearless but ineffectual Poet on Whittier College's second football team in the early 1930s. When he entered the game, one teammate later observed, "everyone knew a 5-yard penalty was coming up. Richard had such determination to win that he would rush ahead before the play started. I knew he'd be offside just about every play." Nixon was recognized as "the most spirited warmer on the team."
At a 1951 NCAA banquet in New York City, guest speaker and then-California Congressman Nixon met George Allen, who'd just completed a championship season coaching Whittier College's football team. After congratulating Allen for guiding Nixon's alma mater to a 9-1 season, the politician talked Xs and Os and began a lifetime friendship.
Harry Dent, the White House liaison with southern members of Congress, on Oct. 6, 1969, suggested to by then President Nixon's Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman that the commander-in-chief attend a football game in the South to build goodwill in the region. The "Southern Pigskin Strategy?"
"The Moratorium" anti-war rally brought 250,000 protestors to Washington, D.C., on Nov. 15, 1969. Nixon marked the day watching the Ohio State-Purdue football game. You can almost hear him yelling, "Tell those goddamn hippies to pipe down, I'm trying to watch a game in here!"
Nixon cut a budget meeting short short on Nov. 22, 1969, to watch Michigan take on top ranked Ohio State. He later had a television set up in a dental office so he could keep an appointment and continue watching the Wolverines drill the Buckeyes, 24-12.
Nixon traveled to Arkansas to watch the Texas-Arkansas game on Dec. 6, 1969, but not without controversy. The final regular season game pitted the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in college football polls against one another, and Nixon had agreed to present a presidential plaque to the winner, recognizing college's No. 1 team of the season. But Pennsylvania's congressional delegation had complained before the trip because Penn State, like Texas, was undefeated--with an even longer winning streak. Nixon suggested giving Penn State a plaque for having the longest winning streak. Texas won its game 15-14, and Nixon presented head coach Darrell Royal a plaque in the locker room.
Penn State won its last regular season game as well, but coach Joe Paterno refused his honor from Nixon, saying "It would seem a waste of his very valuable time to present a plaque for something we already have undisputed possession of--the nation's longest winning streak. To accept any other plaque prior to the bowl games games, which will determine the final number one team, would be a disservice to our squad, to Pennsylvania, to the East, which we represent and perhaps, most important, to Missouri, which may be the best football team in the country." Missouri was Penn State's Orange Bowl opponent.
The National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame awarded the MacArthur Bowl, its national championship trophy, to the Texas Longhorns on Dec. 7, 1969. Nixon hid under his desk in the Oval Office to avoid potential gunfire from the direction of Pennsylvania. Well, that's what I imagine he did.
United Press International followed up on Dec. 8, 1969, by also naming Texas numero uno, prompting Nixon to really joke at a press conference that he may have made a mistake playing a role in determining the national championship.
Honored at the National Football Foundation's Hall of Fame Dinner in New York City's Waldorf-Astoria on Dec. 9, 1969, Nixon said, "I can only say that as far as this award is concerned, that it is certainly a small step for the National Football Foundation and a small step for football, but it is a giant leap for a man who never even made the team at Whittier.
. . . I got into a game once when we were so far behind it didn't matter. I even got into one against Southern Cal once when we were so far behind it didn't matter." Nixon also mentioned that Penn State deserved a portion of the national title.
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Texas defeated Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl 21-17 on Jan. 1, 1970, the same day Penn State beat Missouri in the Orange Bowl 10-3. Nixon called Royal to congratulate him. Upon Penn State receiving its third straight Lambert Trophy recognizing the best college team in the East, Paterno received a telegram from Nixon that stated, "Any team that can tie the record of the Army juggernaut of 1944-45-46 has carved for itself an enduring place in the annals of football greatness," Paterno reacted in accepting the award, "I couldn't feel better about receiving this trophy if it were presented on television by the president of the United States."
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