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Which U.S. Presidents Played Football?

President Gerald Ford as a University of Michigan football player

Happy (late) President’s Day! Did you know that several U.S. Presidents spent time on the football field? Which one has been rumored to call a play from the White House? Here are some of our Founding Fathers in all their football glory:

John Kennedy played football at Harvard, but unlike his brothers who all excelled at the sport (both Robert & Edward were Harvard football lettermen), JFK did not progress beyond the JV team due to illness and injury in his freshmen year. Despite his physical ailments, JFK remained as active as possible in sports, often participating in touch football games with his family and friends which might have led him to create one of his most famous quotes: “We do not want our children to become a generation of spectators. Rather we want each of them to be a participant in the vigorous life.”

Richard Nixon was a reserve tackle for Whittier College in California, but his biggest football claim to fame came from a legendary story involving the Washington Redskins. Known as “Nixon’s Play,” the story claims that the Redskins coach George Allen, received a phone call from Nixon on the eve of their 1971 playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers. Rumor has it that Coach Allen used the president’s suggestion for a play against the 49ers –a play that lost the Redskins yardage and ultimately led them to lose the game.

Gerald Ford was all-state at South High School in Grand Rapids, MI, and went on to become an MVP for the University of Michigan (even playing against the Chicago Bears as a member of the 1935 collegiate all-star team). After turning down several pro football offers (including one from the Green Bay Packers), Ford took a coaching position at Yale and applied to its law school.

President Reagan tosses the football in the Oval Office

Ronald Reagan was a lineman at Eureka College in Illinois, but his more well-known football connection is for portraying Notre Dame football great George Gipp in the 1940 film Knute Rockne, All American, Reagan was given the nickname “Gipper” and used the real George Gipp’s famous line “just win one for the Gipper” as he was running for the presidency.

Dwight Eisenhower has been quoted as saying, “not making the baseball team at West Point was one of the greatest disappointments of my life, maybe my greatest.” But, that disappointment led him to make the West Point football team where he was a varsity starter as both running back and linebacker and tackled the famous Jim Thorpe of the Carlisle Indians.


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