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When POTUS comes to town

A brief history of Presidential visits to “The Game of the (half) Century”

President Harry S Truman in Philadelphia to watch the Game of the Century.
Wikimedia Commons

In case you aren’t aware, Saturday’s showdown between No. 1 LSU (give or take a couple of poll positions) and No. 2 Alabama (who hasn’t played anyone and doesn’t deserve any hype) is a pretty big deal. Maybe not big enough for CBS to put it in primetime, but these One vs. Two games don’t happen often in the regular season.

It’s even more rare for sitting U.S. presidents to attend. Historically, this may be a point of cultural emphasis. Part of that had to do with the stature of the sport, part with the logistics of knowing “when to come,” and part of it with the fluidity of the rankings. Still, usually when you are a championship athlete, you go to the White House. The White House does not come to you.

As if there wasn’t enough attention and pomp and distraction for a matchup with the SEC West on the line, President Donald J. Trump has chosen to attend.

Here now, for historical perspective, are accounts of the other times a sitting POTUS has gone to the game.

1945: Army v Navy

This was not the first time that the two top teams matched up, but it was the first to attract a president. And it wasn’t the first time a Commander in Chief went to an Army/Navy game, but this time these two were at the top of the top.

With World War II having wrapped up that fall, Harry S Truman was free to make the trip to Philadelphia for this matchup. For the second year in a row, Army came in at No. 1, and Navy was ranked second. Army had won the 1944 meeting held in Baltimore.

Of course, this was in the era when many programs were gutted by the war, and the service academies had the pick of any and every athlete available. Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis were America’s golden boys, and they put up 20 in the first quarter as they ran away from the Midshipmen 32-13.

Army finished 9-0 and won it’s second national championship in a row. Right behind them was Bama at #2.

President Harry S Truman shaking hands with the team captains before the 1945 Army/Navy game.
Wikimedia Commons

Fun fact: Army played another “1 v 2” game the next season against Notre Dame, which ended in a scoreless tie. Army finished 9-0-1 with victories over #4, #5, and #13. The Irish finished 8-0-1 with wins over #16 and #17. Predictably, the Associated Press boosted Notre Dame to the title. LULZ.

1969: Texas v Arkansas

Before “Texas is Back!” became a thing, Texas Longhorn football was a thing. And in this particular year, the Horns were one of several teams that went into the last part of the year undefeated.

One of the other perfect teams was their regular-season Southwest Conference rival, the Arkansas Razorbacks. (No, really, the Hogs used to be good. Seriously.) The regular season matchup was slated for mid-October, but ABC lobbied to move the game to the first week of December so it could get a larger audience.

President Richard M. Nixon in the stands, watching No. 1 Texas and No. 2 Arkansas play in Fayetteville, Dec. 6, 1969.
U.S. Navy Photographic Center

This gave President Richard Nixon more than enough time to make plans for the trip to Fayetteville, and he brought along his own national championship plaque to present to the winner. (This was back when nattys were handed out before the bowl-season exhibitions, and as you can imagine this went over really well with a Penn State team that also finished undefeated.)

Arkansas held a 14-point lead in the third quarter, but Texas rallied in the 4th with 15 points to eke out a win.

Nixon hands his National Championship plaque to Coach Darrell Royal in the Texas Longhorns’ locker room, Dec. 6, 1969.
U.S. Navy Photographic Center

Fun fact: future president George H. W. Bush (then a congressman from Texas) was there as well, sitting just a few seats down from Nixon.