Well, here we are! The end. Football ends on Sunday and people bang their head against the wall…probably because they are drunk!
Of course, we have turned football into a 24 hour a day; seven days a week; 365.24 days a year event. It does not really end Sunday evening. It all starts over as we begin looking towards the NFL Draft and then all the analysis that comes with that. Football is the sports lifeblood of this country. It is as U.S.ian as…as…well, as the U.S. Presidents.
I heard on public radio the other day about a website called America Bowl. Given that this Super Bowl will be the last time that [barring a catastrophe] its number matches the number of U.S. Presidents (44), the creator of this site has matched each Super Bowl with its respective president. So, for example, Super Bowl I is matched against George Washington, the first U.S. prez. Super Bowl XX was no match for James Garfield, despite the 20th president’s short stint in office.
I found this to be a novel concept, and well-written. So, it led me to wonder about presidents and Super Bowls. And then, I wondered, what have been the best Super Bowls for each of the last eight presidencies.
I use eight because while the Super Bowl spans nine presidents, it is obvious that at this moment President Barack Obama has only one under his belt. So the choice is too easy. So, here we go:
President Lyndon B. Johnson
- Term: 22 November 1963 – 20 January 1969
- Number of Super Bowls: three
- Best Super Bowl: Super Bowl III: New York Jets v. Baltimore Colts
LBJ became president under unfortunate terms; the assassination of John F. Kennedy. So, technically he should not have been president. Equally, the New York Jets were not supposed to be in the Super Bowl.
But having defied the odds, there the Jets were facing the NFL champion Baltimore Colts.
It really was not an exciting game, although it did usher in the AFL/AFC as a legitimate league (although, it could be argued that the AFL had already become equal to the NFL; it just lack the respect). But Joe Namath’s “guarantee” really ended up being the storyline as the Jets used solid, opportunistic defense (five turnovers) and some Colts’ miscues to secure the 16-7 victory.
This Super Bowl, the first to use such a moniker, marked change in the professional football landscape. And Johnson’s tenure was marked by change in the social landscape of the United States. And nothing stood out more than the escalation of U.S. involvement in Viet Nam, which resulted in a rise in anti-war protests and the peace movement.
And thanks to the situation in Viet Nam, Super Bowl III also marked the end of Johnson’s presidency. Maybe LBJ should have taken a cue from Namath about how to stand by your words.
“We are not about to send American boys nine or ten thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.”
President Richard Nixon
- Term: 20 January 1969 – 9 August 1974
- Number of Super Bowls: five
- Best Super Bowl: Super Bowl V – Baltimore Colts v. Dallas Cowboys
Let’s see. A Super Bowl in Miami; Anita Bryant is involved; the Colts are back (but as a member of the AFC). Makes sense that this Super Bowl would be here.
But like LBJ, there was no much to choose from as most were either blowouts (Super Bowls IV, VI, VIII) or not as close as it appeared (Super Bowl V). Then again, this Super Bowl exemplified Nixon’s reign.
It was a sloppy game, filled with blunders, turnovers (ten), and penalties (the Cowboys had ten). The Colts had an extra point blocked and a 52-yarder fall short, which was subsequently downed at the one-yard line (missed FG attempts that did not reach the endzone acted as punts 1974).
The game was so sloppy that linebacker Chuck Howley won the game’s MVP. Nothing against him, but he was on the losing team (Dallas).
The game was “saved” by its ending, when Colts’ kicker Jim O’Brien nailed a 32-yard field goal with under ten seconds to go in the game. For Nixon, however, no one could save him from his sloppy administration or the fallout of “Watergate.”
President Gerald Ford
- Term: 9 August 1974 – 20 January 1977
- Number of Super Bowls: three
- Best Super Bowl: Super Bowl X – Pittsburgh Steelers v. Dallas Cowboys
Hey look! We are in Miami again. This time it is the Cowboys that reappear. And once again we see the AFC win the game.
Gerald Ford, the only person not elected as either Vice President or President of the U.S., was in office for one of the better Super Bowls in NFL history. The game pitted two of the more popular teams in the NFL and, as of right now, two of the more successful teams in the league’s history.
The game was all about Lynn Swann. Rumored to potentially not play in the big game, Swann exploded for 161 yards on just four receptions. That was good enough for MVP honors.
The game itself was back-and-forth, with the momentum turning on a blocked punt that went out of the end zone for a safety. Down 10-7, Pittsburgh’s Reggie Harrison block Dallas’s punt, leading to the safety that was part of 14 unanswered points for the Steelers. That streak was capped off by a big 64-yard touchdown strike from Terry Bradshaw to Swann, putting Pittsburgh up 21-10 with just over three minutes remaining (the extra point was missed).
Dallas was not out of it, as Roger Staubach drove the Cowboys down for the score making it 21-17. After getting the ball back with just under 90 seconds to go, Staubach’s desperation pass to the endzone was picked off and Pittsburgh held on for the victory and their second straight Super Bowl title.
While the game was exciting, Ford’s tenure was anything but as he presided over a massive economic crisis. He barely won his party’s nomination for the 1976 election, before losing to Jimmy Carter.
President Jimmy Carter
- Term: 20 January 1977 – 20 January 1981
- Number of Super Bowls: three
- Best Super Bowl: Super Bowl XIII – Pittsburgh Steelers v. Dallas Cowboys
Guess where we are, again? Yup, beautiful Miami, Florida. And we have the Cowboys and the Steelers once again. And Terry Bradshaw has decided to join us, too.
Bradshaw went ballistic, throwing for 318 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Steelers to their third Super Bowl title. Additionally, it was Bradshaw’s third title as well.
The game was highlighted by big plays from Bradshaw, including a 75-yard pass to John Stallworth, his second TD reception of the game, and a furious comeback by the Dallas Cowboys that once again fell short.
Down 35-17 midway through the fourth quarter, Dallas sustained a long touchdown drive culminated in a Staubach TD pass to tight end Billy Joe Dupree. After recovering an onside kick, Dallas drove downfield once again, with Staubach finding receiver Butch Johnson in the end zone.
But Dallas’s luck would run out once again as they could not recover a second onside kick and the Steelers prevailed 35-31.
Carter’s luck would also run out as he was swept away by some actor from California.
President Ronald Reagan
- Term: 20 January 1981 – 20 January 1989
- Number of Super Bowls: eight
- Best Super Bowl: Super Bowl XVI – San Francisco 49ers v. Cincinnati Bengals
His term began the day of Super Bowl XIV (one that I considered for this spot), but Reagan’s two-term tenure is best remembered for the return of the Republican Party and the rise of its association with conservatism.
With regards to Super Bowls, his tenure is best remembered for the return to dominance of the NFC. Beginning with Super Bowl XVI, the NFC would win 15 of the next 16 titles. It is also during Reagan’s reign that we see the rise of another star and the antecedents of a legend — Joe Montana.
Super Bowl XVI, NOT held in Miami (Detroit), saw Joe Montana lead the 49ers out to a quick 20-0 halftime lead. San Francisco scored two first half touchdowns (both by Montana; one rushing and one passing), as well as two field goals. Cincinnati had several chances to score, but came up empty.
The second half was a different ball game, as Cincinnati came out on fire, scoring on the half’s opening drive. The Bengals’ defense shut down Montana and the Niners, holding them to six second half points. After one of those field goals (making the score 23-14), the Bengals once again squandered a chance by throwing an interception.
The Niners tacked on the second field goal and while the Bengals did score one more touchdown, they could not recover the onside kick and San Francisco won their first Super Bowl title, 26-21.
Reagan’s tenure was one of dominance and turning the U.S. into the Chicago Bears (circa 1985) while treating the Soviet Union like the New England Patriots (with Mikhail Gorbachev playing the role of Tony Eason). And, as mentioned above, these eight years were dominated by the NFC. That would continue with Bush 41st.
President George H.W. Bush
- Term: 20 January 1989 – 20 January 1993
- Number of Super Bowls: four
- Best Super Bowl: Super Bowl XXV – New York Giants v. Buffalo Bills
This was a tough decision, choosing between Super Bowl XXV and Super Bowl XXIII, but in the end the former is more impressive for the complete game. Statistically, the 49ers outplayed the Bengals in SB XXIII. In the 25th Super Bowl, the stats were quite close.
Super Bowl XXV was played during a heightened sense of U.S. patriotism, coming on the heels of the Persian Gulf War. That war is what is best remembered about Bush, Sr.’s presidency. This Super Bowl is what epitomized the Buffalo Bills and their misfortunes.
The Bills came in as the number one seed in the AFC, leading the entire NFL in scoring behind their no-huddle, fast pace attack. The Giants, the second seed from the NFC, entered with the best scoring defense in the league. It was the perfect combination.
This game witnessed the emergence of Bill Belichick, who was the Giants defensive coordinator (current Giants head coach Tom Coughlin was also on the Giants’ staff at the time as the wide receivers coach). His game plan was to control the pace and shut down the pass. This, coupled with a power running game by the Giants, helped the underdogs prevail over the Bills.
But the game was a battle. While both Bills QB Jim Kelly and Giants QB Jeff Hostetler had over 200 yards passing (and no interceptions), the story was the running game. Giants halfback Ottis Anderson, the game’s MVP, had 102 yards on the ground and one TD. Bills Hall of Fame running back Thurman Thomas total 190 yards from scrimmage, including 135 rushing on just 15 carries. His 35-yard touchdown run on the first play of the fourth quarter gave Buffalo a 19-17 lead.
After Matt Bahr gave the Giants the lead at 20-19, the teams traded punts before Kelly conducted the two-minute offense to perfection. The Bills drove down to Giants’ 29 yard line, setting up Scott Norwood’s infamous missed field goal.
The game’s score and stats were close, but the time of possession heavily favored the Giants. The short time of possession for the Bills reflects Bush 41st’s term in office — short. Ironically, he would be replaced by a Bill.
President Bill Clinton
- Term: 20 January 1993 – 20 January 2001
- Number of Super Bowls: eight
- Best Super Bowl: Super Bowl XXXIV – St. Louis Rams v. Tennessee Titans
Statistically, this game was one of opposites. MVP Kurt Warner led the Fastest Show on Turf with 414 yards passing and two touchdowns. The Titans, which struggled offensively in the first half, ran for 159 yards, including 95 from Eddie George and 64 by QB Steve McNair.
Although outgained in the first half, the Titans’ defense stiffened when it needed to and only trailed 9-0 at halftime. The Rams would push the lead to 16-0 before the Titans finally scored on a one-yard George touchdown run (the two-point attempt was no good).
After another short George touchdown run and an Al Del Greco field goal tied the game at 16, the Rams regained the lead on a 73-yard catch-and-run by Isaac Bruce. The Titans with the ball under the two-minute warning, drove the length of the field setting up one final play from the Rams’ ten-yard line with six seconds left. That final play was set up by a mad scramble by McNair to avoid being sacked before finding Kevin Dyson open at the ten.
During his impeachment trial, Clinton labored over the definition of the word “is.” Precision is important and every little word counts. For the Titans, every little yard counts and on the final play of the game, McNair hit Dyson on a slant at the five but he was tackled one yard short of the end zone.
The victory was the Rams first and only title in three attempts.
President George W. Bush
- Term: 20 January 2001 – 20 January 2009
- Number of Super Bowls: eight
- Best Super Bowl: Super Bowl XXXVIII – New England Patriots v. Carolina Panthers
You might not like “W,” but you have to admit that there were some entertaining Super Bowls during his tenure. And while most would point to Super Bowl XLII (Giants over the previously undefeated Patriots), I decided to be different and go a different route (very Bush-esque).
And, this game was just as dramatic as SB XLII. It is often overshadowed by the Janet Jackson incident. Ironically, Bush 43rd’s presidency is often overshadowed by controversy.
Nevertheless, the game featured two scoreless quarters and two feverish endings to quarters. The second quarter saw 24 points scored in the last 3:05, initiated by MVP Tom Brady finding Deion Branch in the end zone to give the Patriots a 7-0 lead. The second quarter flurry was capped by a 50-yard John Kasay field goal to bring the game to 14-10 at half.
After Janet showed the world (part of) her goods, the third quarter went scoreless. Then, the scoring began again.
The teams traded touchdowns early in the fourth quarter before Carolina QB Jake Delhomme hooked up with Muhsin Muhammad for an 85-yard touchdown strike to give Carolina their first lead of the game, 22-21. That touchdown, the longest offensive play in Super Bowl history, sparked the scoring frenzy.
Brady led the Patriots on an 11-play, 68 yard drive that consumed just over four minutes and culminated in a one-yard TD pass to linebacker Mike Vrabel. The two point conversion made the game 29-22 with 2:51 remaining.
Delhomme and the Panthers drove back down field and scored on an 11-yard pass to Ricky Proehl. The extra point tied the game at 29 and set up one final drive for Brady. And, just as he had done in Super Bowl XXXVI, Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri booted the game-wining field goal with mere seconds remaining. Ironically, Proehl had also caught the game tying TD for the Rams in SB XXXVI prior to Vinatieri’s winning kick.
President Barack Obama
- Term: 20 January 2009 – present
- Number of Super Bowls: one
- Best Super Bowl: ???
Each president during the Super Bowl era has had at least one defining Super Bowl; one that could be consider great. Current President Obama still had to complete his tenure before a reasonable choice can be made. But with the NFL’s two best teams (record-wise) playing in a Super Bowl that is hosted in Miami, it could very well be that Super Bowl XLIV is Obama’s best Super Bowl.