Presidents and sports. It's a strange topic in the sense that anything having to do with presidents is strange, so you start from a place that has little resemblance to ordinary life. Figure there's 300,000,000 people in the United States and one president. When you think how many random events have to break perfectly, how many times El Presidente had to be in the right place, and others in the wrong place, how many years, how many moving parts, multiply, divide, square root, and you come up with: it's impossible to figure.
That's why presidents think they're special...because they are; they have inhuman luck. These are men who haven't driven a car, gone to the grocery store, cooked a meal, taken out the garbage, kissed up to a boss in years. And that's before they became president.
What's amusing about presidents and sports is how all presidents feel the need to trot outside and show themselves riding a horse or jogging or fishing in a shameless and transparent effort to brand themselves as regular guys. Yup, just a regular guy like you'd see in the Winn-Dixie check-out line or at the Little League game or serving pancakes at the VFW monthly breakfast.
They were never regular guys, not at the age of two.
Here's the twist. Within that separated place -- and there are few places more separated from human life than the U.S. presidential cocoon -- sports seeps through. The fun, the obsession of sports penetrates even there. Regard:
Dwight D. Eisenhower, 34th president A golf freak. Played at least 800 rounds of golf during his eight-year tenure, on average one round of golf every three and a half days, rain or shine. Ike kept a cabin near the fairway of Augusta National, in Georgia, played 200 rounds of golf there. Also shot quail every February and was regarded as a competent trout fisherman.
Lyndon Johnson, 36th president His only sport was politics, but he did inflict sports on others. He liked to bring politicians down to his ranch outside of Johnson City, Texas, and make them kill a deer. Picture Hubert Humphrey filled with deer blood lust or, for that matter, John Kennedy. His guests hated it; Johnson used it as a way to establish dominance.
Richard M. Nixon, 37th president The thing to remember about Nixon and sports is he was a man who would walk along a beach wearing a suit and black shoes. Nixon had a bowling alley installed in the White House basement; don't know how often or if he used it.
Jimmy Carter, 39th president A genuine, lifelong fly fisherman. Wrote a book about it, An Outdoor Journal. "I had a fishing pole in my hands as early as I can remember, and would go hunting with Daddy long before I could have anything to shoot other than a BB gun." Carter hunted possum, deer, duck, and while in the White House regularly went fly-fishing at Spruce Creek, Pennsylvania. Still does.
George Bush II, 43rd president He has the strongest sports background in terms of a day job. He was managing general partner of the Texas Rangers from 1989 to 1994. He opposed interleague play and a wild-card playoff format for baseball's postseason. A millionaire's son, he attended elite New England schools Phillips Andover (where he was a cheerleader), Yale, and Harvard Business School. Has the best regular-guy game face of any president.
Gerald Ford, 38th president, has the strongest sports background as a participant. He played center for 1932, '33, and '34 Michigan football teams, was MVP in '34. Graduated in 1935 and turned down player contracts from the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers.
John Kerry, if he makes it to the big house, will be known for windsurfing. I grant him this, he was probably out there for the fun of it; the photo of him on a windsurfing board is too much of a Dukakis-in-the-tank-turret moment to be planned.
Ronald Reagan, 40th president, had a solid sports background. He worked as a lifeguard as a young man and, after college, was a sportscaster for the Chicago Cubs on radio station WHO, Des Moines, Iowa. He was in California covering spring training when Warner Brothers found him.
John Kennedy sailed and enjoyed it. Less well known was that he was the best presidential golfer, had a single-digit handicap despite the fact that he played, roughly, once a month, had Addison's disease, and wore a back brace.
George Bush I, 41st president As befitting a New England millionaire, he indulged in rich-person's sports from boating in his cigarette boat, Fidelity, to horseshoes to golf to tennis. He is passionate about his tennis game. His best quote, on returning home from his post as envoy to People's Republic of China, was in response to a reporter's question, if he'd gotten to know any regular Chinese. Bush answered, "Oh, yes. They gave me a boy to play tennis with."