Cowboys and presidents

Sep 06, 2016

Originally published Sept. 6, 2016 in SportsDay

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Ever since LBJ's visit, America's Team has been hot ticket for political hot shots

In 1979, NFL Films dubbed the Cowboys "America's Team," but the franchise was a focal point for presidents and president wannabes years earlier. It began long before Donald Trump sat in Jerry Jones' suite with his then-wife Marla Maples and before Chris Christie got comically skewered for hugging the owner on national television. It began with Lyndon Johnson.

LBJ wasn't much of a football fan until he left the White House, and the Cowboys were about to win their first Super Bowl.

In January 1972, Texas Stadium had been open two months when LBJ and Lady Bird chose to drive to Dallas rather than fly.

"It sounds a little lunatic," Johnson said. "But if you want to see the game badly enough, you get here somehow."

The game was the NFC Championship against the 49ers. The winner would advance to Super Bowl VI.

Johnson looked immaculate in a pinstripe suit as he entered the 50-yard-line suite of team owner Clint Murchison.

When he stood and waved to the crowd, most cheered, some booed. And one man yelled, "Down in front!"

For Johnson, who died a year later, it was a chance for a final skirmish with Richard Nixon.

That night, after the Miami Dolphins won the AFC Championship, head coach Don Shula got a 1:30 a.m. phone call. "When the phone rang at that hour," Shula said, "I thought it might be some nut."

But then a voice said, "The president is calling."

It was Nixon, and he had a Super Bowl play.

"He warned me that Tom Landry of the Cowboys is a real good coach," Shula said.

"I still think you can hit [wide receiver Paul] Warfield on that down-and-in pattern against them," Nixon said.

The call made the news. Johnson prepared his reply.

Just before the Super Bowl, Landry got a telegram. "My prayers and my presence will be with you in New Orleans," it read, "although I have no plans to send in any plays. Lyndon Johnson."

The Cowboys won 24-3. Afterward in the locker room, Landry got a congratulatory call from Dolphins play-caller Richard Nixon.

When Jones bought the team in 1989, he visited the Oval Office with his daughter, Charlotte Anderson, to present a Cowboys helmet to former Yale first baseman George H.W. Bush.

"He promptly turned it over and hit the inside of it with his fist like a baseball glove," Anderson said.

In 1994, Trump had been through financial and marital rough patches when he sat in Jones' box along with Charlton Heston. The actor was affable to Trump, but he was more impressed when his longtime friend Lamar Hunt, owner of the Kansas City Chiefs, walked in. Trump had once owned the USFL's New Jersey Generals, but Hunt had coined the term "Super Bowl."

Heston leapt to his feet and said, "Lamar Hunt is here!" His voice boomed like Moses. The metaphorical spotlight left Trump and shined on Hunt.

In 2009, 105,121 fans saw former President George W. Bush flip the coin at the first regular-season game at AT&T Stadium. Most cheered, some booed. It was a tradition.

This year, before the Cowboys' season opener against the Giants, Bush 43 will return to midfield for the coin toss. When he hears cheers and boos, he'll know he’s part of the history of America's Team.