Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Gerald Ford, Football Star

The news came over the wire late yesterday that former President Gerald Ford has passed away at the age of 93. Many others will write about his career as a public servant, but I wanted to take an opportunity to briefly recount that in his youth, Ford was a great football player.

In the mid 1930s, Ford was one of the stars on a powerhouse team at the University of Michigan. He played center and defensive lineman in an era when every man played both offense and defense. His Wolverines were national champions in 1932 and 1933, and Ford was voted as the team's most valuable player in 1934. Ford played in the annual East-West College All-Star game in San Francisco in January of 1935 and the College All-Star football game at Soldier Field against the Chicago Bears in August of that year. Two different NFL teams offered him a contract -- the Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers -- but he spurned them to continue his education. Ford went to Yale University, where he worked as the boxing coach and assistant football coach while pursuing his law degree.

In later years, as people reminded the President of his athletic prowess, he was always humble. While making an appearance at his alma mater in 1976 he said:
In those stories that I was a great all-time center, I found this--the longer you get away from the reality, the bigger those stories get. ... And I can only say that they get better, because the longer you are away from school, the fewer there are of people to tell the truth about what happened.