Presidential phone calls along with visits with winning national championship sports teams are of recent vintage dating back to Richard Nixon’s presidency. Winning teams now routinely receive invites to the White House for special presentations where they usually bring a jersey and present it to the leader of the Free World with his name on it and everyone goes away happy, even those who may have conflicting political leanings.
Nixon seems to have got it all started, at least in the very public sense of calling attention to sports and the place it holds in public life. Known for his 3,700 hours of phone calls and recorded meetings from his executive office between February 1971 and July 1973, close followers of the Chiefs can vividly recall the telephone calls he made to Len Dawson and Hank Stram following their team’s victory in Super Bowl IV.
Nixon was a football fan of the first order. He routinely reached out to George Allen of the Washington Redskins discussing strategy and his speeches have many references to football teams and even specific games.
Maybe Nixon’s call to Dawson and Stram after a Super Bowl wasn’t his first, but I can’t recall of any that have lingered in my memory, at least none that I can remember being made today where the visit to the White House seems to have taken its place.
For the record, there is no recording of Nixon’s call to either Dawson or Stram, or so I was told. I guess Nixon wasn’t recording yet what would become the “smoking gun” leading to his resignation as President of the United States. Accordingly, we have no voice record of what the men said but we do have file copies of “President Richard Nixon’s Daily Diary“, and a listing titled “The White House Telephone Memorandum” of January 11, 1970. (See pictured here - PDF)
Here is what both documents said:
3:19-3:20 PM “P” (designating placed call) “The President talked long distance with the football coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, Hank Stram, in New Orleans, La.”
The call lasted only a minute, as it appears, and is sandwiched between calls Nixon made to Secretary of State William P. Rogers (2:42-2:48) and long distance with Henry A. Kissinger (3:32-3:36), then known as an “assistant,” in New York City. On the telephone memorandum, Stram’s name is misspelled, “Schram”, and the telephone number listed as well as the extension giving proof that it must have been pre-arranged. (As a former public relations director for the then-Philadelphia Stars of the old United States Football League, I know of such arrangements since in our championship year in 1984 a similar set-up was in place for a call from President Ronald Reagan to our head coach and quarterback. To no surprise, I was stationed in another room telling Reagan’s aide what the president should say since it was clear he had not seen the game!)
6:35-6:49 PM “P” (designating placed call) “The President talked long distance with Lynn [sic] Dawson, Quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs football team, in New Orleans, Louisiana.” The call was longer and this time Dawson’s first name was misspelled. Perhaps these listings – noted in handwriting - came from secretary Rose Mary Woods, who maybe didn’t have much interest in professional football, but I don’t know. While there is a notation, “disc”, I have not been able to determine if, indeed, there is a recording that has not seen the light of day. Like the call to Stram, Rogers and Kissinger calls flank the one to a happy New Orleans locker room.
None of this is truly meaningful, I suppose, when you consider the visits that take place today and will continue to take place as much for political posturing as sincere recognition. But put in its place, and in light of the grief ever-present that Dawson was suffering at the time of Super Bowl IV involving the quarterback’s phone number having been found in a known gambler’s files, Nixon’s call has more historical importance. The President defended Dawson as did NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle and nothing came of what was a flimsy connection to a small time hood gambler. To be defended by the President was nothing to be dismissed back then. For that reason alone, I suppose, this call holds a major place in the life of this franchise and in the history of professional football.