New York Giants continue White House tradition

President Jimmy Carter holds a Pittsburgh Pirates cap and a Pittsburgh Steelers "terrible towel" as he meets both champion teams at the White House on Feb. 22, 1980. STORY: New York Giants continue White House tradition
AP Photo/Harvey Georges
President Jimmy Carter holds a Pittsburgh Pirates cap and a Pittsburgh Steelers "terrible towel" as he meets both champion teams at the White House in Washington on Feb. 22, 1980.
AP Photo/Harvey Georges

(CBS News) WASHINGTON -- Like many of the Americans they represent, U.S. presidents are sports fans too.

It's a way for politicians to connect with voters who are avid followers of football, baseball, NASCAR and college sports.

And it's become standard practice for presidents to invite championship teams - especially Super Bowl winners - to the White House for presidential tributes.

President Obama hosts the Super Bowl champion New York Giants at a reception today, just as he honored the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2009, the New Orleans Saints in 2010 and the Green Bay Packers last year.

"This is a hard thing for a Bears fan to do," the president said at the South Lawn reception for the Packers last summer. "You guys coming to my house to rub it in. What are you going to do -- go to Ditka's house next?"

As far back as 1970, President Richard Nixon hosted a reception to honor Green Bay Packers Quarterback Bart Starr.

Mr. Nixon spoke of how impressed he was with Starr's "accomplishments" on the gridiron. He noted that Starr had, at that time, been in two Super Bowls and won them both.

"In my profession of politics," said President Nixon, "I got into the Super Bowl twice and only broke even, a reference to his 1-and-1 record in running for the presidency.

Ten years later, President Jimmy Carter invited an entire Super Bowl champion team to the White House: the Pittsburgh Steelers. They shared the White House spotlight that day in 1980 with the Pittsburgh Pirates, who had won the World Series a few months earlier.

"When I began to think who, in the entire nation, can give me best advice on how to meet a tough challenge successfully and win great victories," said Mr. Carter, "I naturally remembered the Pirates and the Steelers."

Frequently, America's presidents have used sports champions to make political points.

When the Washington Redskins won Super Bowl XVII in 1983, President Ronald Reagan phoned his congratulations to Coach Joe Gibbs.

The president said he was wondering if the team could "help me up on Capitol Hill with some of the congressmen."

President Reagan hosts the 1988 Super Bowl champion Washington Redskins on the White House South Lawn. Reagan is throwing the football to Ricky Sanders.
Courtesy Ronald Reagan Library

In 1988, President Reagan celebrated another Redskins victory.

"Welcome to the White House, fellas. What else is there to say but 'Hail to the Redskin,'" a reference to the opening words of the team song.

The Redskins were back for a reception in 1992 in Pres. George H.W. Bush's White House. He saw it as a good omen for the economy.

"I was glad to learn," he said, "that whenever the Redskins have won the Super Bowl, the U.S. economy has improved that year."

If true, that might help explain the severe economic downturn in recent years, considering the Redskins performance.

During the first four years of Bill Clinton's presidency, he hosted the Dallas Cowboys three out four times.

"This is beginning to be boring for them," he joked.

He said the visits by Super Bowl champions were the only thing that happens at the White House as regularly as the State of the Union Address. (Of course, the State of the Union Address is delivered in the House Chamber of the Capitol, not the White House.)

"In some ways it's better," he said, "it's shorter." And there's no Republican response, he added.

The visits by Super Bowl teams allow presidents to associate themselves with sports heroes admired by the American people. But it has an added benefit. Every time a team visits the White House, it usually presents the president with a team jersey or helmet or football, signed by all the players.

Those are mementos of their terms in office most presidents relish.

Athletes who snubbed presidents

  • Mark Knoller On Twitter»

    Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent.