Sunday is for Mass, and for brunch, but it’s also for football (along with Saturdays, Friday nights and the odd Thursday).
From the “Hail Mary pass” to the “Immaculate Reception,” from Notre Dame to the New Orleans Saints, from daily Mass-going Coach Vince Lombardi of the Green Bay Packers to weekly Mass-going Coach Nick Saban of Alabama’s Crimson Tide, and from Dallas Cowboys’ QB Roger Staubach to San Diego Chargers’ QB Philip Rivers, there’s something special between football and Catholicism.
President Ronald Reagan may not have been a Catholic (his father was), but he was a believer in God, country … and the value of competitive sports. He played football at Eureka College, and one of his early jobs was as a radio sports announcer.
One of Reagan’s most famous movie roles was as George “The Gipper” Gipp in the 1940 movie, “Knute Rockne: All American.” A star senior for Notre Dame, Gipper died on Dec. 14, 1920, in South Bend, Indiana, of an infection at the age of 25, just days after leading the Fighting Irish to victory over Northwestern.
On his deathbed (where he reportedly made a conversion to Catholicism), Gipper said to coach Rockne…
Eight years later, Rockne called on the memory of Gipp to inspire his team to beat Army at Yankee stadium, saying afterward, “That’s one for the Gipper.”
Because of the movie, Reagan also became known as “The Gipper,” a nickname that stuck throughout his life. Jimmy Carter may have been the first president to attend a Super Bowl (despite his preference for baseball), but Reagan and the NFL championship were a match made in media heaven:
As advertising and marketing, global capitalism and generally flashing ’80s entertainment all converged to begin making the Super Bowl the national event it has become, in stepped just the President to make the most of it – Ronald Reagan … [who began his] eight year presidency on the same day as Super Bowl XIV, January 20, 1981 …
To that end, Reagan began appearing on television either just before or after the big game, whether it was an NBC interview with Tom Brokaw about football or several live-simulcast telephone calls to congratulate the teams.
On Saturday, June 6, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, just north of Los Angeles, a sprawling hilltop research facility and interactive museum (including the president’s Air Force One, up on pylons in a glass-walled hangar) welcomes “Football! The Exhibition” (click here for details and tickets).
Presented in cooperation with Bronx-born businessman and sports collector Gary Cypres (who also supplied artifacts for an earlier baseball exhibit) and the private Sports Museum of Los Angeles, the in-depth exhibition features over 500 artifacts, including Heisman trophies, gear, folk art, movie posters, football cards and photographs.
Oh, and there’s even an interactive “Deflategate”-inspired display where guests can squeeze two footballs and try to figure out which one is properly inflated.
Right now, this exhibit and the Culver City headquarters of NFL.com and NFL Network remain the major outposts of pro football in Los Angeles. But Cypres has faith in Stan Kroenke, current owner of the St. Louis (and former Los Angeles) Rams, and developer of a privately financed planned $1.86 billion stadium planned for a location in Inglewood, California, near the old Forum.
Theres’s no official word yet that the Rams will return to L.A., but at the exhibit, Cypres told me:
I think the object would be two teams: the Rams and the Chargers. I don’t think L.A. wants the Oakland team back, for various reasons. My bet is Kroenke, because he has the money, and he can do it himself.
They have the land; he has the team; and he has the money. So, my bet is on them.
The Rams have a history here, for a long, long time, so there’s that residual feeling. It’s certainly more valuable here than in St. Louis as a team.
Here’s a sneak peek of the exhibit, still under construction earlier this week (images all mine):
Images: Kate O’Hare