December 27, 2006
Gerald R. Ford, RIP
Posted by Gordon Smith

Much of my adult cynicism regarding politics probably stems from my earliest political recollections surrounding Watergate. I was nine years old when five men broke into the  offices of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate hotel and almost 11 when Spiro Agnew resigned and Gerald Ford was nominated as his replacement. When Ford later became President, he inherited an impossible situation, and I still remember thinking that his pardon of Nixon was a sham. (Of course, this was the prevailing view at the time, and it may have cost Ford the 1976 election. The NYT attributes the lost to a different incident.)

Today, after hearing of Ford's death, I reflected on those days. If we were playing word association, these would be my first choices after Nixon: WIN buttons (ack!) and Chevy Chase, who first performed his impression of Gerald Ford on Saturday Night Live on November 8, 1975.

Of course, I also knew that Gerald Ford was a football player ... a very good football player, in fact. But I didn't know all of this:

During a 1934 game against the University of Chicago, Ford became the only future U.S. president to tackle a future Heisman Trophy winner when he brought down halfback Jay Berwanger, who won the first Heisman the following year.

"When I tackled Jay in the second quarter, I ended up with a bloody cut and I still have the scar to prove it," Ford said after Berwanger's death in June 2002.

Ford was the Wolverines MVP his senior year in 1935. He also was the captain of his football team at Grand Rapids South High School and was an all-state center in 1930, his senior prep season.

Following his graduation from Ann Arbor in 1935, Ford received contract offers from at least two professional NFL teams. Perhaps as an indication of where Ford would eventually end up, he spurned offers from the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers to instead attend law school at Yale. Ford put himself through law school as an assistant varsity football coach and a freshman boxing coach.

A member of the 1935 Collegiate All-Star football team, Ford's No. 48 jersey was retired on Oct. 8, 1994 during halftime of the Wolverines' game against Michigan State. His jersey is one of only five numbers that have been retired in the history of Michigan's storied football tradition.

Rest in peace, President Ford.

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