In 1969, a first-year president used the power of his office to meddle in college football, striking a lasting blow against fairness, competition, and Joe Paterno.
It was on December 6 of that year that Richard Nixon, who fancied himself a pigskin man but understood little about the collegiate variation of the game, traveled to Fayetteville, Arkansas, where the homestanding Razorbacks were to entertain the Texas Longhorns with the Southwest Conference championship and a berth in the January 1 Cotton Bowl on the line. When Texas pulled out a come-from-behind 15-14 win, Nixon marched to the victors’ locker-room, where he summarily declared the ‘Horns national champions and presented Coach Darrell Royalwith a commemorative plaque.
The president got what he wanted out of the ploy: Half of all television sets in the country had been tuned to “The Game of the Century,” so tens of millions of Americans saw their leader bathed in the imagery of a quintessentially American pastime. But it was a manifestly unjust declaration: Hundreds of miles to the north, Paterno’s Penn State Nittany Lions were completing their second straight perfect season.
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