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Sports Fan in Chief Honors Champion 1972 Miami Dolphins Football Team

August 20, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
More than 40 years since the 1972 Miami Dolphins made NFL history with their perfect season, coach Don Shula and his undefeated team were honored by President Barack Obama with a visit to the White House. Kwame Holman reports on the presidential tradition of following sports and Mr. Obama's dedication to his home teams.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Next: It’s no secret that President Obama loves sports. What you may not realize is just how much of a passion it is.

Kwame Holman returns with that story.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I am proud to welcome the only undefeated, untied team in NFL history to the White House for the very first time.

Give it up for the 1972 Miami Dolphins!


KWAME HOLMAN: At the White House today, the commander in chief once again played a role he clearly relishes, sports fan in chief.

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This time, it was to congratulate the team that made history 40 years ago with its perfect season.

BARACK OBAMA: They had the league’s best offense. They had the league’s best defense. They posted three shutouts. They doubled the score of their opponents eight times. And they did most of it after their outstanding Pro Bowl starting quarterback, Bob Griese, broke his leg in week five.

KWAME HOLMAN: When the Miami Dolphins won the Super Bowl over the Washington Redskins in early 1973, President Richard Nixon was embroiled in the Watergate scandal and the tradition of a White House visit for the victor hadn’t yet taken hold.

DON SHULA, former National Football League coach: Thank you, Mr. President.

KWAME HOLMAN: Former Dolphins coach and Hall of Famer Don Shula:

DON SHULA: We feel honored. It’s been 40 years, but what the hell. We still feel honored.


DON SHULA: But when you look at that, the undefeated seem, and we all signed it, and we want to present you with this. And even though you were a Bear fan, we understand you have got to root for somebody.

KWAME HOLMAN: The sports fan president is notoriously loyal to his Chicago teams. But since entering the White House in 2009, Mr. Obama has brought in champions from every level and both genders, to a degree far surpassing any of his predecessors.

MARK KNOLLER, CBS Radio: The president’s personal locker must be filled with team jerseys, caps and balls that have been given to him over the years.

KWAME HOLMAN: Unofficial presidential statistics keeper Mark Knoller of CBS Radio.

MARK KNOLLER: By my count, President Obama has had 53 events honoring different sports teams, professional, college, basketball, baseball, football, soccer. All of the NCAA champions have been brought in. The president has even honored Little League World Champions here at the White House.

KWAME HOLMAN: Today’s event pushed that total to 54.

MAN: Here is a memento team ball from all the guys.

KWAME HOLMAN: During his eight years as president, George W. Bush held 40 such events.

Despite welcoming the array of champs, Mr. Obama never forgets his personal loyalties. He attended the 2010 opening day for the Washington Nationals, but donned a Chicago White Sox cap to throw out the first pitch, more lob than fastball.

MARK KNOLLER: Even if the team that he is honoring isn’t from Chicago, even if it beat Chicago, President Obama is not shy about mentioning that he wasn’t rooting for the team that won, that he was rooting for his hometown teams.

KWAME HOLMAN: So, at today’s celebration of the Miami Dolphins, the president had to make a painful acknowledgment about his beloved Chicago Bears.

BARACK OBAMA: A couple years ago, I hosted the ’85 Bears out on the South Lawn. They’d also missed their chance to have a White House visit, and that day I called them the greatest team ever.

But, I mean, take it with a grain of salt.


KWAME HOLMAN: Of course American presidents have a long tradition of paying attention to sport.

NewsHour political editor Christina Bellantoni:

CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: George W. Bush was a part owner in the Texas Rangers franchise, so he would often be seen going to the games. He would talk about his love of the game.

But it goes back way beyond that. I mean, Herbert Hoover actually had a medicine ball that he would play out on the White House South Lawn with members of his Cabinet, members of the Supreme Court, and even reporters. It became known as Hoover ball.

JFK was actually a golfer, but one of the reasons why he sort of kept that from the press was because the press had really criticized Eisenhower for doing so much golf during the war.

KWAME HOLMAN: Today’s president celebrates his love of golf. By stat man Knoller’s count, during last week’s vacation on Martha’s Vineyard, Mr. Obama played six rounds of golf in just nine days.