44 Presidents, 44 Super Bowls

Last February, when the New Orleans Saints played the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV, the number of the Super Bowls became equal to the number of the President (Obama also is 44th) for the first time ever. It began an historic era of confluence between pro football and the Presidents, a monumental time for people like me who grew up learning that the Presidency and the Super Bowl are pretty much the pinnacle of American achievement.

I’m not sure the lesson is being taught quite that way these days, but as far as I’m concerned, every American should learn as much as possible about our past Presidents and our past Super Bowls. That’s why I decided to write a book titled America Bowl, explaining the coolest things you can know about the 44 U.S. Presidents and the 44 Super Bowl games.

America Bowl is set up as a game itself – political football, you might say. In each chapter, a President is matched against his same-numbered Super Bowl – and as author I decide which one is “better” and award one point.

For example: in Chapter 3, it’s Thomas Jefferson versus Super Bowl III, that awesome game in 1969 when Joe Namath led his Jets to a stunning upset win over the Colts. It was the upstart AFL’s first Super Bowl victory and the first really classic Super Bowl. But Jefferson has endured for centuries as one of the most outstanding Presidents ever. Historians could have a terrific debate about whether Super Bowl III or Jefferson was better. In the book, I give victory to Jefferson – score one point for the Presidents! I won’t spoil America Bowl by revealing which side wins it all, but as we head toward “halftime” for Obama’s (first?) term in office – outside of football they call it midterm – it’s time for an exclusive update for Constitution Daily readers.

Historians could have a terrific debate about whether Super Bowl III or Jefferson was better

At the time of Super Bowl 44 last year, Obama had only finished his first quarter, so there was some question about how his match-up would even work. Would it be fairer to compare him to just the first quarter of Super Bowl 44, or to the whole game? I decided to compare him to the whole game. That’s what a Super Bowl is: four quarters of football. If you’d judged Super Bowl XLIV by its first quarter, after all, it would have been premature: the Colts, not the Saints, won the quarter, 10-0. The Saints couldn’t get a thing done against an unbending Indianapolis defense, and the game didn’t seem exciting or surprising at all.

In the second quarter, the Saints began to make some progress. They ran 26 offensive plays, compared to 6 for the Colts. They couldn’t reach the end zone yet, but their kicker Garrett Hartley drilled two field goals, and the New Orleans D held the Colts scoreless to make it 10-6 at the half. After that, the rest is Super Bowl history: the Saints busted out of halftime by recovering a bold onside kick. Six plays later, QB Drew Brees hit RB Pierre Thomas with a pass at the Colts’ 20, and Thomas twisted his way into the end zone to give underdog New Orleans its first lead.

The line score shows how the Saints came back from an unpromising start to turn it around completely:

Team 1 2 3 4 FINAL
Colts 10 0 7 0 17
Saints 0 6 10 15 31

Obama had a tough first quarter, too, dealing with an economic meltdown and a tough “prevent” defense from an opposition determined to keep him off the scoreboard. But since then, his second quarter has been a little better. Pundits may disagree on whether he’s scored any touchdowns, and he did seem to punt on a few issues, but for his legislative accomplishments in 2010 you probably have to give him credit for two field goals.

America Bowl wasn’t meant to be a forecasting tool. But so far the trajectory of President 44 has tracked with the dramatic flow of Super Bowl 44. That means just one thing to political prognosticators out there and provides something to watch for next: If Obama comes out of his State of the Union address on January 25 and immediately recovers a surprise onside kick, look out for an epic comeback.

Don Steinberg is a Philadelphia-based writer.

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