I don’t want to get political here. And I won’t. When I talk to people I agree with, it’s reassuring but kind of wistful. And when I talk to people I disagree with, it goes to places I don’t want to go.
Learned that a long time ago. One of the many reasons I stuck to sports.
But, as we approach a tumultuous Inauguration Day, I am reminded of my one and only working trip to the White House.
Two days before President Reagan left office, I accompanied Notre Dame’s 1988 national championship team to Washington for the traditional Rose Garden ceremony.
Talk about winning one for The Gipper. That was a championship presidential visit.
A little backstory. . . I was around Mr. Reagan twice before that, when I was still a news reporter. Covered his return to Eureka College, where he played football, in Downstate Illinois. Don’t remember much about that except for standing on the tarmac at some little airport waiting for Air Force One. And getting to say, "I’m standing on the tarmac waiting for Air Force One...’’
Every reporter should get to say that once.
And then there was the commencement address Reagan gave at Notre Dame. I spent that day hanging with Pat O’Brien, who had of course played Knute Rockne to Reagan’s George Gipp in Hollywood. O’Brien was a delight, 80-something and doing a nonstop reminisce...About movies in general. About Reagan in particular. I wish I had a video of that.
At least when we look back, the ‘80s were a simpler time.
Hope everyone is safe and well. At least we can agree on that.
And here is the story I wrote for the Chicago Sun-Times. . . Jan. 19, 1988, edition.
WASHINGTON—There was no shortage of blarney - and some moments of genuine affection - when the Gipper of the silver screen saluted the Fighting Irish Wednesday at the White House.
"The INF treaty and George Bush's election were important, but having the Irish win the national championship is in a class by itself," President Reagan, who played George Gipp in "Knute Rockne All-American," told the successors of Rockne and Gipp in a Rose Garden ceremony.
Turning to Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz, Reagan said, "Lou, what you have achieved in only three years is inspiring. Maybe you could coach Congress on the deficit."
To show Notre Dame's appreciation, Notre Dame's president, the Rev. Edward Malloy, presented Reagan with the monogram sweater worn by Gipp, who played at Notre Dame from 1917 until his death in 1920.
"No one could treasure it more than I will," a moved Reagan said in accepting the sweater and a plaque presented by Irish seniors Frank Stams and Wes Pritchett.
Holtz gave Reagan a Notre Dame travel bag - ". . . because we know you're going to be packing." - and a game ball commemorating the Fiesta Bowl in which the Irish won the national championship.
Enjoying his next-to-last full day in office, Reagan sent Chicagoan Tim Grunhard out for a wobbly pass with the souvenir football.
"Right guards stick together," said Reagan, who played right guard, Grunhard's position, at Eureka College.
"There's a fraternity between offensive linemen," Grunhard, from St. Laurence High School, explained, adding, "We'll have to put in a guard- eligible play. I've proved I have the hands."
The importance of the moment was not lost on strong safety George Streeter, who played his way out of Chicago's tough streets at Julian and got to meet the President.
"I hope I've been an example for other inner-city kids that if you work hard, you can follow your dreams," Streeter said. "Before this season, when people asked what the high points of my career were, I had none. Now I've got a few: A national championship and a trip to the White House.
"Even if he wasn't the Gipper, this would still be special because he's the President."
Senior linebacker Ned Bolcar confirmed he will seek another year of eligibility. "I'll be back next year. I wouldn't mind balancing my hands up a bit," said Bolcar, who would like a championship ring adorning each hand.
When it was pointed out to Holtz that it was fortunate his young Irish were a year ahead of schedule, so they could make this visit while the Gipper was still in office, he laughed and said, "Wouldn't it be great to see President Bush here next year?"