Wednesday, August 29, 2012

From Gridiron Player to the Grand Old Party

Now that the Republican National Convention is in full swing, we're going to venture where few sports blogs dare to tread:  politics.  In honor of the GOP’s time in the spotlight this week, we’re taking a look at some former NFL stars who entered the political world upon retirement, as members of the Republican party (and yes, we’ll look at the Democrats during the DNC's convention next month). 

Athletes who become politicians aren’t that unusual:  many who became successful on the field have been able to parlay their popularity into a run at public office.  Many politicians excelled in sports in college, and two Republican presidents played football in their collegiate careers:  Dwight D. Eisenhower, who played running back and linebacker at West Point; and, more famously, Gerald Ford (above), who was a center and linebacker at the University of Michigan, where his #48 jersey was retired in 1994.

Below are about half of the NFL stars who served in public office as Republicans—the rest will be revealed tomorrow. 


Peter Boulware attended Florida State University, where he earned All-American honors as a linebacker.  He was drafted fourth overall in the 1997 draft by the Baltimore Ravens, whom he played for his entire nine-year career.  He earned many accolades during his time in the NFL, starting with NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year; he was selected to the Pro Bowl four times, was the AFC sack leader in 2001, and was enshrined into the Baltimore Ravens Ring of Honor in 2006.

Boulware returned to Florida after retiring and is vice president of a Toyota dealership in Tallahassee.  In September 2007, he announced his candidacy for the Florida state house; he won the Republican primary in August 2008.  In the November election, he narrowly lost the election to Democrat Michelle Rehwinkle Vasilinda—by 430 votes.  After the election, however, Governor Charlie Crist appointed Peter to the Florida Board of Education; his term expired December 31, 2009. Here was a campaign ad of Boulware's:



Of all the players-turned-politicians, Jack Kemp’s careers in football and politics are certainly the most varied and prolific.  Kemp attended Occidental College (where he played at several positions before settling in at quarterback) and was drafted by the Detroit Lions in the 1957 draft; he was cut by the Lions soon after, though, and was picked up by the Pittsburgh Steelers.  He spent the next few years being bounced around from team to team—from the Steelers to the 49ers, to the Giants, to the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League, then to the L.A. (later San Diego) Chargers.   

While with the Chargers, he finally gained some footing as a starting quarterback—he led the Chargers to the 1960 and 1961 AFL Championship Games.  Ironically, a football injury (to his shoulder) kept him out of the Army when his reserve unit was activated after the erection of the Berlin Wall in 1961.  Kemp’s Chargers roommate, Ron Mix, would later recall that Kemp would need several shots of painkillers before each game, commenting:  “it sounds weird, but he could play football and not be fit to serve in the Army.”  A knee problem would later exempt Jack from service in Vietnam.

In 1962, Kemp was picked up by the Buffalo Bills when the Chargers placed him on waivers when he broke the middle finger of his throwing hand.  He would stay with the Bills until his retirement in 1969, and would lead them to the playoffs in four consecutive seasons, including two straight AFL Championships.  He held AFL records in several categories, including pass attempts, completions and yards gained.  His #15 jersey was retired by the Bills in 1984.

Jack Kemp’s political career began even while he was still playing football:  he volunteered for Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign, Ronald Reagan’s 1966 campaign for Governor of California, and he served on Reagan’s staff during the 1967 offseason.  He threw his own hat into the ring in 1970, when he won election to the U.S. House of Representatives.  He represented suburban Buffalo from 1971 to 1989, after he lost his bid to become the Republican presidential nominee.  After George Bush became President, he nominated Kemp to be Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, a post he held throughout Bush’s first term.  In 1996, rose to his highest balloting ticket, as Vice Presidential running mate to Presidential candidate Bob Dole.  He passed away May 2, 2009, dying of cancer at age 73.


Jon Runyan was born and raised in Flint, Michigan and played football at the University of Michigan, where he earned an All-Big Ten Conference selection as an offensive tackle.  Selected by the Houston Oilers in the fourth round of the 1996 draft, Jon became a starter in only the sixth game of his rookie season. He stayed with the team when it moved to Tennessee and when he left the team in 1999, he was the last active player to have played for the Houston Oilers. 

He joined the Philadelphia Eagles in 2000 and that was where he stayed for the most of the rest of his career (he joined the San Diego Chargers in 2009, his last season).  Runyan earned a reputation as a “dirty” player and his big hits on defenders became something to be feared.  Runyan also earned one Pro Bowl selection and was named to the Philadelphia Eagles 75th Anniversary Team.  Before a knee injury toward the end of his career, Runyan was the model of consistency and held a streak of 190 consecutive regular season starts.

Runyan wasted no time resting on his laurels after retiring in 2009.  In 2010, he beat Democratic incumbent John Adler to represent New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.  He serves on the Armed Services Committee, Committee on Veterans Affairs and Committee on Natural Resources.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Have a question you want answered, a correction or a comment?