WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama might not be able to grin and (Chicago) Bear it, but he’s throwing a Super Bowl party anyway, his beloved hometown team falling one game short of the title tilt.
Which part of Sunday’s activities might give him the most heartburn? The Bears’ archrivals, the Green Bay Packers, fighting it out with the Pittsburgh Steelers? The Wisconsin sausage in the gift baskets carted in by Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett? The pregame interview with Fox’s Bill O’Reilly?
Fox is televising the game, so Obama is keeping with tradition — he sat down with CBS’ Katie Couric last year and NBC’s Matt Lauer the year before.
It’s certainly not out of love for Fox. White House aides have denounced Fox as a vitriolic mouthpiece for the president’s foes. After some big fights early in the Obama presidency, the relationship with Fox has turned less contentious.
O’Reilly said he believed it "will be the most watched interview of all time."
Despite the sometimes hard feelings, it’s hardly Obama’s first interview with Fox, and not even his first with O’Reilly. The two faced off in September 2008 when he was a candidate.
Still, the live interview Sunday afternoon fit neatly into Obama’s theme for this year’s bash: above the fray — albeit somewhat resigned — and good fellowship. It follows his appeals to turn down the heat of political rhetoric, first after his November election "shellacking," then after the deadly shootings last month at a Tucson, Ariz., congressional district meeting.
Hence the White House guest list — about 100 people, lawmakers and officials from both parties, and some glitz: Pennsylvania Sens. Robert Casey, a Democrat, and Pat Toomey, a Republican; Wisconsin Rep. Reid Ribble, a Republican who represents Green Bay; Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, one of two Republicans in the Obama Cabinet; and singers Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez, the husband-wife part-owners of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins.
With the Bears on the sidelines, losers to the Packers in the NFC championship game, Obama has pronounced himself neutral — unlike last year, when he was "pretty sympathetic" to the New Orleans Saints, or the previous year when he rooted for the Steelers.
His neutrality is born of a die-hard fan’s pain.
Three days after the Bears’ season ended, Obama flew into Green Bay for a political speech and was promptly handed a Packers jersey and obliged to pose for pictures. He accused his hosts of "rubbing it in."
Later, during a factory tour, while saluting the long Packers-Bears rivalry and wishing the Packers good luck, he couldn’t help adding, "We will get you next year."
Then, this past week, Obama showed his AFC side — and stressed his Steelers credentials — during a speech at Penn State. Noting he named team owner Dan Rooney as U.S. ambassador to Ireland, the president said he’s "got some love for the Steelers," too.
No sitting president has ever been to a Super Bowl. Obama said he’d like to go — if the Bears were in it.
But given the mass viewership and the hoopla surrounding the game, recent presidents have developed a not-very-surprising need to see and be seen on the big day.
President Jimmy Carter famously made a $5 bet with his mother, Miss Lillian, on the outcome of the 1979 Super Bowl — and lost, when the Steelers beat the Dallas Cowboys.
In 1985, just hours after being sworn in for his second term, President Ronald Reagan, who portrayed a football player in the movies (1940’s "Knute Rockne All American"), tossed the coin for the Super Bowl in a live White House hookup to the game in Stanford, Calif.
In 1998, President Bill Clinton managed to host a Super Bowl viewing party at the depths of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Afterward, a spokesman said Clinton was "amazingly upbeat."
Even President George W. Bush, whose true passion was baseball (he was a former co-owner of the Texas Rangers), made sure to phone the winning Super Bowl coaches during his two terms, with aides pointing out he sometimes stayed up past his normal bedtime to watch the contest.
Associated Press writers Hope Yen in Washington and Carrie Antlfinger in Milwaukee contributed to this report.