Sports Journalism Blog

I knew we were in trouble when the dogs showed up.

Several hours before Game 7 of the 1979 World Series, Pirates vs. Orioles at the old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, the word began to spread that President Jimmy Carter was planning to attend the game. The press box was filled with reporters doing early edition stories and sidebars, that is, until the dogs arrived, and we were all given a message: Everybody out.

Press box occupants can be a rambunctious bunch, especially when the stress level is turned up and deadlines are approaching. But the dogs meant business, and their handlers did, too, and I don’t remember complaints elevating beyond the teeth-gnashing stage.

There are times when the appearance of a President is inspirational, such as it was on October 30, 2001 when George W. Bush threw a strike at Yankee Stadium while wearing a flak jacket before Game 3 of the World Series, the first in New York after the terrorist attacks. There are times when the appearance is emotional, as it was in 1994 when Bill Clinton watched his Arkansas Razorbacks win their first NCAA basketball championship.

But more than anything else, the appearance creates instant logistical complications, as we expect to see Monday evening when Donald Trump attends the College Football Playoff National Championship in Atlanta.

“We’re happy to have the President of the United States at the CFP championship game,” Bill Hancock, executive director of the College Football Playoff, said Friday afternoon.

Not long after Playoff officials were notified by staffers at Mercedes-Benz Stadium that the President planned to attend, the political speculation began. Is this appearance an opportunity for Trump to take 280-character shots at the National Football League, a favorite target, by spreading digital praise for athletes who are playing, in his judgment, for the love of the game? Is it a chance for him to engage with his political base? It is more than a coincidence that both teams wear red.

Perhaps it was coincidental, but when players and coaches were asked at Media Day, they repeated what might have been a party line. After a pause, Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts offered some enthusiasm. “That’s cool,” he said. “That doesn’t change what I have to do to win the game.”

Hancock said he could not discuss specific security measures, but he expects street closures beyond the original plans and potential alterations of entrances. “We’re telling fans to go downtown early, get to the stadium early and go inside early,” he said.

Early could become tricky if long lines of fans are forced to line up on a rainy evening. But things could get really complicated in the early-morning hours of Tuesday, soon after a champion is crowned, if the President decides he wants to visit a giddy, chaotic and packed dressing room to extend his congratulations in person.

When the California Angels were playing in what was then called Anaheim Stadium, reporters hurrying to get to the clubhouses at the end of a game suddenly discovered that the route had become blocked. An Angels fan named Nixon had become the priority, and we had to wait in a hallway until the former President completed his elevator ride and was safely on his way.

At that moment, as a deadline approached and the seconds ticked away, I remember thinking the Watergate scandal had just become a distant second on my list of complaints.

By Malcolm Moran | @malcolm_moran