Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., joked today that he decided to run for vice president when he realized he couldn’t play professional football. But that’s not stopping the senator from making the sport a prominent part of his campaign, as evidenced by his appearance at the Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
"As a kid, you have all kinds of dreams," Biden said. "I dreamed that someday I’d get here to the Hall of Fame, I really did. Like a lot of kids who played ball and thought they were pretty good, I was hoping to be doing this as an inductee."
Referencing relatively diminutive former Philadelphia Eagle Tommy McDonald, Biden said, "I thought, if he can do it, I can do it, you know, and when I realized I couldn’t do it, I decided I might as well run for vice president.
"Football has always been a big part of my life," Biden added, before telling the crowd a story about his debut as a fourth-grade half-back.
Let’s just say it didn’t go well.
"I got just sandwiched and knocked out cold," Biden recalled.
Before the speech, which took place — literally, as Biden would say — on a football field, the senator toured the hall for more than an hour with Joe Horrigan, the vice president for communications for the hall, and Stephen Perry, the president and executive director.
They first entered a room with busts of all the Hall of Famers.
Perry noted that many visitors say it feels like entering a church.
"It sure does," Biden agreed.
One of the busts that caught Biden’s eye?
"Now there’s a guy who ruined his life," Biden said. "But what an athlete."
Biden also looked at a display of players who were Vietnam War veterans.
A touching moment came when Biden saw an exhibit about one of these vets, former Pittsburgh Steeler Robert "Rocky" Bleier.
After the car incident that took the lives of Biden’s wife and daughter in 1972, the Steelers flew Bleier to give a signed football to Biden’s sons Hunter and Beau, who were recovering at the hospital.
Looking up at Bleier’s jersey, Biden appeared to wipe away a tear.
Although Biden said he was a Steelers fan in a meeting with the team’s coach Mike Tomlin on Aug. 29, he later said in a Sept. 8 visit to a Green Bay bar outside of Lambeau Field that he’d been a Packers fan since grade school.
Today, he added three more favorites to the list — the Eagles, the Colts and the Giants.
As he looked at the jersey of former Philadelphia Eagle Reggie White, Horrigan said he had heard Biden was an Eagles fan.
Biden said yes, adding, "I used to be a Colts fan before they moved to Baltimore."
The loquacious Blue Hen said he stayed up late to watch the Monday night football game between the Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys.
"My wife is a die-hard Eagles fan, so we watch every Eagles game," Biden said. "Matter of fact, I was really tired Tuesday morning.
"I got up at five and started my first interviews at 6:40," said Biden, who appeared on four network TV morning shows that day. "So, I said, ‘I’ve got a big day tomorrow,’ I said, ‘I’ve got to go to sleep,’ I got in the room, started searching the channels and they were replaying the Eagles game and I watched the whole damn game, I don’t know what time it was, two o’clock in the morning. I’m bleary-eyed and thinking, ‘Where the heck’s my speech?’"
But Biden then whispered, "I’m not allowed to say this, but I also like the Giants."
Spotting a bust of "Broadway" Joe Namath, Biden recalled, "I lost money on Joe Namath," referring to the Jets upset of the Colts in the 1969 Super Bowl. Biden also watched a video segment on Tommy McDonald, who played wide-receiver, even though he was only 5’9" and 176 pounds.
"This is why I thought I could play in the NFL," he said as he watched McDonald.
The announcer on the video said McDonald was small by NFL standards.
"By any standard," Biden said.
Biden began contemplating the size of current NFL players.
"Seriously, how many guys in the NFL today are over 300 pounds, run the 40 like guys who used to weigh 210 pounds?" Biden asked. "It’s amazing! Jeez! God Almighty."
Biden approached the print pool reporter, Perry Bacon of the Washington Post.
"You look like you played some, man," Biden said.
"No," said Bacon, "I didn’t."
Biden moved closer, tapped Bacon’s upper chest and said, "you need to work on your pecs."
Biden reminisced about old-timers: Larry Csonka, Fran Tarkenton, Mike Ditka, and Gale Sayers, whom Biden recalled as "the most explosive man I ever saw in my life."
Later, in his speech, Biden referenced a speech from Sayers.
"Gale Sayers, he had a quote, he said, ‘No matter how many yards I gain, whether it’s three or 3,000, someone, someone had to make the block.’"
Biden said, "Well, folks, Americans don’t want someone to run the ball for them. They just want their government to occasionally throw a block."
– Jake Tapper and Matt Jaffe