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They Got Game. It just May Be the Wrong Game.

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  • They Got Game. It just May Be the Wrong Game.

    Courtesy New York Times via

    Darryl Heikes/Bettmann -- Corbis
    WATCH THAT LINE Richard Nixon was not very good at sports, but he was an avid bowler. He would sometimes steal away at night to play alone in the basement of the White House. But score this delivery an “F.” His left foot crossed the foul line.

    Published: April 6, 2008

    Is it even possible for a grown man to bowl a 37?

    Granted, Senator Barack Obama rolled only seven frames at the Pleasant Valley Lanes in Altoona, Pa., the other night. But his ludicrously low 37 will hardly score him points with the blue-collar voters he was trying to impress.

    It was the first time Mr. Obama had stepped into a bowling alley since the late 1970s, a fact that became obvious in the first frame. After throwing an initial gutter ball, and then knocking down just four pins with his second ball, Mr. Obama couldn’t help sheepishly declaring, “My economic plan is better than my bowling.”

    “It has to be!” a man yelled.

    A left-hander, Mr. Obama failed to bowl a single strike; several lanes away, a man wearing a T-shirt that said “Beer Hunter” fell on his backside as he bowled and still managed to throw a strike.

    Like presidents and would-be presidents who have come before, Mr. Obama had sought to assure voters he was just like them by attempting to play a game. Beginning with William Howard Taft, who was a comically bad golfer, and continuing through George W. Bush, who bruised his face after falling off his mountain bike, presidents and candidates have risked all self-respect in the relentless pursuit of sport. Along the way, they usually reveal something about their character.

    Lyndon B. Johnson tried golf, reluctantly, after an aide persuaded him that he could use the links as a place to buttonhole recalcitrant senators. L.B.J. said, “One lesson you’d better learn if you want to be in politics is that you never get out on a golf course and beat the president.” Heeding that advice was nearly impossible, however, because L.B.J. routinely blasted 300 shots per round.

    Jimmy Carter went fishing one evening in 1979. The Associated Press told it this way: “A ‘killer rabbit’ attacked President Carter on a recent trip to Plains, Ga., penetrating Secret Service security and forcing the chief executive to beat back the beast with a canoe paddle. The rabbit, which the president later guessed was fleeing in panic from some predator, actually swam toward a canoe from which Carter was fishing in a pond. It was hissing menacingly, its teeth flashing and nostrils flared, and making straight for the president.”

    Mr. Carter escaped uninjured, but the same could not be said for his reputation. Two months after surviving the killer rabbit, the president made what came to be known as his “malaise speech,” in which he spoke about Americans’ “crisis of confidence.” A connection between those two events was never proved.

    During his first term, Bill Clinton consulted a poll to decide on a vacation spot acceptable to voters. Mr. Clinton preferred to go on a golf getaway, but the survey found that voters preferred their president to hike in the mountains. So, dutifully but grimly, he trekked to Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park, where he spent a full day going through the tent-pitching and trail-hiking motions. He was not a natural.
    The 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, Senator John Kerry, was photographed, infamously, windsurfing. Although Kerry the Windsurfer was fodder for comedians who said his weekend pursuit smacked of elitism, he’s pretty good.

    Like Mr. Kerry, Mr. Obama is a fine athlete; he’s a devoted treadmill runner and a talented basketball player (who defeated a Sports Illustrated writer in two pick-up games in Iowa in December). That low bowling score was perhaps less damaging to his sports credibility in games-mad Pennsylvania than the fact that he bowled in a necktie.

    The uptight image evoked memories of Richard Nixon’s late-night, all-alone bowling sessions in the White House basement. Nixon, who also wore a tie on the lanes, was as awkward bowling, fishing and golfing as he was working a rope line. When Nixon was president, this joke made the rounds in Washington:

    “I shot a 128 today,” Nixon announces.

    “Your golf game is getting better,” Henry Kissinger tells him.

    “I was bowling, Henry.”

    High Series: 806
    High Games: 300 (3), 299 (2), 11 in a row

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    Lambda: James D. Smith

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  • #2
    Hello, guys! I am a kind of bowling addicted and I thought I knew everything about this game. But I was surprised to read that Obama is als a bowling player!
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