Looking sharp in a sport coat and tie, Richard M. Nixon settled into his seat at the glass-enclosed NJ Sports & Exposition Authority (NJSEA) box at Giants Stadium 30 years ago this month. Governor Tom Kean began inviting the former President to the Giants games shortly after Nixon moved to Saddle River with his wife, Pat.“Nixon loved football,” says Kean of his fellow Republican.
At 74, Nixon had shed the morose TV persona he displayed during the Watergate Scandal and his 1974 resignation. A pair of private security guards standing quietly by the buffet table in the box reflected Nixon’s decision to shed his Secret Service protection in 1985.
Nixon was welcoming on December 19, 1987, when state Senate president John Russo and a group of fellow Democrats approached the former President during the game against the Green Bay Packers. Kean, a master of bipartisanship, often sat with Democrats in the adjacent box. Mixing football and politics “got a lot done for the people of New Jersey,” says Kean. Nixon took a special interest in Marlene Lynch Ford, a Democrat who had just lost a state Assembly election in Republican Ocean County.
Nixon drew a laugh when he turned to Ford and said, “Marlene, I followed that Assembly race. I think they [the Republicans] stole that election from you.”
Thirty years later, Ford, now the assignment judge of the Superior Court for Ocean County, remains unconvinced Nixon was joking. “He knew an awful lot about New Jersey politics,” she says.
Marilyn Lennon, an environmental land-use planner, still cherishes the autograph Nixon gave her and the gin and tonics they shared after she complimented him on his environmental record.
Caryl Singer, Russo’s daughter, says her father, who died in August, never thought much of Nixon before they met at the game. “After that,” she says, “he never failed to say how warm and personable Nixon was.”
Lew Thurston, a former NJSEA administrator, remembers Nixon leaping to his feet and performing the wave—solo. “When he jumped up with his arms raised, he cut the classic Nixon pose—and he did it all by himself.”
Oddly, no one is known to have taken Nixon’s picture at that pre-social media encounter, when the Giants’ 20-10 victory became an aside.Click here to leave a comment