As athletic director aboard the USS Monterey during World War
II, Lieut. Comdr. Gerald Ford would have loved to have set up a
football field on board the 622-foot light aircraft carrier.
Ford, a star center at Michigan from 1932 to '34, didn't have
enough room, however, so he settled for converting the forward
elevator into a basketball court. His goal remained the same: to
use sports to keep his shipmates' morale up and their minds off
their uncertain futures.
Almost 60 years later the nation's 38th president has a strong
opinion regarding the temporary shutdown of American sports in
the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. "I think both
amateur and professional sports handled the crisis
appropriately," says Ford, 88. "To have teams continue competing
under that atmosphere would have been a serious mistake."
Indeed, Michigan's Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy might
have had to change its name had the Wolverines dared to play
their scheduled football game against Western Michigan on Sept.
Ford carries so much weight in Ann Arbor that he could probably
stand alongside Wolverines football coach Lloyd Carr on any fall
Saturday and call plays, but he opts to watch on TV. "I don't go
to games anymore," says Ford, a die-hard Michigan fan whose
number 48 jersey was retired in 1994. "People want to shake my
hand, ask me questions, talk to me, so they divert me from what
I want to do, which is watch the game."
Ford, who swims twice a day and plays an occasional round of
golf, suffered a mild stroke in August 2000 at the Republican
National Convention in Philadelphia. His full
schedule--including regular speaking engagements--and
sweets-rich diet were taking their toll. "Eight days in the
hospital gave me a lot of time to think," he says. "I am much
more conscious of what I eat now." Ford has focused his
postrecovery energy on trying to increase stroke awareness
nationwide. He and wife Betty are determined to point out the
importance of heart and stroke research and preventive medicine.
Ford also eased back into politics last January, when he and
former president Jimmy Carter were named honorary co-chairs of
an election-reform committee studying ways to modernize and make
uniform the processes used in federal elections.
Ford hasn't lost his appreciation for athletics and their role
in American society. "Sports are important for our nation's
character," he says. "The unfortunate incidents in New York and
Washington shouldn't change our way of life."
--Tim Alan Smith
COLOR PHOTO: JAMES DRAKE (COVER)
COLOR PHOTO: ALLEN KNOX
"To have teams competing under that atmosphere," he says of the
attacks' aftermath, "would have been a serious mistake."