In 2009, the Pittsburgh Steelers made it to the Superbowl, with the Arizona Cardinals, and President Obama made no secret of his pick. “I have to say, you know, I wish the Cardinals the best,” he said. “Kurt Warner is a great story and he’s closer to my age than anybody else on the field, but I am a long-time Steelers fan. Mr. Rooney, the owner, was just an extraordinary supporter during the course of the campaign.” Even Steeler Coach Mike Tomlin had supported Obama in the campaign, Obama noted. His allegiances were not in doubt.
But this time around, with the Steelers back in the big game, Obama is taking a pass. “Now that the Bears have lost, I have got to stay neutral,” he said, in a recent interview with YouTube. “May the best team win.” Even the gameday White House menu is neutral. According to the pool report, Obama will be serving, “Hinterland Pale Ale & Amber Ale (Wisconsin), Yuengling Lager and Light (Pennsylvania).” Why the change? In the interview, Obama mentioned taking heat from Packer Charles Woodson for supporting the Chicago Bears, the Packers’ longtime rival. But there just might be another reason.
Unlike in 2009, we now find ourselves in a presidential election cycle, and Wisconsin, where Obama won by about 12 points in 2008, might not be a sure bet this time around. Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold lost his seat last fall in the statewide midterms, which also elected a Republican Governor, a Republican Attorney General and an Republican Treasurer. (An independent won Secretary of State.) A December poll of Wisconsin voters found that Obama led a hypothetical 2012 matchup against Mitt Romney by just four points, 46 to 42. The president’s approval rating was at 47, having rebounded from a dismal 37 percent a few months earlier.
So Pittsburgh fans have good reason to wonder if Obama really is neutral or if he is just hiding his hopes for another Steeler victory. Or maybe Obama’s affection for Rooney, as testified to in the following ESPN clip, has just begun to wane.