The Pander Bowl

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Pete Souza / The White House

President Barack Obama throws a football on the field at Soldier Field following the NATO working dinner in Chicago, May 20, 2012.

The message arrived with the president’s signature, so you know he really meant it.

NFL fans on both sides of the aisle hope the refs’ lockout is settled soon.-bo,” Barack Obama tweeted Tuesday, the day after a replacement referee botched a game-ending call that handed the Seattle Seahawks a phantom victory over the Green Bay Packers. The next presidential tweet pointed followers to an interview Obama gave last week to a Cleveland radio station, in which he boosted the hometown Browns before raising unbidden the league’s labor dispute. “One thing I got to say, though, is it just me or do we have to get our regular refs back?” Obama said, sounding like a miffed fan calling from his car during drive time. “I can’t get involved with it, but I’m just expressing my point of view as a sports fan.”

For nearly four years, Barack Obama has painstakingly crafted his image as America’s First Sports Fan. He unveils his March Madness bracket on ESPN, cites SportsCenter as his favorite show, sips draft beer in sports bars. In the heat of a presidential election campaign, did you expect Obama to pass up the chance to climb aboard a rare bipartisan bandwagon? The potential political benefits, modest though they may be, certainly aren’t diminished by his opponent’s tendency to call organized recreational activities “sport,” in the manner of a 19th century English aristocrat. The fact that the botched call afflicted the fans of swing-state Wisconsin can’t have hurt either.

Obama is laying it on thick. The President almost never reacts to shouted questions from reporters, but when he heard one utter the word “Packers” Tuesday, he paused to kibbitz with the press pack. “Terrible,” he said. “I’ve been saying for months, we’ve gotta get our refs back.” At the top of his daily gaggle with reporters, Obama Press Secretary Jay Carney kicked off the conversation by announcing his boss’s frustration with last night’s dismal officiating. “I do have to say that there is a pressing matter that kind of transcends all else for most Americans,” Carney said. As “an avid sports fan and an avid football fan,” he added, Obama believes “what happened in that game is a perfect example of why both sides need to come together to resolve their differences so that the regular refs can get back on the field and we can start focusing on a game that so many of us love.” Perhaps Obama has found his post-partisan issue at last.

He’s not the only one, however. In fact, Republicans beat him to the punch. “Did you guys watch that Packer game last night?” Wisconsin’s Paul Ryan asked a Cincinnati town-hall crowd this morning. “I mean, give me a break. It is time to get the real refs. And you know what, it reminds me of President Obama and the economy.” Never mind how.

Fellow Cheesehead Scott Walker, governor of a bruised fan base, got in on the action as well. “After catching a few hours of sleep, the Packers game is still just as painful. #Returntherealrefs,” he tweeted. This inoffensive bit of identity politics spurred the obligatory counter-charge. “Walker’s sudden support of union labor is surprising, given his push for a radical union-busting law that effectively ended collective bargaining for many of Wisconsin’s public employees,” huffed a writer for the liberal website ThinkProgress. (Walker’s spokesman actually felt compelled to shoot down the notion that the tweet meant Walker was softening his stance on unions–public or private).

Even that wasn’t as far-fetched as the idea that a bungled call was the 2012 election’s September surprise — a “crucial, overriding, historic, game-changing, defining-moment issue” for Obama and Mitt Romney alike. But perhaps we should forgive all this hyped-up hand-wringing. It’s 45 days until the election. There are pixels to fill and swing voters to persuade. Let the Pander Bowl go on.