Best NFL Franchise of Each U.S. Presidential Administration

US President George W. Bush participates in a photo opportunity 02 April, 2002 with the 2002 National Football League Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots in the Rose Garden of The White House in Washington, DC. (LUKE FRAZZA/AFP via Getty Images)
(Luke Frazza/AFP via Getty Images)

Eighty-seven different franchises have played at least one season in the NFL since the league was founded as the American Professional Football Association (AFPA) in 1920. As the league transformed from an unknown regional operation with 14 teams paying a $100 annual league fee into a multibillion-dollar behemoth, there have been 18 different Presidents of the United States 

Which of those 87 franchises were the best during each of the 18 presidential administrations? Which franchises dominated eras by winning Super Bowls, sitting atop NFL betting odds, and building dynasties during a two-team administration?

For simplicity’s sake, all results of each season are attributed to the presidency that encompassed the majority of the season. For example, John F. Kennedy was assassinated prior to Week 11 of the 1963 season but all 1963 results, including the Chicago Bears’ win over the New York Giants in the NFL Championship Game on Dec. 29, 1963, are attributed to Kennedy, not his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson.

Woodrow Wilson

Best Franchise: Akron Pros

Long before online sports betting began sweeping the nation, Woodrow Wilson was in office during the NFL’s inaugural season in 1920, his final full calendar year as President.

Of the 14 teams who played in 1920, only two remain in the league, the Chicago Cardinals (now the Arizona Cardinals) and Decatur Staleys (now the Chicago Bears) The Cardinals and Bears combined for a 16-3-4 record but neither were champions, as voted by the league since a playoff system didn’t exist until 1932. The Akron Pros were awarded the championship as the only undefeated team (8-0-3). The Pros played five more seasons and disbanded after the 1926 season.

Warren G. Harding

Best Franchise: Canton Bulldogs

Two months before the 1923 NFL season began, Warren G. Harding died of cardiac arrest. He was president for only 881 days, fourth-fewest ever, and two NFL seasons.

The Chicago Staleys and Canton Bulldogs split the two championships during the Harding Administration, going 9-1-1 and 10-0-2 in 1921 and 1922, respectively. The Staleys (after a name change to the Bears) were better during the Bulldogs’ championship season than the Bulldogs were during the Staleys’ championship season. However, the 1922 Canton Bulldogs were one of the most dominant teams of the era, posting four straight shutouts to open the season and allowed just 15 points in 12 games

Calvin Coolidge

Best Franchise: Chicago Bears

After league membership dropped in 1922 for the first time (21 teams in 1921 to 18 teams in 1922), a league-high 22 teams played in the 1923 season, Calvin Coolidge’s first as President after serving as Vice President during the previous two NFL seasons.

Six different teams won a championship in the six years Coolidge occupied the White House. The Chicago Bears aren’t among those teams but they had the most sustained success over that time, going 52-17-14 and earning three runner-up distinctions, including in 1926 when they went 12-1-3 but finished second to the Yellow Jackets in voting.

The 1923 Canton Bulldogs had arguably the best team of the Coolidge Administration but they won five combined games in 1925 and 1926 before disbanding.

Herbert Hoover

Best Franchise: Green Bay Packers

The Packers won at least 10 games in each of the four seasons while Herbert Hoover was President, including 12-win seasons in 1929 and 1932, which stood as the franchise’s single-season win records until 1962. 

They were named champions in 1929, 1930, and 1931, and runner-up to the Bears in 1932 after a loss to the Bears in the regular-season finale. 

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Best Franchise: Chicago Bears

Nine months into FDR’s first year as President, the Chicago Bears defeated the New York Giants at Wrigley Field in the first NFL Championship. The Giants returned the favor at the Polo Grounds a year later in the second of their three straight championship appearances and seven total during FDR’s 12 years in office.

The Giants won only two of those seven championships, beating the Bears in 1934 and Packers in 1938. The Bears, meanwhile, won three championships (and appeared in a fourth championship in 1942, below) in FDR’s first 11 years, 

Head coach Ray Flaherty sits among his Washington Redskins players, including Hall of Fame quarterback Sammy Baugh (33) after their 14-6 win over the Chicago Bears in the 1942 NFL Championship Game on December 13, 1942 at Griffith Stadium in Washington, DC. (Photo by Nate Fine/Getty Images) 

Harry S. Truman

Best Franchise: Philadelphia Eagles

The Cleveland Browns, after arriving from the short-lived All-American Football Conference, went 29-7 with one NFL championship and two more championship appearances from 1950-52. If Harry Truman entered office in 1950, the Browns would’ve owned the league during his administration. Truman didn’t enter office in 1950; he entered five years earlier when the Cleveland Rams won a championship before leaving for Los Angeles.

The Rams had a nice run while Truman was President but the Philadelphia Eagles were the only team with multiple championships and had three straight championship appearances from 1947-49.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Best Franchise: Cleveland Browns

The Baltimore Colts won back-to-back championships in 1958-59 but waded between misery and mediocrity for the first five years of their existence from 1953-57. During that period, the Cleveland Browns waded between NFL champions and NFL runner-ups. They had four championship appearances during Eisenhower’s first five years as President, including back-to-back wins in 1954-55.

Even with a five-win 1956, the Browns had the most wins (67) and best scoring margin (plus 864 points) from 1953-60.

John F. Kennedy

Best Franchise: Green Bay Packers

Even with their 1963 championship weeks after JFK’s death, the Chicago Bears weren’t close to being the best franchise from 1961-63. The Packers dominated the early 1960s, winning a league-high 35 games over those three years, including 13 in 1962 in outscoring opponents by an average of 19 points per game.

Lyndon B. Johnson

Best Franchise: Green Bay Packers

Lyndon B. Johnson was President for more than five full years but with all 1963 results attributed to JFK, he was president for only five NFL seasons, 1964-68.

The Packers were mediocre in 1964 and 1968 but dominated from 1965-67, winning 31 games and three championships, including the first two Super Bowls. The Browns also had three championship appearances but won only one

Richard Nixon

Best Franchise: Miami Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins won three games in Richard Nixon’s first year, 1969, and were one of the worst teams in the NFL during LBJ’s final three years. Despite the slow start, the Dolphins had the third-most wins during Nixon’s four years and won two of the five Super Bowls.

The Dolphins were one of four teams to make the playoff at least four teams from 1969-73 and the only team to win eight playoff games. And the 1972 team remains the only NFL team to go undefeated.

Gerald Ford

Best Franchise: Pittsburgh Steelers

(Photo by Clifton Boutelle/Getty Images)

One of four Presidents who was never elected (and the first since the NFL was established) and the only President who Gerald Ford was in office for three NFL seasons, 1974-77. Ford was sworn in 39 years after rejecting offers from the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers, who courted Ford following his standout football career at Michigan.

The Oakland Raiders won the most games during the Nixon Administration (47) and won Super XI in January 1977 but didn’t have the most playoff wins, Super Bowl appearances, or Super Bowl wins. The Steelers went 41-14-1 from 1974-77, including a then-franchise record 12 wins in 1975, and won back-to-back Super Bowls in 1974 and 1975.

Jimmy Carter

Best Franchise: Pittsburgh Steelers

None of the first 59 NFL champions visited the White House. That changed in 1980 when Jimmy Carter invited the Pittsburgh Steelers, winners of Super XIV, to the White House. 

The Steelers had 44 regular-season wins during Carter’s four years, including (another) franchise-record 14 wins in 1978. They missed the playoffs in 1980, ending an eight-year playoff streak, and had fewer playoff wins than the Dallas Cowboys from 1977-80. However, the Steelers went 6-1 in their three playoff appearances and won two Super Bowls.

Ronald Reagan

Best Franchise: San Francisco 49ers

The first President to serve two full terms since Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan served during the San Francisco 49ers’ dominant run in the 1980s. The Niners led the NFL in regular-season wins (84), playoff appearances (seven), and total wins (94), and won three Super Bowls from 1981-88.

Reagan flipped the coin at Super Bowl XIX in his longtime home state of California, after which the 49ers capped a 15-1 season with their second championship in four years.

George H.W. Bush

Best Franchise: San Francisco 49ers

The Buffalo Bills appeared in three of the four Super Bowls from 1989-92 and were the only team to reach the playoffs in all four years of George Bush’s presidency. That’s good enough to compete with the Washington Redskins as the second-best team over that time.

San Francisco’s run continued with 52 regular-season wins, three division titles, three 14-win seasons, five playoff wins, one Super Bowl while Bush was in office. 

Bill Clinton

Best Franchise: Denver Broncos

(Photo by Joyce Naltchayan/AFP via Getty Images)

During the eight-year Clinton Administration, six different teams won a Super Bowl, 14 different teams won at least three playoff games, and four teams averaged at least 10 regular-season wins. 

Two of the Super Bowl-winning teams finished well below .500 from 1993-2000 (Baltimore Ravens and St. Louis Rams), and one of the four teams to average 10 wins didn’t appear in a Super Bowl, let alone win one (Minnesota Vikings). The San Francisco 49ers ranked second in regular-season wins and won a Super Bowl but had fewer regular-season wins and Super Bowl appearances than the Green Bay Packers, who led all teams with 83 regular-season wins and nine playoff wins.

The Denver Broncos had fewer regular-season wins, playoff wins, and playoff appearances than the Packers but they won two Super Bowls, including a win over the Packers in Super Bowl XXXII.

George W. Bush

Best Franchise: New England Patriots

The New England Patriots’ dynasty began in George W. Bush’s first year of his first term when they finished the season with nine straight wins, including an upset of the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI. 

It was the first of three Super Bowls (and four appearances) for the Patriots in Bush’s eight years. The Pittsburgh Steelers were the only other team to win multiple championships over that time, though the Steelers had 12 fewer regular-season wins, four fewer playoff wins, and two fewer Super Bowl appearances. 

Barack Obama

Best Franchise: New England Patriots

The 2010 Packers won three straight road playoff games, the 2013 Seahawks are one of the best teams in NFL history, and the New York Giants won 80 percent of their playoff games from 2009-16. 

None of those three franchises sniff the Patriots’ run during the Barack Obama presidency. Most regular-season wins, most playoff appearances, most playoff wins, most Super Bowl appearances, and most Super Bowl wins. 

Donald Trump

Best Franchise: New England Patriots

Entering Week 17 of the 2020 season, the New England Patriots hold a narrow lead over the Kansas City Chiefs as the best franchise over the last four years. That lead will evaporate if the Chiefs reach a second straight Super Bowl, regardless if they win.

Entering 2019, the Patriots and New Orleans Saints were tied for the most regular-season wins (36) during the Trump Administration, but the Saints had only two playoff wins and zero Super Bowl appearances over those three years. The Chiefs were the only other team to make the playoffs each year from 2017-19 and, entering Week 17, have already passed both teams for most wins.

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Andrew Doughty is a writer for BetMGM and host of High Motor, a college football podcast available on Apple Podcasts and everywhere else. He has written for Sports Illustrated, HERO Sports, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. Follow him on Twitter: @adoughty88.

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