Jill Biden not shy about her ‘Philly girl’ sports fandom

For the first lady, who grew up in the Philly suburbs, her unabashed public expressions of support for the city's pro teams are a rare kind of devotion.

First lady Jill Biden talks with Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce

First lady Jill Biden talks with Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce (62) before the coin toss before an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys, Oct. 16, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Rich Schultz, File)

Jill Biden won’t let even a White House gala get between her and the Philadelphia Eagles.

After a late night entertaining governors with President Joe Biden at a black-tie dinner on Saturday, the first lady was heading for the Super Bowl in Arizona on Sunday with hopes of watching “the Birds” defeat the Kansas City Chiefs and claim the NFL title.

First ladies have been involved with sports in a variety of ways over the years, from throwing out the first pitch at baseball games to representing the United States at the Olympics. But Jill Biden’s unabashed public expressions of support for Philadelphia’s teams — she grew up in suburban Willow Grove — are a rare kind of devotion.

“The first lady is a proud Philly girl and devoted sports fan, and is excited to cheer on her hometown team for the Super Bowl,” said her spokesperson, Vanessa Valdivia.

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At a time when national politicians often avoid taking sides in sports contests, Jill Biden, a community college professor, wears her Eagles and Phillies garb in public and tweets photos of herself watching games in the private cabin on a government plane.

She and her grandson, Hunter, were at the stadium in Philadelphia on Jan. 29 when the Eagles won the NFC championship. The 16-year-old will join her again on Sunday.

“I’m going. I’ll wave to you at the game,” the first lady was overheard telling two girls about the Super Bowl when she visited California last weekend.

No sitting president has attended a Super Bowl, mainly because of the strict security requirements authorities would need to impose upon the tens of thousands of fans. President Biden will be at the White House on Sunday.

Boston University communications professor Tammy Vigil said first ladies usually aren’t seen as overt sports fans because many of them have not been, even though they often participate in the ceremonial aspects of some sports. Timing could also be a factor for Jill Biden, she said.

“Her teams happen to be very successful at the time she occupies the White House,” Vigil, author of ”Melanie and Michelle,” a book about first ladies, said in an email.

Biden also uses her interest in sports to highlight one of the causes she promotes as first lady: cancer awareness. She has appeared at Eagles and Phillies home games, including the World Series, in recent months to cheer patients and boost league efforts at promoting early detection.

There is a long history of first ladies and their involvement with sports, especially baseball, according to the National First Ladies’ Library. And for some, their interest continued, or even deepened, after they left the White House.

Grace Coolidge enjoyed baseball more than President Calvin Coolidge did. “He did not share my enthusiasm for baseball,” she once said. Within months of becoming first lady, she appeared at a game for the first time, bringing the president to a World Series game between the New York Giants and Washington Senators in 1924.

After leaving the White House, Grace Coolidge became a regular at Boston’s Fenway Park, rooting for the Red Sox from a reserved seat just above their dugout.

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Bess Truman joined President Harry Truman for opening day of Washington Senators’ games, but also went alone or with her daughter and friends. When the Trumans returned to Missouri after his presidency, she split her loyalties between the Kansas City Athletics (and later, the Kansas City Royals) and the St. Louis Cardinals.

Pat Nixon was the first first lady to throw out the ceremonial first pitch for a major league team, doing so at the second game of the 1971 World Series in Baltimore. For a time, she would watch one football game during the weekend.

“However at one time, I followed teams and then, of course, I wouldn’t miss a game,” Nixon said in a 1971 television interview.

Nancy Reagan threw out the first pitch before the first game of the 1988 World Series, using the opportunity to promote one of her causes, the “Just Say No” anti-drug program.

Barbara Bush became the first first lady to throw the ceremonial pitch for a Texas Rangers game in May 1989. She later would attend Rangers games after her son, future President George W. Bush, became a managing general partner of the team.

Hillary Clinton tossed the ceremonial first pitch for the Chicago Cubs, her hometown team, at Wrigley Field in April 1994. But years later, when she ran for a Senate seat from New York, she split her loyalties and adopted the Yankees.

Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, then second lady of the United States, made a joint appearance at the 2009 World Series at Yankee Stadium for their Joining Forces military initiative. In 2010, Mrs. Obama threw the first pitch at an Orioles game in Baltimore.

While President Biden has opened the White House to celebrate Olympians and championship sports teams, including ones that turned down invitations from his predecessor, Biden has not yet attended a sporting event, including the annual Army-Navy football game.

That leaves his wife to assume the role of White House sports ambassador. She led the U.S. delegation to the delayed Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2021, and she and Doug Emhoff, the vice president’s husband, sipped beer in the stands at Minute Maid Park after they participated in a COVID-19 vaccination clinic sponsored by the Houston Astros.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said he’s happy that so many Philadelphia fans, including the first lady, will fill State Farm Stadium in Arizona with Eagles chants on Sunday.

“We’re very proud that she’s part of our diverse, passionate Eagles fan base,” Kenney said in a statement.

President Biden says he’s a Philadelphia sports fan, too, out of necessity, and often jokes that “I’d be sleeping alone” otherwise.

But in a 2011 interview with a Wisconsin radio station when he was vice president, Biden swore allegiance to the Green Bay Packers.

Biden told WTMJ that the Norbertines, the order of priests at the Catholic school he attended in Claymont, Delaware, had their abbey house in De Pere, Wisconsin. On Sundays when the Packers won, the headmaster, Father Justin E. Diny, would announce that last period had been canceled.

“He made every one of us Packers fans, so I have a sentimental place,” Biden said. “Besides, I’m fearful I’ll go to hell if I don’t root for the Packers. Father Diny may come back. I can’t go against Father Diny. He’ll come out of his grave if he knew I was rooting for anybody else.”

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