News & Politics

Time for the NFL Payoffs!


Some folks say that sports and politics don’t mix. That must be why no one remembers that U.S.-U.S.S.R. hockey game in 1980.

Duh! They mix all the time. And so, with Division Playoff weekend looming, it’s time to ask that eternal question: Of the NFL teams still pursuing the Lombardi Trophy, which club’s owners, players, and coaches gave the most in political contributions?

As always, the database at the Federal Elections Commission has all the answers on donations to federal candidates from 1997 on:

The Pittsburgh Steelers were the most generous at $89,430. The vast majority of it came from the Rooney family (the owners), and most of their largesse went to the GOP or a PAC called the North Side Good Government Committee. Two players from the Pittsburgh Steelers are in the books as donors: Linebacker Clark Haggans gave $5,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Back-up quarterback Tommy Maddox gave a grand each to President Bush and the RNC. Across the field from Maddox this weekend will stand Peyton Manning, an opposing quarterback but a political like-mind. Manning wrote a $2,000 contribution to Dubya. Manning’s Indianapolis Colts organization as a whole gave more than $64,000, with the family of owner James Irsay directing most of that coin to the GOP.

In the other AFC match-up, owner Robert Kraft and his right-hand man, son Jonathan, gave most of the $52,000 linked to the New England Patriots. More of the Pats’ bucks went to Democrats. The Denver Broncos—who will host the three-peat seeking Patriots on Saturday night—were a little tighter on their purse-strings, with $46,350 in federal contributions popping up in the database. But the guys on the sidelines did their bit. Coach Mike Shanahan was a supporter of former Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, a Democrat turned Republican. The great John Elway supported a Republican congressman, and long-time kicker Jason Elam backed another. Former Broncos linebacker Bill Romanowski sent $500 to the RNC. Running back Terrel Davis handed off $1,000 to Al Gore back in the day. Fellow Colorado institution Pete Coors received thousands from Broncos people during his failed bid for the Senate.

The NFC has lost four of the past five Super Bowls, and it’s obvious why: Their campaign contributions are dwarfed by those of the rival conference. The wild-card Carolina Panthers gave a relatively modest $36,750, but then they are an expansion team. Owner J.J. Richardson spread his money around both parties. Kicker John Kasay, tight end Kris Mangum, defensive back Mike Minter, and one-time defensive lineman Chris Slade gave to GOP candidates; Julius Peppers on the DL donated to a Democrat. Though located in the nation’s capital, the Washington Redskins are credited with a paltry $15,000. Quarterback Mark Brunell gave $3,000 to Republicans.

The Seattle Seahawks gave even less, a mere $5,302, with center Robert Tobeck leading the way and favoring Republicans. Chad Brown (now playing linebacker for the Pats) gave $550 to Democratic causes. Fullback Mack Strong went Republican, as did offensive tackle Jerry Wunsch. Seeded last in the NFL Payoffs? The Chicago Bears, with $3,500 given, some of it from linebacker Brian Urlacher to Democratic congressman Luis Gutierrez.

Now, these figures don’t take account of some of the intangible ways teams can show favor to their preferred pols. There’s more to life than money; there are things like an invitation to the owner’s box.

Luckily for the rest of us, football is actually better to watch on the small screen than in person. Just be careful eating the pretzels.

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