LSU, Alabama and the president

Members of Alabama's 2015 national championship team pose with the president at the White House in 2016. 

It’s not often a president attends a college football game.

And while Alabama coach Nick Saban called it an “honor” for President Donald Trump to attend Saturday’s matchup between LSU and Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium, university officials are scrambling to put in place heightened security measures for the president’s appearance.

“It’s an honor that the president of the United States would be interested enough to come to the game,” Saban said. “I’m sure we’ll do everything we can to welcome him.”

There’s not a long history of presidents taking time out of their busy schedule to attend college football games. Trump made an appearance at the 2018 College Football Playoff National Championship between Alabama and Georgia in Atlanta and most presidents typically attend postseason matchups if at all.

John F. Kennedy started the trend by attending the 1963 Orange Bowl in Miami, then made the unintended gaffe of visiting his friend Bud Wilkinson and the Oklahoma Sooners prior to the game while ignoring Alabama. The Tide went out and shut out the Sooners 17-0.

“I think a president needs to be neutral,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. “If he wants to cheer for LSU, I’ll welcome his cheering, but I don’t think the president should be cheering for either team, he should be right down the middle.”

Richard Nixon attended the 1969 Rose Bowl between Ohio State and USC along with another future president, California Gov. Ronald Reagan, but his most famous decision was to attend the Texas-Arkansas game later that year at Razorback Stadium. Accompanying him was another future president, Representative George H.W. Bush.

Both Saban and Orgeron were asked earlier this week if they remembered that game, a similarly hyped game of top-ranked teams. Orgeron didn’t, but Saban took the opportunity to drop in a little humor.

“I had to be the guy that had to go out and turn the antenna for my dad so he could watch whatever he wanted on TV so I’m sure I was busy doing that,” he said. “But I did see it on TV and it was a pretty exciting game and pretty amazing experience for both teams.”

Since the 1969 game, presidents typically have more important things to worry about than college football games, although Democratic candidate Bill Clinton, a future president, did attend the Alabama-Arkansas game in Little Rock in 1992.

Championship teams make trips to the White House to visit the president and both coaches are familiar with that tradition. Orgeron has made four trips as an assistant coach and Saban and several members of this year’s Crimson Tide squad were in Washington after winning the 2017 national championship over Georgia.

“It’s always a very, very flattering and unique experience,” Saban said. “I think if you were in Bangkok, Thailand and somebody told somebody you had the opportunity to go to the White House, they’d say, ‘that’s quite an honor,’ so we’ve always looked at that as quite an honor to go to the White House.”

The heightened security has brought a daily barrage of messages from the university toward media and fans regarding securing measures in place for the game. The university urges all ticket holders to be in line for entry no later than 1 p.m. To help accommodate, gates will open at 11:30 a.m., three hours prior to kickoff.

Fans should be prepared to remove all items from pockets and any pinned-on buttons or larger jewelry, similar to when passing through airport security, before entering. It is recommended that any non-essentials be left at home or in vehicles. Shoes and belts can remain on during screening. If one should set off the walkthrough metal detector, a wand will be used to the side.

Also be advised that some items typically permitted in Bryant-Denny Stadium, such as empty cups, will not be allowed in this weekend. Other items prohibited from entering Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday include aerosols, ammunition, animals other than service/guide animals, artificial noisemakers (bells, horns, whistles, cow bells, etc.), cameras with telephoto lenses over six inches long, chair backs larger than a single seat (16” wide) or with zippers, pockets or compartments, clear bags over 12” x 6” x 12”, non-clear bags over 4 ½” x 6 ½”, computers, coolers, drones and other unmanned aircraft systems, firearms, glass, thermal or metal containers, gun parts, holsters, magazines, etc., knives, laser pointers, mace/pepper spray, selfie sticks, signs, strollers, supports for signs and placards, toy guns, umbrellas, video recorders or camcorders, weapons of any kind and any other items determined to be a potential safety hazard.