Comedian Chevy Chase is the you-know-what in the punch bowl. As the nation pays tribute to its 38th president, one negative note seems to surface with some regularity: Chase’s portrayal of President Gerald Ford as a bumbling, stumbling incompetent. This, Chase accomplished by falling down ad infinitum years ago during various skits on “Saturday Night Live.”

Amid the accolades being bestowed upon Ford in hundreds of obituaries is the frequent mention of Chase’s stumblebum impersonation of Ford. The former president admitted he “often winced” about the overworked routine by Chase, but that he had the good sense to realize that “presidents are sitting ducks” and thus he went along with the disrespectful routine, even to the point of appearing on tape on “SNL.”

Chase, seen less and less on TV and in the movies these days, apparently had a rather lofty opinion of himself in the mid-1970s as an arbiter of who deserved the nation’s respect and who did not. “He had never been elected, period, so I never felt that he deserved to be there to begin with,” Chase said of Ford earlier this week. Doing the Ford-inspired pratfalls is Chase’s chief claim to fame. He can still learn much about how a truly funny pratfall should be carried out by watching a couple episodes of “Seinfeld” and Kramer’s flawless execution of physical comedy.

What Chase, the producers of “Saturday Night Live,” and many Americans didn’t know is that Ford had been an all-star center on the University of Michigan’s champion football team and had twice received the most valuable player award. He also had at least two offers to play professional football. But because of a serious knee injury, and a desire to study law (at Yale, no less!), Ford declined the offers. Some believe that the football injury was responsible in part for the two or three falls Ford took and which were widely recorded on film and videotape by the media. Yet week after week, Chase and the SNL producers continued to hammer away at the perception that Ford was anything but athletic and was, instead, a super klutz.

In his book, A Time to Heal, Ford acknowledged that he was probably the most athletic president ever to occupy the White House, but noted with some bitterness that “every time I slipped in the snow or bumped my head, the media zeroed in on that to the exclusion of almost everything else.” So we know for certain that Ford did not enjoy the relentless and erroneous weekly images of himself on “SNL,” yet he dealt with them with grace and good humor.

Since it is onerous for most Americans, in this time of sorrow and high tribute, to engage in Ford-bashing, the next best thing for many journalists is to stain his image by resurrecting the tiresome centerpiece of “Saturday Night Live” some 30 years ago. The legacy of Gerald Ford and the uniqueness of his presidency will endure long after it’s no longer possible to Google either Chevy Chase or “SNL.” To Chevy Chase, now 63, we say get a life. Except that, oops, it’s a little too late for that.

– Chase.Hamil

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