THE FIRST thing you notice, while waiting for the President of the United States in the West Wing lobby of the White House, is the bowl of fun-sized candy bars on an end table, so that you can picture Jacques Chirac, while cooling his heels on the same sofa, dolefully peeling himself a 3 Musketeers.
The next thing you notice, and everything you notice afterward, is sports-related, beginning with your own dress shoes, still stained yellow ocher from the track at Churchill Downs, a clay you've tramped into the White House, leaving prints, so that the carpeting now resembles an Arthur Murray dance chart.
On the South Lawn is a throng of famous athletes—distinguished double consonants like Lynn Swann, Mia Hamm and Emmitt Smith, plus Olympians, NBA stars and literal lawn jockeys—which explains why the onetime home of James Madison has been opened to you, Oscar Madison.
When you finally are ushered in, on this day two summers ago, to see President Bush, he talks eagerly about A-Rod and Willie Mays and Nolan Ryan and choking on a pretzel while watching the Dolphins, until you're forgiven for thinking the room in which you now sit—the Roosevelt Room—is named for Roosevelt Grier.
A press attaché whispers, "The President is an avid reader of your magazine." His spokesman at the time, Ari Fleischer, looks exactly like Greg Maddux. To judge by a recent book, the President is less interested in Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill than in former Yankees rightfielder Paul O'Neill.
A political reporter for The New Republic once joked to The New York Times that, in the Bush Administration, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED is the in-flight magazine of Air Force One.
By the time the President draws you aside, just outside the Oval Office, and asks gravely, "Do you think Bonds is on steroids?" it occurs to you that SI really might be the in-flight magazine of Air Force One, and that our next Surgeon General could well be Dr. Z.
And so it came as no surprise last week when the State of the Union address has less to do with the Patriot Act and the Brady Bill than with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who was in the Capitol to hear the President say, "Some in professional sports are not setting much of an example."
With Indiana Fever forward Tamika Catchings likewise looking on from the gallery, Bush added, "Tonight I call on team owners, union representatives, coaches and players to take the lead, to send the right signal, to get tough and to get rid of steroids now."
Alas, the President then segued into his "sanctity of marriage" spiel, pleasing Condi Rice, but neglecting Jerry Rice—and countless other sports subjects Dubya might have preferred to discuss.