When Senator John McCain was a Vietnam prisoner of war, did he give his interrogators the names of the Pittsburgh Steelers defensive line when they pressured him to name his squadron mates?
McCain told that tale to a Pittsburgh TV reporter this week, but it contradicts McCain's account for the past 40 years --- that he named Green Bay Packers players when he defied his captors.
The Republican presidential candidate is taking heat from some sports and political websites for his apparent Steelers-Packers flip flop.
First, here is his exchange with the Pittsburgh reporter:
Q (from KDKA's Jon Delano): "Senator, when you think of Pittsburgh, what's the first thing that comes to your mind?"
McCain: "The Steelers. I was a mediocre high school athlete and I loved and adored the sports, but the Steelers really made a huge impression on me, particularly in the early years."
"When I was first interrogated, and really had to give some information because of the pressures, the physical pressures that were on me, I named the starting lineup, the defensive line of the Pittsburgh Steelers as my squadron mates (Laughs)."
Q: "Did you really?"
McCain: "Years ago, yes."
Q: "In your POW camp?"
McCain: "Yes. Yes, indeed."
Q: "Could you do it today?"
McCain: "No, unfortunately, I couldn't. But I certainly could then."
An Amazon.com check inside the pages of McCain's autobiography "Faith of My Fathers" shows McCain's own words on page 194. Quote:
"Pressed for more useful information, I gave the names of the Green Bay Packers' offensive line,..."
When McCain's book was made into an A&E cable TV movie in 2005, the Green Bay version of the story was acted out, complete with the names from the Packers' 1967 defensive lineup. The Movie McCain repeated "Starr; Greg; McGee; Davis; Adderly; Brown; Ringo; Wood."
During a May 27, 2005 appearance on CNN, when the interviewer played that movie scene clip McCain explained it this way:
"That was the starting line up of the Green Bay Packers, the first Super Bowl champions. But, uh, it was the best I could think of at the time."
The reaction on sports blogs?
Fan IQ: "John McCain Apparently Gets Caught Lying About Naming The Pittsburgh Steelers Line In Vietnam"
I e-mailed two members of the McCain campaign, asking "Why did the Senator change to the Steelers version? Was it -- as some bloggers are suggesting -- in the hope of winning the Steeler fan votes?"
National McCain campaign staffer Kimmie Lipscomb did not respond. Paul Lindsay of McCain's Pennsylvania campaign e-mailed back:
On background as a McCain official - It was an honest mistake. If bloggers want to make fun of him because he forgot which team he used under torture, let them.
Hope that is helpful to you,
We are on the record.
The senator wrote about the Packers version in his book and discussed it in interviews many times. Is the senator's or the campaign's response that he forgot? His statement to the Pittsburgh reporter was part of an extended discussion about the Steelers.
I've gotten no further response from the campaign.
A viewer named Mark first alerted me to this story in an e-mail Wednesday night, writing that in KD's story McCain:
"stated that he used the great Steelers defensive line when FIRST interrogated. The thing is, he was first taken prisoner in 1967? Love to see some factfinding here."
That's when I started doing some Googling on the topic.
McCain became a POW in 1967. The legendary Steelers defensive line that McCain appears to be referring to -- The Steel Curtain -- wasn't in place until 1971. Mean Joe Greene --the first of the front four to arrive -- didn't join the Steelers until 1969, two years after the time McCain refers to as when he was first interrogated.
In 1967, John McCain was 31 years old and the Steelers were anything but super. They'd had only eight seasons since McCain was born in which team wins outnumbered losses. In the two years before McCain was shot down, the Steelers were 2-and-12 and 5-8-and-1. Discouraged fans back then called them SOS -- the "Same Old Steelers".
I wasn't able to blog on this Thursday, due to my trip to Harrisburg to cover the Gaming Board's hearing on the Pittsburgh Casino. When I resumed my Googling this morning, I saw those sports blog links and this blog post by Jake Tapper of ABC News. My station, WTAE, is doing the story on tonight's 11 o'clock news. If the video makes it to the Pittsburgh Channel website, I'll update this post with a new link.