THE HISTORIC THAYER HOTEL'S TIES TO AMERICAN FOOTBALL
In 1981, the entire world was fixated on the bar at the Thayer Hotel for Super Bowl 15 (XV). Super Bowl XV (15) was played January 25, 1981, the same day that the 52 American hostages who had been held for 444 days in Iran arrived back in the United States. The hostages had been flown, at the direction of newly Inaugurated President Ronald Reagan, from Iran to Germany and then directly to West Point. They landed at Stewart Airfield and took buses to West Point in the afternoon. Thousands of cheering Americans lined the route through Highland Falls (now called “Freedom Road”).
The hostages arrived at the Historic Thayer Hotel and stayed for three nights with their families. The first night, the hostages ate dinner in MacArthur’s Restaurant, signed several menus (that are still on display at the Thayer) and then watched the Super Bowl from Patton’s Tavern. The Oakland Raiders beat the Philadelphia Eagles 27-10 in New Orleans becoming the first wildcard team to win a Super Bowl. Jim Plunkett was the Most Valuable Player. A giant 80 foot long yellow ribbon adorned the stadium and every attendee was given a yellow ribbon to honor the hostages who were watching the game from the Historic Thayer Hotel.
Plunked had been the 1970 Heisman Trophy winner. Patton’s Tavern has several connections to the Heisman Trophy. West Point’s three Heisman Trophy winners (Davis, Blanchard and Dawkins) all signed a photo of themselves with Navy’s two Heisman Trophy winners (Staubach and Bellino) who also signed the photo, and that photo hangs in Patton’s Tavern. Davis #41 signed shirt hangs on one end of the bar, while a football signed by Pete Dawkins as well as a bobblehead Pete Dawkins doll, adorn the other end of the bar. Patton himself, while he was not a football player, he had been quite an athlete and represented the United States in the 1912 Olympics in the Pentathlon.
The coin toss for Super Bowl 15 was led by Marie Lombardi, widow of Coach Vince Lombardi, who also had their own ties to West Point. She and Coach Lombardi had lived at West Point when Lombardi was the assistant coach at West Point from 1949-1954 under West Point’s legendary Hall of Fame Coach Red Blaik, who would be Lombardi’s mentor. At the end of Super Bowl 15, the Raiders received the Lombardi Trophy, named after the former West Point coach.
The Restaurant of the Thayer Hotel is called “MacArthur’s Riverview Restaurant” and MacArthur also has significant ties to American football history. MacArthur as a cadet had been the manager of the Army football team and he himself was a lifelong football fan. In fact, so much so, that every year the national championship college football team received the “MacArthur Trophy”, named after the famous West Point graduate. On the side of the sliver trophy are inscribed MacArthur’s famous words “There is no substitute for victory”. So both the pro and college football trophies are named after “sons of West Point”- Lombardi and MacArthur. MacArthur, Coach Red Blaik and Coach Lombardi all helped found the National Football Foundation (NFF) and are listed as co-founders.
In 2011, The Historic Thayer Hotel honored the former hostages by giving them and their families a free weekend to celebrate their 30th anniversary in January 2011. The Thayer Hotel management team organized and fully funded the weekend for 25 of the former hostages who made the trip to West Point, this time under much less stressful conditions. During the organization of this event, it was discovered that the hostages had never met the Delta Force team that had attempted to rescue them on April 24/25, 1981, which had resulted in an crash at Desert One, killing eight of the rescue team. By the time the hostages had been released in 1981, the Delta team was already off on other missions, and so no event was ever held to introduce them.
A number of the surviving Delta Force team were invited by the management of he Thayer Hotel to come to the weekend where they met the hostages for the first time in a very emotional meeting. Several of the hostages and Delta Force team started the weekend off by ringing the Closing Bell on the Nasdaq, organized by the management of the Thayer Hotel and receiving national attention again, thirty years later.
In the lobby of the Thayer Hotel, a plaque honors the event visit of the hostages and says “Dedicated with deepest gratitude to the faculty, staff and students at the United States Military Academy at West Point for their role in welcoming us home to freedom” The Americans Held Hostage in Iran November 4, 1979- January 20, 1981.” This video captured their return.
On May 27, 2016, the Historic Thayer Hotel will celebrate its 90th birthday. The hotel is a national treasure and has been recently restored to its original luxurious beauty and is once again, worthy of West Point.