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Fact Check: Biden's too tall football tale?

The Romney campaign has been sending around blog posts (here and here) from conservatives today reporting that a tale Vice President Joe Biden told about playing football at the University of Delaware from 50 years ago was false.

So First Read decided to check it out (especially considering your author is a Fightin' Blue Hen).

The reports seize on Biden's twice-repeated story about a 1963 trip to Ohio University for a football game. During visits to the college town of Athens, Ohio, over the last two political cycles, Biden has related the PG-rated Animal House-esque story of an encounter with police after he says he accidentally found himself in a girl's dormitory -- cause for punishment at the time. 

"I came, I was a football player," Biden said during a recent trip to the Buckeye State town. "I came here in 1963, and I had to go back, I just double checked my memory – you know, you get my age and you’re not so sure of it, you know, your glory days look more glorious than they really were and all that, so we went back on the Internet and I just want you to know, I came here in October 1963, and we beat you Bobcats 29-12…" 

Before launching into the same story during a campaign stop in 2008, he told an Athens audience, "I went to the University of Delaware, and we came out here to play Ohio University." 

So was Biden a “football player”? It appears so, but not quite in the way he appeared to suggest during his trip to Athens during this campaign.

“We don’t have him as lettering for freshman football or varsity,” Kevin Tritt, assistant sports information director at the University of Delaware, told First Read. “We don’t have the freshman team playing Ohio University in 1963. We don’t have any record of the freshman team playing there.”

The varsity team did play Ohio University that year and won. And Biden got the score right.

Biden wrote in his memoir that he played briefly on the freshman team, but quit after one semester because of poor academic performance.

"When my first-semester grades came out, my Mom and Dad told me I wouldn't be playing spring football," he wrote in "Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics." 

Two years later, Biden -- his grades having improved -- once again believed he had a shot at starting on the team, but he told his coach he planned on spending precious weekends with his wife-to-be Neilia instead. 

The Sports Information Office at Delaware says it’s likely Biden did, in fact, play on the freshman team, but not long enough to letter and left the team before the season was over.

Even if Biden were a member of his freshman football team, it wouldn’t have been in 1963. Biden, a 1965 University of Delaware graduate, would have been a freshman in 1961.

It is possible Biden did go to the game in question -- and get into the trouble he joked about he did. But if he did, it was as a spectator.

*** UPDATE *** The vice president's office sent First Read a quote from legendary Delaware coach Tubby Raymond, for whom the school's football stadium is now named after, saying, "He was on the team!"

An aide said Biden did go to the game and, citing his memoir, said he made the varsity team in the spring of his junior year, but did not play in the fall of his junior year when Delaware played Ohio.

"The Vice President went to Athens with the University of Delaware football team to cheer," an aide said. "As he makes clear in his statement, he played football, but not during the fall of his junior year."

From page 94 of Biden's memoir, per the campaign: "I carried 37 hours the next two semesters, with decent grades, even while taking another run at the football team. I hadn’t played for two years, but I surprised the coaches by moving up the depth chart fast. After the annual spring game that April, it looked like I had a shot to start at starting defensive back. I couldn’t wait for next September; I could almost see the fall season unfold in my head. So I was feeling pretty good when I headed to Florida for spring break after our last practice. That trip changed everything."

*** UPDATE 2 *** Oct. 18, 2012: The director of Sports Information at the University of Delaware, Scott Selheimer, clarifies Biden's football career at UD:

"Joe Biden DID play on the 1961 University of Delaware freshman team, but did not finish out the season in order to earn a letter. He later came out for the team in the spring of 1963 and took part in practices, but did not end up playing varsity football in the fall of 1963 when the official competition season takes place. Thus he was not listed on the roster."

Domenico Montanaro is a 2001 University of Delaware graduate -- and also played football at Delaware, with the [Butt]-Kickin’ Chickens, which won the Blue League Intramural flag-football championship in 2000… he thinks.

Carrie Dann contributed to this report.