Obama Welcomes BCS Champions Auburn to White House
June 8, 2011
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama reminded Alabamians of a reason to celebrate: Auburn University's championship football team.
The Tigers visited the White House on Wednesday, and Obama offered up a "War Eagle" in congratulating the team for its unbeaten title run -- and for lending a hand in the aftermath of April tornadoes.
Auburn was set to visit the White House in late April but the trip was postponed so Obama could fly to Alabama to survey tornado damage, including a stopover in Tuscaloosa, home of the rival Alabama Crimson Tide.
"Coach (Gene Chizik) and I were just talking about -- you don't understand the devastation until you see it firsthand," Obama said. "But what was also inspiring was the amount of strength and generosity that was shown by so many people in the midst of so much tragedy. And that includes the members of this program. Two days after the tornado, almost 70 Auburn coaches, players, and athletic department staff -- led by coach -- traveled to Pleasant Grove and Cullman to help out with relief efforts.
"And even though one of the toughest-hit areas by the storm was the home of the Crimson Tide, this team knew what we all know in situations like this, which is we're all on the same team. We're all Americans first and foremost, and we've got an obligation to support each other in times of need."
He also cited the Tigers' resilience on the field during an undefeated season, including a comeback win over Alabama after falling behind 24-0 in the regular-season finale.
"Unbelievable. That was an unbelievable game," Obama said. "I watched that game. I'm busy, but I watched that game. That was unbelievable."
Wide receiver Kodi Burns, who Chizik called "one of the most selfless players we have on our football team," presented the president with an Auburn helmet and a national championship jersey.
Chizik said it was an honor "for the whole Auburn family to be able to stand here in the White House today and really embrace this moment."
"And this is not just a great championship team it's got great, great character, it's got great kids, and they care about communities," he said. "They care about service. They care about doing all the right things."
"You know, this guy is rough, Fairley," the president said. "You don't want to be tackled by him -- you really don't."
He mentioned Mike Dyer's 37-yard run to set up the winning field goal against Oregon in the BCS national championship game "after everybody except Michael thought he had been tackled."
"Actually, that was some good coaching because the folks on the sidelines were all like, 'Get up, get up,'" Obama said.
Obama's former press secretary, Robert Gibbs, is an Auburn native and Tigers fan. Chizik tried to squeeze an Auburn helmet onto Gibbs' son, Ethan, but it was too small.
"(Robert Gibbs') parents worked in the university library, so he and his brother grew up watching the Tigers play," Obama said. "So earlier this year when the team was making its run to the championship, Robert was insufferable. He had a little statue of Aubie on his desk. He and Ethan would roll the trees in front of the yard after a big win. So this is a big day for him."
Auburn fans have traditionally rolled the trees at Toomer's Corner to celebrate wins.
BCS NATIONAL CHAMPIONS VISIT WHITE HOUSE
Washington, D.C. - The 2010 BCS National Champion Auburn football team visited the White House and President Barack Obama, with a ceremony in the East Room, Wednesday.
During the 25-minute ceremony, President Obama commended the Tigers for their efforts on and off the field during their championship run.
"It wasn't always an easy road," Obama said. "This team played one of the toughest schedules in all of college football last year. In nine games, they came from behind to win -- including after being down 24-0 on the road to Alabama. Unbelievable. That was an unbelievable game. I watched that game. I'm busy, but I watched that game. That was unbelievable."
"But as crucial as Cam and Nick were to this team's success, obviously this is a team sport and you only win it with a team that is passionate and dedicated," Obama said.
The President took time to shake each individual's hand after his speech.
"It has been great to be at the White House with the national championship football team," Auburn head coach Gene Chizik said. "What a great honor and privilege this has been for the Auburn Family. It's so neat that so many of our seniors could come back. This is one of the last times this group will be together and what an honor it is to be together here at the White House and celebrate an unbelievable season."
A total of 150 individuals were part of the Auburn travel party, including approximately 90 players from the 2010 championship team. Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton and Lombardi winner Nick Fairley were present along with nearly every senior.
"It's a great day for these players," Auburn Athletics Director Jay Jacobs said. "Nobody gave them a chance at the beginning of the year and to be at the White House is really special for these players, coaches and the Auburn Family. It's been great to see so many seniors come back for this special occasion. It's been like a reunion for the team."
Kodi Burns presented President Obama with an Auburn football helmet and an Auburn jersey with Obama's name on the back.
"It's been amazing," Burns said. "As soon as President Obama got elected, I remember telling my parents, friends and everybody that one of my goals in life was to be able to meet him. It felt great seeing him in person. Being at the White House was a once-in-a-lifetime experience."
The team arrived at Washington National Airport shortly before noon ET and spent approximately an hour and a half touring the nation's capital. A highlight of the tour was a visit to the Lincoln Memorial.
"It was awesome," said junior receiver Emory Blake about his time at the Lincoln Memorial. "I walked up the stairs and saw the plaque where Dr. King was standing when he gave the `I have a dream' speech. I took a picture of it with my phone and I will definitely save that because it's a once in a lifetime experience to see where history was made."
Prior to the ceremony, the team had the opportunity to tour the White House and take photos.
"This was an awesome experience and I'm so glad I decided to come," Josh Bynes, a 2010 senior said. "It was overwhelming to actually see the President in person and to shake his hand. This was probably the one and only time in my life that I will ever be in the White House. It's been an exciting experience and I'm glad I came."
Following the ceremony with President Obama, the Tigers signed autographs and posed for pictures with Auburn fans and local youth that were invited to the event.
AUBURN QUOTES FROM WHITE HOUSE VISIT
"It has been great to be at the White House with the national championship football team. What a great honor and privilege this has been for the Auburn Family. It's so neat that so many of our seniors could come back. This is one of the last times this group will be together and what an honor it is to be together here at the White House and celebrate an unbelievable season."
On meeting with the President prior to the ceremony-- "That was really exciting for me to be able to meet with the President. We just engaged and talked a little bit. We talked about Alabama and the devastation and what has happened in the state."
"It's a great day for these players. Nobody gave them a chance at the beginning of the year and to be at the White House is really special for these players, coaches and the Auburn Family. It's been great to see so many seniors come back for this special occasion. It's been like a reunion for the team."
On being reunited with teammates-- "Seeing those guys was big in my book. Just to be reunited with these guys and see their faces once again, I'm cherishing every single moment. I can remember a time when I would see them every day and not think much of it, but now seeing them really means something. When we have our kids and look back, we can say we had a chance to visit the White House."
On what it was like to meet the President-- "It was special. It is something that you look at on TV and you just wish and wonder what that feels like. Now we've been blessed enough to have this opportunity to meet President Obama. The whole experience was incredible."
On visiting the White House-- "It's been amazing. As soon as President Obama got elected, I remember telling my parents, friends and everybody that one of my goals in life was to be able to meet him. It felt great seeing him in person. Being at the White House was a once-in-a-lifetime experience."
On finding out you were going to be presenting the President his jersey-- "I had no idea until some of the people who were working with him called my name and said `you've been selected to hand him the helmet and jersey'.
Did you get a chance to visit with the President-- "Just briefly. He said that he appreciated everything that we've been doing and told us we did a great job this year."
On what it was like to meet the President-- "This was an awesome experience and I'm so glad I decided to come. It was overwhelming to actually see the President in person and to shake his hand. This was probably the one and only time in my life that I will ever be in the White House. It's been an exciting experience and I'm glad I came."
What did it feel like when the President mentioned your name in his speech-- "I was shocked and my heart was beating kind of fast. I was hoping that he would pronounce my last name right. I was worried he was going to call me `Burns' or something like that. When he got my last name right, I smiled real hard. It was on national TV, so I hope everybody in my family saw it."
On White House visit and meeting the President-- "It was amazing. When the President walked in, it was kind of surreal. This has been a great experience for us and a blessing for all of us to be here together."
On visiting the Lincoln Memorial-- "It was awesome. I walked up the stairs and saw the plaque where Dr. King was standing when he gave the `I have a dream' speech. I took a picture of it with my phone and I will definitely save that because it's a once in a lifetime experience to see where history was made."
On highlight of the trip-- "For me the highlight was seeing the Lincoln Memorial and taking pictures in front of it. Seeing the place where Martin Luther King gave his speech was really neat."
On visiting the Lincoln Memorial-- "This is my first time being here and seeing it in person takes it to a whole new level. You realize the importance of where it happened (Dr. Martin Luther King's speech). You really can't put it into words what it feels like to be in that same spot and look at that same view as Dr. King had was something special."
On the experience of visiting the White House-- "It's been unreal. It was like a dream. When we came in, everyone was looking around and their mouths dropped and their eyes were as big as quarters."
On what it was like to meet President Obama-- "I don't have any words to describe it. The President was a real cool guy."
On being together with the 2010 team again-- "It just brings back all the chemistry that we had last year. It's tough that it can't stay the same and that we have to move on, but it's been great to be back with these guys."
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