Alabama Visits White House for Fourth Time in Seven Years
WASHINGTON – After the players settled into place and the warm greetings passed, President Barack Obama paused for a brief moment before turning to his right and addressing the elephant in the room bluntly:
“My first question is, Coach, what took you so long? It’s been three whole years since I last saw you.”
Nick Saban, in response, could only grin at the playful jape from the man honoring his fourth Alabama national championship in eight years of presidency at the White House on Wednesday.
“Clearly, I've brought you some good luck,” Obama said. “In fact, you could call me O’Bama.”
Joined by family, fans and Alabama dignitaries, more than 100 Crimson Tide players, coaches and support staff were on hand for the afternoon ceremony held inside the East Room. As the team filed into the renowned space known for its public gatherings, a small jazz band played “Yea, Alabama” just outside in the Cross Hall on the state floor.
Obama and Saban entered last, a few moments after the rest of the group.
The visit was in appreciation of the team’s most recent national championship victory – a 45-40 win over Clemson in January. The Crimson Tide previously made visits for the same purpose in 2010, 2012 and 2013.
“That come-from-behind victory was a good example of just how complete this team was,” Obama said.
In addition to recognizing several individual player accolades, including Derrick Henry’s Heisman Trophy-winning season, the president also identified off-field accomplishments, too, such as the team’s high graduation rate and its “hundreds of hours” of community service in Tuscaloosa.
“Coach, I couldn't be prouder of you and the work that you’ve done,” Obama said. “I know that the people of Alabama are extraordinarily proud of this team. Maybe the Auburn fans don't want to admit it, but everybody recognizes excellence when they see it, and nobody has had more sustained excellence as a football program at the collegiate level than the Alabama Crimson Tide.”
Overall, Wednesday’s visit marks the football program’s fifth trip to the nation’s capital. The 1992 Alabama national championship team was the first Crimson Tide team invited to the White House, after Ronald Reagan popularized the tradition of honoring championship teams during the 1980s.
During its 2012 and 2013 visits, Alabama was honored on the South Lawn, when the team visited during warmer weather in April. Its 2010 trip, like Wednesday’s, also came in March, resulting in a move to the East Room.
The team, as it did in its three previous trips, gifted Obama a team football, helmet and personalized jersey.
Saban, who also visited the White House in 2004 after winning a national title as head coach at LSU, said the experience never gets old.
“It’s something our players all look forward to. It’s not every day,” Saban said. “I never got to meet the president of the United States and shake hands with him until I came here in (2004) after winning the national championship.”
Over the past three trips, Alabama has visited various Washington landmarks and museums, though Saban said the team was unable to make that “day trip” this year after landing at Dulles International Airport, located well outside the city.
But as predictable as it may sound, Obama seemed to suggest the Tide would have a chance to rectify that as early as next year in the closing of his speech -- even though he won't bear witness to it personally.
“And I'd like to say I'll see you next year, but we've got this thing called term limits,” Obama said. “You can keep on going.”