WASHINGTON — In a welcome break from the political crises gripping his administration, President Barack Obama hosted the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens at the White House on Wednesday for a congratulatory ceremony on the South Lawn.
The president sported a purple tie as a nod to the team colors, and was given a team shirt that read “Mr. President,” with the number 44.
The nation’s 44th chief executive arrived accompanied by Ravens head coach John Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome. He made note of his subdued entrance while surrounded by players so large that they dwarfed even the president’s beefy security detail.
“Now, I suspect that these guys are wondering, what kind of introduction is that? No smoke machine. No fire cannons. Obama didn’t even tear up chunks of turf and rub them on his suit,” the president said to laughter.
An avid sports fan, Obama recognized the grit and perseverance of a team whose road to the Super Bowl came through hard-fought victories on the road against teams that were favored. That underdog mentality is synonymous with Baltimore, a working-class port city that’s perennially among the nation’s most violent.
“It’s a very important moment for Baltimore,” Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said in a South Lawn interview after the ceremony. “We are a gritty city. We get up every day. We fight the tough fights, and a lot of times people might not count us in. But we never count ourselves out. It’s just a very powerful moment.”
Cummings, who said he lived eight blocks from M&T Bank Stadium, suggested that the Ravens have provided a morale boost for a city in need of one. There’d been 94 homicides in Baltimore so far this year as of Wednesday evening, according to an online count run by The Baltimore Sun, compared with 217 in Charm City, as Baltimore is known, during all of last year. That was a 10 percent increase over 2011.
Obama touted the Ravens’ involvement in Baltimore and the surrounding communities, announcing the team’s latest initiative to donate new uniforms to 42 high school teams in the Baltimore area.
The president took time to spark laughter among the players and their gathered friends and families. Ray Lewis, the recently retired middle linebacker and the face of the Ravens, was a first target. Obama referenced the “squirrel dance” made famous by Lewis as he entered the playing field, and a teammate asked the president to try the dance himself.
“Ray retired on top, coming back from a triceps injury, which I believe was caused by that dance he does,” Obama said. “But no, I’m not doing that dance. It caused him to miss most of the regular season.”
The president also ribbed quarterback Joe Flacco, the Super Bowl MVP and a graduate of the University of Delaware, in Vice President Joe Biden’s home state.
“Capped off one of the greatest postseasons ever by a quarterback,” Obama noted, saying that Flacco, a New Jersey native, had earned elite status. “And I’d say that if you keep on playing like that, you’re going to challenge Biden for the most popular person from Delaware.”
Attending the White House ceremony was Maryland Senate President Thomas “Mike” Miller, who was instrumental in securing legislation for the new stadium that eventually lured an NFL franchise back to Baltimore from Cleveland in 1996. Baltimore lost the storied Colts franchise in 1984, when the owner moved the team to Indianapolis.
“It was a team effort to get this," Miller said, savoring the first Ravens visit to the White House since their 2001 Super Bowl victory, "It’s the second time we’ve been here with this team, and it is fabulous!"
Obama reminded the Ravens and their coach of an impending contest in Chicago next season.
“Best of luck next season,” he said. “You’re going to need it in week 11, when you go to my hometown of Chicago to play the Bears.”
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