WASHINGTON - While NFL teams are looking ahead to a new season, President Bush gave the Baltimore Ravens another chance yesterday to savor this year's Super Bowl triumph, offering them a presidential pat on the back at the White House.
Bush appeared with the team in the elegant East Room, where the six-footer
looked tiny next to the towering athletes. Defensive tackle Tony Siragusa, who
looks close to 400 pounds these days, gave Bush a formidable handshake that
had to hurt.
"It's been 30 years since the Lombardi Trophy rested in Baltimore,
Maryland," the president said, glancing at team owner Art Modell. "It is clear
that by bringing it home, Art, you have indelibly etched your team, your style
and your team culture on the hearts of everybody."
The Ravens displayed more gold jewelry than average White House visitors
and the players whooped and cheered when Bush mentioned his $1.35 trillion tax
cut, from which they should benefit generously, considering their salaries.
Focusing on defense
It might have been a stretch, but Bush used the occasion to talk policy. He
said that skeptics of his proposal for a missile defense system should take
note of how a team with a superb defense - the Ravens set an NFL record for
fewest points allowed in a 16-game season - won the Super Bowl. Next week, the
president will visit Europe, where many leaders oppose his missile defense
"One of the discussions over in Europe will be about defense," Bush said.
"Our allies need to take a look at the Baltimore Ravens. They'll realize good
defense wins. A good defense is one which adjusts to the times. A good defense
is modern. A good defense is clear.
"If Secretary Rumsfeld gets tired of his job, Secretary Marvin Lewis sounds
pretty good," Bush said, pairing Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld with the
Ravens' defensive coordinator.
The president shook hands with the players, including Super Bowl MVP Ray
Lewis, the anchor of the Ravens defense, but did not mention any by name in
The players offered Bush an au- tographed football and a Ravens' jersey
- with the letter W, the president's middle initial and nickname, on the back.
Most players were dressed in suits and ties, though the imposing Siragusa
wore a black T-shirt, untucked, and did not appear at all uncomfortable with
his choice of attire. The boisterous lineman roamed the East Room before the
ceremony and appeared delighted to come upon a throng of reporters.
"Which one of you called me fat in the paper?" he asked with a half-joking
There was no response.
Siragusa said later that he enjoyed the White House event.`"It was cool,
man," he said. "I was depressed that they didn't have the buffet ready."
The Ravens are the latest in a string of sports teams to benefit from a
baseball owner-turned-president who seems to relish photo opportunities with
athletes. Not five months into office, Bush has held nearly 20 sports-related
events at the White House. Most have been to honor collegiate or professional
championship teams, but Bush also was host to 47 Hall of Fame baseball greats
for lunch, Orioles third baseman Cal Ripken for dinner and first- and
second-graders for Sunday T-ball games on the South Lawn.
Bush is believed to be the first chief executive to welcome an NCAA women's
volleyball team, the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers. Players were at the
White House last month. The University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs, the NCAA
women's hockey champs last season, are expected to visit in a few weeks.
President Bill Clinton held five sports-related events during his first
five months in office.
Bush seemed to envy Modell yesterday. The Texas Rangers, after all, never
won the World Series while the president was a part-owner, or ever for that
matter. "I've never had the thrill of raising a trophy up like you and your
family have done," Bush lamented.