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Florida Gators visit White House



ObamaUF700 President Obama is presented with a personalized team jersey by tight end Cornelius Ingram, second right. [Associated Press] Click photo to enlarge.

Florida quarterback Tim Tebow and a majority of Florida's 2008 BCS National Championship team traveled to Washington, D.C. on Thursday, as President Barack Obama honored the Gators at the White House for their second national championship in three years.
President Obama was presented with a personalized team jersey.

“It was an honor to meet the President,'' Tebow said."He made some really nice remarks about the team and myself and it was great to shake his hand, look him in the eye, and tell him that we’re behind him and praying for him.”

Obama_florida_gators_football  To see a large version of this photo of President Obama with the team, click on it. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

President Obama specifically recognized coach Urban Meyer, saying he admires the way his teams play.

"I was just mentioning, as we were walking down, there's something about Coach Meyer's teams, they just have a lot of heart,'' President Obama said.  "And that's a reflection of coaching values that talk about character and integrity, and not just winning. And so we are very appreciative of the work that you've done, Coach. That's also why it's so easy to tell that these guys have operated like one big family. And that comes across on and off the field.

It was the second White House trip for many of the Gator players, but for some it was more significant this time around than in 2006.

“It’s a lot of fun coming here,'' cornerback Joe Haden said. "In 2006 I was here, but it’s a lot more meaningful this time because I played more this year.”

President Obama is a strong proponent of a playoff system for college football, and said often leading up to the Jan. 8 national championship game that the only way to crown a true champion is with a playoff. He didn't back away from that stance.

"I don't want to stir up controversy,'' he said.  "You guys are the national champions -- I'm not backing off the fact we need a playoff system.  But I have every confidence that you guys could have beat anybody else. And so we'll see how that plays itself out. . . But you know, I'm one of those politicians -- I don't just tell you what you want to hear, I tell you what you need to hear.''

No hard feelings from the players, apparently.

“Seeing the President walk into the room was really exciting,'' safety Ahmad Black said. "You get to see him on TV all the time, so it was great to see him up close and shake his hand.”

“It was a tremendous honor to come to the White House today,'' added receiver David Nelson. "It’s the best perk we get for winning the national championship. Some guys like the rings and the glory, but I look forward to coming to the White House, the prestige of the White House.”

SPECIAL SHOUT OUT FOR GILBERT: OL Marcus Gilbert received special recognition from President Obama - and for good reason. His father is a member of the President's Secret Service detail.

"Marcus, I've got a soft spot for this guy, because his dad, Jeff, was the first Secret Service agent on my detail, almost two years ago,'' President Obama said. "He was with me for most of the campaign; he is a great friend of mine -- and there he is back there.  So that's Marcus's pop right here. We always tried to figure out how Marcus got so big because Jeff is not that big and his wife is even smaller.''

HONORING TEBOW: The President also singled out Tim Tebow in his remarks, complimenting him on his strong faith and his leadership, which he said is an example for all young people.

"Tim is an inspiration to so many -- a guy whose true strength comes not from the gym, but from his faith,'' President Obama said. "He says he puts faith, family, and academics above football.  And that's incredible when you think about what he's done on the field:  first sophomore ever to win the Heisman Trophy, in a season in which he personally scored more touchdowns than 87 entire teams in Division I-A football.

"I remember watching the upset when you guys lost to Ole Miss,’’ the President continued.  “I was actually doing a debate in Ole Miss right before the game and I remember Tim apologizing -- watching him on TV apologizing to Gators fans and laying down a challenge to himself, making an commitment, a promise that in fact they were going to push as hard as he -- they could and he was going to personally take it upon himself to make sure that you never see a team play harder than we will the rest of the season. You know, that's the kind of leadership that you want to see from all our young people -- taking responsibility, challenging yourself and others, rising to the moment.  You didn't promise that the Gators would win every game the rest of the way, but it's a testament to his leadership that they did because he said we'll always play hard


Antonya English, Times Staff Writer

Revisit the Gators' national championship season by reading some of our previous coverage:

Florida Gators win BCS Championship Game

John Romano: Florida Gators can take their place among top programs

BCS Championship Game photo gallery

Purchase commemorative prints of Times pages.

[Last modified: Wednesday, May 26, 2010 12:55pm]


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