TAMPA — This isn’t the first time the Bucs have been invited to the White House.
It was a smaller contingent, but they visited in 1998. Not to celebrate a championship.
In fact, the invitation came from a special agent of the Secret Service responsible for protecting the president and first lady of the United States.
Unbelievably, it concluded with a rare surprise that is never part of the regular tour.
I was there, so let me explain.
The Bucs will visit the White House at the invitation of President Joe Biden Tuesday to commemorate their Super Bowl 55 win over Kansas City. Yes, Tom Brady is expected to attend.
But in 1998, it was a much different story. The Bucs were playing the Washington Redskins on Dec. 19 at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium in Landover, Md. In April that year, a story appeared in Sports Illustrated about creatine, a dietary supplement that had become the rage for athletes from high schools to the pros.
Some teams, like the Denver Broncos, had tubs of the stuff sitting in their locker room. But Bucs strength Mark Asanovich wouldn’t allow creatine in the building.
The special agent, who was a workout warrior, read the story in SI and called Asanovich to find out why he was so opposed to the supplement.
The special agent noted the Bucs were visiting Washington later in the season, and an invitation to the White House was extended.
A couple minivans full of mostly players and front office personnel, including Bucs general manager Rich McKay, pulled up to the White House on a picturesque Saturday afternoon.
The first stop was the East Room, the largest room in the Executive Residence, used for dances, receptions, press conferences, ceremonies, concerts and banquets.
Then there was a stop by the China Room, where almost every President is represented either by state or family china or glassware. The collection is arranged chronologically, beginning to the right of the fireplace. We toured the State Dining Room.
Then we took a visit to the White House Family Theater, where the first family often gets to watch a premier of movies before they are released to the public.
Bill Clinton, who was president in ’98, used it to watch his beloved Arkansas Razorbacks on weekends.
We viewed portraits of former presidents, including the one of George Washington rescued by Dolley Madison when the British burned many of the capital’s most important buildings, including the White House, on Aug. 24, 1814.
On the ground floor, in an archway leading to the White House kitchen, is maybe the last evidence of the fire with some concrete blackened by the flames.
Then the special agent, holding his earpiece, said, “If we go right now, I can take you to the West Wing.”
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Now, this is a place that’s not on the usual tour. We walked along the West Colonnade with an unbelievable view of the Rose Garden.
Eventually, we were led into the Roosevelt Room, which serves as a meeting room for White House staff. It’s named after Theodore Roosevelt and among the décor includes his 1906 Nobel Peace Prize, the first won by an American.
Then came an unexpected surprise. A giant door swung open and we were led into the Oval Office.
Anyone with even a passing interest in American history is rendered speechless when you enter the most powerful office in the world. Immediately, you consider the various crisis of the nation that were debated in this space, from Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation to John F. Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis.
We stood behind the Resolute Desk, which was a gift from Queen Victoria to President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880 and built from the oak timbers of the British Arctic exploration ship HMS Resolute. It was used in the president’s office on the second floor and later for radio broadcasts by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Jackie Kennedy discovered it under electrical equipment and brought it to the Oval Office in 1961, where it’s been used by most recent presidents.
We weren’t in the Oval Office long, maybe 10 or 15 minutes, but it’s a lifetime memory for those of us who attended, like McKay and his son, Hunter.
“We remember it well,” McKay said. “Really cool.”
Somewhere, packed away, I have pictures of that day and a personalized box of M&M’s with the presidential seal and Clinton’s gold embossed signature.
The Bucs lost the game to the Redskins 20-16, damaging their playoff chances. They finished 8-8 that year and missed the postseason.
As the sun set that night, the lights were on in the Capitol Rotunda. After nearly 14 hours of debate, the outgoing 105th Congress approved two articles of impeachment against President Bill Clinton.
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