WASHINGTON - While NFL teams are looking ahead to a new season, President Bush gave the Baltimore Ravens another chance yesterday to savor this year'sSuper 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-footerlooked tiny next to the towering athletes. Defensive tackle Tony Siragusa, wholooks close to 400 pounds these days, gave Bush a formidable handshake thathad 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 clearthat by bringing it home, Art, you have indelibly etched your team, your styleand your team culture on the hearts of everybody."
The Ravens displayed more gold jewelry than average White House visitorsand the players whooped and cheered when Bush mentioned his $1.35 trillion taxcut, 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. Hesaid that skeptics of his proposal for a missile defense system should takenote of how a team with a superb defense - the Ravens set an NFL record forfewest points allowed in a 16-game season - won the Super Bowl. Next week, thepresident will visit Europe, where many leaders oppose his missile defenseplans.
"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 gooddefense wins. A good defense is one which adjusts to the times. A good defenseis modern. A good defense is clear.
"If Secretary Rumsfeld gets tired of his job, Secretary Marvin Lewis soundspretty good," Bush said, pairing Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld with theRavens' 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 inhis remarks.
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 Siragusawore a black T-shirt, untucked, and did not appear at all uncomfortable withhis choice of attire. The boisterous lineman roamed the East Room before theceremony 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-jokingglare.
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 abaseball owner-turned-president who seems to relish photo opportunities withathletes. Not five months into office, Bush has held nearly 20 sports-relatedevents at the White House. Most have been to honor collegiate or professionalchampionship teams, but Bush also was host to 47 Hall of Fame baseball greatsfor lunch, Orioles third baseman Cal Ripken for dinner and first- andsecond-graders for Sunday T-ball games on the South Lawn.
Bush is believed to be the first chief executive to welcome an NCAA women'svolleyball team, the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers. Players were at theWhite House last month. The University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs, the NCAAwomen's hockey champs last season, are expected to visit in a few weeks.
President Bill Clinton held five sports-related events during his firstfive months in office.
Bush seemed to envy Modell yesterday. The Texas Rangers, after all, neverwon the World Series while the president was a part-owner, or ever for thatmatter. "I've never had the thrill of raising a trophy up like you and yourfamily have done," Bush lamented.
Many of the Ravens chewed gum during the ceremony and seemed to see noreason to shed the pro-athlete image, even though they were at the WhiteHouse. But others appeared awe-struck by the day.
"This is something special," said Coach Brian Billick. "And in the day ofthe jaded athlete, you think they're not interested in this. But they wereinto it today."
Ravens kicker Matt Stover acted like a tourist, capturing as much of thefestivities as he could on a video camera.
"I had to get a picture with a fellow Texan," he said of Bush.
Outside linebacker Peter Boulware added that Bush "is the most influentialperson in the world, and we had a chance to meet him."
Receiver Brandon Stokley said the White House "was just awesome to see."
A few people were noticeably absent yesterday. Trent Dilfer, who was notre-signed by the Ravens after quarterbacking the team to its 34-7 Super Bowlvictory over the New York Giants, did not make the trip. Tight end Shannon Sharpe was also among a handful of no-shows.
The team arrived after a frantic trip. The Ravens were forced to arrange acaravan of buses, with a police escort, after train service between Baltimoreand Washington was shut down for two-to-three hours yesterday afternoonbecause of a downed electrical line near Bowie.(Siragusa, who gets bus sickeasily, made the trip in one of the police cars.)
During the ceremony, Billick framed the ceremony as tagging a finalexclamation point onto a memorable season.
"This is a special moment for us," he said. "Now, we can truly move on and,hopefully, be here next year."
For those unfamiliar with the Baltimore team, its monster defense and itsSuper season, the Bush administration distributed some background informationthat said it all.
"The 2000 Baltimore Ravens won Super Bowl XXXV on January 28, 2001, inTampa," the brief statement read.
"The Ravens overcame an offensive slump in October, when they did not scorea touchdown. The team held together to finish as World Champions. The Ravensbecame the third wild-card team to win the Super Bowl."
The president moves on to another sport today, though not at the WhiteHouse. He's flying to Omaha for the College World Series.
Sun staff writer Brent Jones contributed to this article.