WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama praised the Ravens' resilience, toughness and their commitment to the Baltimore community. However, when it came to paying homage to one of their most dominant and well-known players, Obama made it clear that he does have his limits.
The president responded to Ray Lewis' challenge to mimic the retired linebacker's elaborate pre-game entrance by saying, “No, I'm not doing that dance. It caused [you] to miss most of the season.”
Obama's comment drew laughter from Ravens' players and team officials who stood behind the 44th president and in the backdrop of the Lombardi Trophy. On a sun-drenched and seasonably warm day in the nation's capital, the 2012-13 NFL champions were honored by Obama on the South Lawn of the White House a little more than four months after their victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII.
Elected officials from Maryland, including Howard County Executive Ken Ulman and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings were among the attendees.
Wearing a purple tie and gray suit, Obama kept the 10-minute ceremony light, joking about the dance steps of Lewis and wide receiver Jacoby Jones, chiding former Ravens safety Ed Reed for his graying hair and agreeing with Joe Flacco's assessment that the former University of Delaware standout is an “elite” quarterback.
“That was some good timing,” Obama said to Flacco, referencing the quarterback's near flawless postseason performance which earned him a six-year, $120.6 million contract extension. “I'd say that if you keep on playing like that, you're going to challenge [Vice President Joe Biden] for the most popular person from Delaware.”
When the Ravens went to the White House in 2001 following their first Super Bowl victory, the visit was marred by transportation difficulties after train service to Washington was interrupted by a downed electrical line, and outside criticism that some players were dressed too casually.
However, when the nine buses, carrying players, coaches, executives, and support staff from the team's Owings Mills-based facility, arrived on Pennsylvania Avenue on Wednesday, the players were decked out in suits and ties, and clearly enjoying one of the perks of winning the Super Bowl.
The group got a White House tour as many players snapped cell phone pictures that they displayed on their Twitter accounts. Players weren't accessible to reporters at the event, but linebacker Terrell Suggs said on Twitter that it was one of the best experiences of his life while the normally loquacious Jones summed up the White House visit in one word: “Wow.”
Head coach John Harbaugh and a small group of players met with first lady Michelle Obama and some Chicago-area high school students. Harbaugh and Flacco also did public service announcements about the importance of eating healthy and staying active.
Then, shortly after noon, the team trickled out of the White House and onto the South Lawn amid much applause. Obama was flanked by Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome and Harbaugh, and the president pointed out that he made a far more subtle entrance than Lewis, who he encouraged not to do the “Squirrel Dance” on the South Lawn.
“I imagine there were times last year when these players were the only ones who knew that they'd make it here to show off this trophy,” Obama said before discussing a few of the ups and downs of the season. “But these Ravens always pulled through.”
The team was certainly well-represented. Several players who have departed the organization since February either via retirement, release or free agency — a group that included Lewis, Reed, Dannell Ellerbe and Brendon Ayanbadejo — were on hand. Obama praised the longevity and success of Lewis and Reed, though he turned to a smiling Reed, now with the Houston Texans, and said, “I will point out … that Ed is getting some gray hair. I'm not the only one. You're like an old man.”
Anquan Boldin, Paul Kruger and Cary Williams — key members of the Super Bowl team who are now playing elsewhere — didn't attend because they had minicamps with their current teams. Safety Bernard Pollard, who was surprisingly released by the Ravens in March, kept to his vow to stay away.
The retired Matt Birk and right tackle Michael Oher also weren't present, nor was owner Steve Bisciotti who had a business obligation in Florida and was content to see Newsome and Harbaugh get the praise.
Obama handed out plenty of it, citing wide receiver Torrey Smith's ability to play just a day after the death of his younger brother, Harbaugh's humility and the charitable commitments made by the organization. Obama announced that the Ravens have committed to donating new uniforms for 42 varsity football and girls' basketball teams at public schools across Baltimore.
“That's a testimony to the connection they feel to this city,” the president said.
After wishing the Ravens good luck in November when they play his beloved Chicago Bears, Obama turned the microphone over to Newsome who thanked the president on behalf of the team. Harbaugh then presented Obama with a No.44 jersey that said “Mr. President.”
“On behalf of all the Ravens, I want to thank Mr. President for hosting us all here today,” Harbaugh said. “It's an unbelievable honor. We are grateful and I want you to know, we have plans to be back next year.”
Minutes later, the White Stripes' song “Seven Nation Army” — a staple at M&T Bank Stadium and a rallying cry for the team — started playing over the sound system on the South Lawn. One-by-one, players shook hands with Obama on the way to the buses.
The celebration will continue Friday when players get their Super Bowl rings in a private ceremony at the Under Armour Performance Center.