President Obama honors Super Bowl champion Steelers
WASHINGTON — President Obama called an audible Thursday during the Steelers' visit to the White House, engaging the Super Bowl champions in a mission to prepare 3,000 care packages for troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
What has traditionally been a photo opportunity as well as a reward for a championship season turned into a chance to help others.
The Steelers were joined in the endeavor by servicemen and women from the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, as well as the National Naval Medical Center and other politicians.
"We had no clue," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said of the unexpected twist added to the Steelers' day at the White House. "Coach (Mike Tomlin) told us we were doing something different, told us not to wear suits. I think everybody was excited to get out and show our support for our troops."
Tomlin called it a "humbling day."
In a ceremony broadcast live in Pittsburgh, the Steelers presented Obama with a No. 44 black-and-gold jersey in honor of his becoming the 44th president of the United States.
Obama praised Steelers chairman Dan Rooney and the entire Rooney family.
"For nearly five decades, Dan has been a tremendous ambassador for pro football and for the city of Pittsburgh," Obama said. "And in the years to come, all Americans will be fortunate to have his service as our United States ambassador to Ireland.
"I had occasion of meeting a lot of people during the course of my campaign for the presidency. I can tell you that I don't know anybody who is more of a gentleman, who is more loyal, who is more committed to excellence, than Mr. Rooney.
"And he and his family have just been such an extraordinary pillar for the city of Pittsburgh."
The Steelers, whose visit lasted four hours, spent part of the day inside as they got an opportunity to chat with Obama in the East Room and have a group picture taken with him.
In the afternoon, they were introduced by Obama as a few fans waved Terrible Towels while a throng of other supporters peered through the black-iron fence that rings the White House.
During his remarks, Obama said he is a Bears fan.
"But it's no secret that I was pulling for the Steelers during the Super Bowl," he said. "That's part of the reason why this is so much fun for me.
"This isn't me trying to have it both ways — everybody knows I'm pretty serious about my sports teams. But growing up in Hawaii when I was a kid, we didn't have a local football team.
"And when I started playing, and I started paying attention to football, it was guys like Terry Bradshaw and Franco Harris and the Steel Curtain and Mean Joe Greene ... I became a Steelers fan."
A story Obama relayed from his meeting with the Steelers helped explain why he also put them to work to help the troops in advance of Memorial Day.
It came, Obama said, when he talked about the game-winning touchdown catch in the Super Bowl. Obama said he lauded the pass Roethlisberger threw and the catch by Santonio Holmes.
"But then one of the (offensive) linemen pointed out there was some blocking on that play," Obama said. "So that just reminds you, that's what Steelers football is all about. It's a team effort."
Several ex-Steelers, including wide receiver Nate Washington and quarterback Byron Leftwich, accompanied their former teammates to the White House.
All-Pro linebacker James Harrison, as promised, was a no-show. Defensive end Aaron Smith did not attend.
The contingent that joined the Steelers at the White House included Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato and Pittsburgh Police chief Nathan Harper accompanied by four officers.
The policemen were invited to the White House to honor the three officers killed in the line of duty last month.
"This never gets old for me," said Steelers linebacker James Farrior, who is a team captain. "I love coming to the White House."