Seahawks praised at White House

ByJohn Keim ESPN logo
Thursday, May 22, 2014

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama's opening lines dared to target a player whom offenses often stay away from.

But this was his house -- the White House, to be exact -- and Obama was ready to have a little fun at Richard Sherman's expense.

"I considered letting Sherman up here to the podium and giving him the mic," Obama said Wednesday as he welcomed the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. "But we gotta go in a little bit."

There was no need for Sherman to say much of anything at this point. And, in fact, he didn't say a word. It was time for Obama to command the room and heap praise on the Seahawks, mixing in jokes with admiration for what they accomplished.

Even that led to a little fun.

"Of course, I don't need to tell you how outstanding the Seahawks are because they did a pretty good job of describing themselves," Obama said. "You may have heard of the Legion of Boom."

Obama rattled off the names of Seattle's starting defensive backs -- Sherman, safety Earl Thomas, safety Kam Chancellor and corner Byron Maxwell, calling them "the best secondary in the NFL."

Then Obama turned to the defensive line, which he called dominant.

"Guys like Michael Bennett, Red Bryant, Brandon Mebane -- Brandon Mebane's jelly roll dance," Obama said to laughter. "You can't do that here in the White House."

Running back Marshawn Lynch was one of a handful of players who did not attend, but he was on the president's mind. Lynch gained attention for not speaking to the media throughout the season, and whether he would talk during Super Bowl week became a story unto itself.

"I'm sorry he's not here," Obama said, "because I want to say how much I admire his approach to the press. I want to get some tips from him."

To which someone in attendance shouted out: "It's about the action!" -- a line Obama then repeated.

It was that kind of afternoon in the East Room -- funny lines followed by laughter or factual lines preceding big applause -- like when Obama pointed out how the Seahawks beat the rival San Francisco 49ers in the playoffs. That drew heartier cheers than when he mentioned the 35-point margin of victory over the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl.

What impressed Obama were the backstories of the players such as quarterback Russell Wilson.

"He's only the second African-American quarterback to ever win the Super Bowl, and the best part about it is no one commented on it," Obama said. "Part of the reason Russell inspired a lot of folks is he's been proving the doubters wrong for a very long time. For years, folks said he's too short to succeed as quarterback in the NFL. Five quarterbacks were drafted ahead of him -- a familiar story for a lot of the Seahawks."

Obama was well-versed on many of the players' backgrounds -- 19 formerly undrafted players were part of the roster; three starters in the secondary were drafted in the fifth round or later; the receiving corps was called pedestrian.

"So let me say as a guy who was elected president named Barack Obama, I root for the underdogs," he said. "Seeing folks overcome the odds excites me. It also excites me when you see the whole being greater than the sum of the parts, and that's what this team is all about."

And yes, it's also about Sherman.

Obama recounted the star cornerback's story in short form: Grew up in Compton, California, around gangs and drugs; father awoke at 4 a.m. to drive a garbage truck; earned a 4.2 GPA in high school.

"He showed kids from his neighborhood that they could make it," Obama said. "If he seems brash, it's because you have to have attitude sometimes if you're going to overcome adversity."

The 12th Man was noted as well -- Sherman even presented the president a 12th Man flag after the event.

"You can't talk about the Seahawks without talking about the 12th Man," Obama said. "Part of that is you all have that stadium, which is kind of cheating. You hired some physicist. ... There's a lot of really smart people at Microsoft and other places that design these things. ... The 12s set a record not once, but twice for the loudest crowd noise in history. Now, history's a long time. [It was] so loud on occasion they actually created minor earthquakes, which is disturbing."

The aftershock of the Super Bowl for coach Pete Carroll was simply being at Obama's residence.

"Thank you, Mr. President," Carroll said. "I can't believe I'm saying that."

But Carroll wanted Obama to know something.

"I do know you have access to some of the great special force units," Carroll said, turning to his right to address the president. "But I want you to know that just a phone call away is the Boom."

"For some sort of special mission," Obama responded.

"We're just a phone call away," Carroll said.

Or, perhaps, a repeat.

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