WASHINGTON — There were grown men on the South Lawn of the White House Friday wearing yellow foam hats shaped like blocks of cheese.
Green Bay Packers fans, players, owners and front office staff visited the White House Friday as President Obama honored their Super Bowl championship on a hot Friday afternoon. A small and enthusiastic crowd donned cheeseheads and Packers jerseys and an assortment of green and gold ties.
Even members of the media, with whom this Minnesota Vikings fan-turned-MinnPost-Washington-correspondent was gathered, broke the time-tested code of not cheering from the press box: there were Packers hats and lanyards and even a green-and-gold hand towel one reporter used in case he needed to mop sweat off his brow.
The presidential tradition of welcoming champion sports teams to the White House goes back decades, but it’s been a long time since a pro Minnesota team to mean the trip. The Twins last did it after their 1991 World Series victory. For the Vikings, the drought’s been even longer; the team’s been to four Super Bowls, but it’s never been to the White House.
Obama gets a share
“I’m just going to come out and say it,” Obama said. “This hurts a little bit.”
The president, a Chicago Bears fan, was famously called out by Packers defensive back Charles Woodson last year after the Packers beat the Bears to go to the Super Bowl. Obama had said he’d travel to the Super Bowl in Dallas had the Bears won. They did not, and Woodson pledged in a post-game speech, “The president don’t want to come watch us win the Super Bowl? Guess what? We’ll go see him.”
In addition to a team jersey, Woodson on Friday presented Obama with a share of the publicly-owned Packers. “What I’m thinking,” said Obama, a new part-owner of the franchise, “is I think we should initiate a trade to send [quarterback Aaron] Rodgers down to the Bears.”
“A minority owner, thank you,” Woodson reminded him, to cheers from the audience.
Obama praised the Packers’ Super Bowl run, highlighting players like Woodson, Clay Matthews and especially Rodgers, calling him not only a great quarterback, but “one of the best quarterbacks, perhaps of all time. And I know that he’s going to be having an extraordinary career going forward.”
White House’s Gophers infestation
The Vikings, meanwhile, toiled away the 2010 season with a last-place finish in the NFC North.
But that doesn’t mean Minnesota is completely without teams qualified to go to the White House. The University of Minnesota-Duluth could end up sending to Washington its football and men’s hockey teams, both of which claimed collegiate championships this past season.
Over the past decade, half a dozen Minnesota Gophers squads have also met with the president. Gophers wrestlers became the first collegiate wrestling team to meet the president after their 2000-01 national championship. The team won another championship in 2007, and returned shortly after. The men’s hockey teams that won back-to-back national championships in 2002 and 2003 met with President George W. Bush twice, as did the Gophers women hockey team in 2005 and 2006.
But there’s a real possibility Obama could leave the office without ever welcoming one of Minnesota’s big four professional sports to the White House. Barring a miracle, the Twins won’t contend for a World Series title this year, and the 2012 World Series champions won’t visit the White House until 2013 at the earliest — and by that time, it’s possible Obama will be out of his job.
The Wild and Wolves struggled last season and both have new head coaches, and the Vikings are in full rebuilding mode after gambling the last two seasons away with the Packers’ ex-quarterback Brett Favre (who lead Green Bay to the White House with a victory in Super Bowl XXXI).
With their visit Friday, the Packers have been to the White House twice since the Twins’ last visit in 1992.
“This is a hard thing for a Bears fan to do,” Obama said with the Packers behind him. “It doesn’t hurt as much as the NFC Championship game hurt, but it still hurts, you guys coming to my house to rub it in.
“What are you going to do — go to Ditka’s house next?”
Devin Henry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.