WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama paid tribute Wednesday to the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, lauding the exuberant and diverse team for overcoming the odds.
“Let me just say as a guy who was elected president named Barack Obama, I root for the underdogs,” Obama said, noting the team included 19 players who hadn’t been drafted and was led by a quarterback who saw five others drafted before him. “Seeing folks overcome the odds excites me.”
Celebrating Seattle’s first Super Bowl championship at the White House energized the audience, which began cheering as the players walked into the ornate East Room, filing onto risers behind the presidential lectern.
“Sea! Hawks!” people started chanting, as they waved ball caps and snapped photographs of the players.
Much of Washington state’s congressional delegation was in attendance, including Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, David Reichert, Jaime Herrera Beutler and Jim McDermott, along with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray. Several took the opportunity after Obama left to shake hands with the players and coaches.
The president praised the team for its performance on and off the field, noting that quarterback Russell Wilson spends every Tuesday _ “even during the season” _ visiting sick kids at the Seattle Children’s Hospital.
Wilson, he noted, has won more games through his first two seasons than any quarterback in history and became only the second African-American quarterback ever to win a Super Bowl.
“And the best part about it is, nobody commented on it, which tells you the progress that we’ve made, although we’ve got more progress to make,” Obama said.
And the president _ who’d joked at the recent White House Correspondents’ Association dinner about cornerback Richard Sherman’s famed rant _ noted that Sherman grew up in Compton, Calif., “amid some wonderful people, but also gangs and drugs and guns,” and ended up with a scholarship to Stanford.
“If he seems a little brash, it’s because you’ve got to have attitude sometimes if you are going to overcome some of this adversity,” Obama said. “And the fact that he still goes back to inspire high schoolers for higher goals and making better choices, that’s all-star behavior.”
The president _ who’ll host a White House summit next week on youth sports safety and concussions _ also hailed Seahawks owner and Microsoft co-owner Paul Allen for a family foundation that’s contributed millions for medical research into traumatic brain injuries.
He noted the injuries are a concern for the NFL, and also “to our troops.”
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll also came in for some praise, with Obama telling him that “those of us who are in leadership positions across disciplines, we’re always looking at folks who do things the right way.”
The president joked that he’d like to pick up a few tips from the Seahawks’ star running back Marshawn Lynch, who typically avoids reporters who cover the team.
“I am sorry Marshawn is not here, because I just wanted to say how much I admire his approach to the press,” Obama said to laughter.
The president lauded the city, as well, for the team’s “12th man” – the roar of its stadium crowd – joking that it’s “kind of cheating, because it’s so loud.” He suggested that “you hired some physicist to make it so. There are a lot of really smart people at Microsoft and up in those places that can design these things.”
He also lauded the city’s civility, noting that it “let loose in true Seattle style” after the Super Bowl.
“While some got a little carried away, there’s actually video of a huge group of Seahawks fans interrupting their celebration to wait for the walk sign before crossing an intersection,” Obama said. “So that’s Seattle for you.”
Team members tweeted pictures of themselves at the White House before the event, several posing with a bust of Abraham Lincoln.
“Thanks to the president for a really special day for the Seahawks and the #12s!” Carroll said on Twitter. “We were so honored to represent Seattle and #12s everywhere!”
email: email@example.com; Twitter: @lesleyclark