2:27 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Well, good afternoon, everybody. Have a seat. Have a seat. It is my pleasure to welcome the Alabama Crimson Tide back to the White House -- (applause) -- and congratulate them on winning their 14th National Championship -- their second in three years. Roll Tide. (Applause.)
I told Coach he's making this a habit. (Laughter.) I’m also happy to see the best team in D.C. high school football in the house. (Applause.) Congratulations to the other Crimson Tide -- Dunbar High School -- on their city championship. (Applause.) Might have some recruits out here, Coach.
Now, we've got a lot of proud ‘Bama fans here today. It is good to see Mayor Maddox of Tuscaloosa again. Mayor Bell of Birmingham is here, as well as members of Congress, including several Alabama alums. I also want to recognize Alabama Director of Athletics Mal Moore and Interim University President Dr. Judy Bonner for their support of the best team in college football. (Applause.)
Now, obviously this is a team that knows something about adversity. It was one year ago next week that an F4 tornado carved a path right through the town of Tuscaloosa. I traveled down there two days later to see the devastation with the Mayor and the Governor. And I’ve got to tell you, I’d never seen anything like it.
And I remember something the Mayor said that day. He said that when something like that happens, folks tend to forget all their petty differences. Things like politics, religion, race -– when we’re confronted with a tragedy of such magnitude, all that just fades away. We’re reminded that all we have is each other. And if you need proof of that, just look how the Auburn community stepped up during that time of need.
The storm took the lives of 248 people, including six students. And it touched this team personally. Long snapper Carson Tinker’s girlfriend lost her life in the storm. And a few weeks later, there was fresh grief -- for Aaron Douglas, an offensive lineman who passed away. So this became a team in every sense of the word. They remembered Aaron and those lost in the storm not just with their hearts, but on their helmets -- with a houndstooth ribbon and the number 77.
And then they took to the field. They steamrolled opponent after opponent. They racked up an 8-0 record going into the rivalry game against LSU. Folks called it the "Game of the Century." The top two teams in the country -- #1 versus #2; primetime national television. And it delivered. It was a defensive slugfest that wouldn’t be settled until overtime. In the end, one team had to lose. And ‘Bama gave up its only loss of the season.
Fortunately, they got a rematch. In the National Championship game, the Tide not only beat the Tigers; they shut them out -- the first in BCS championship game history. (Applause.) LSU earned just five first downs, crossed the midfield line only once, and were held to less than 100 yards.
And it wasn’t just the defense that played lights out. Kicker Jeremy Shelley nailed a bowl-record five field goals. Heisman Trophy finalist Trent Richardson rushed for the only touchdown of the game in his usual fashion -- like a boulder rolling downhill. Offensive lineman Barrett Jones summed it up pretty well when he said, "We felt like we were capable of dominating, and we did that."
So this team didn’t just shatter records. I hear the championship trophy also took a bit of a spill -- (laughter) -- earlier this week.
So this was a fun season to watch, but it was also a deeply meaningful season for the Tide. And what’s even more impressive is that these young men showed that success isn’t about the individual -- it’s about the ability to work as a team. That’s why senior linebacker Courtney Upshaw handed his defensive MVP award to his teammates, saying the whole defense deserved it.
That’s why Coach became the first to win three BCS national championships, but he gave credit to his players’ hard work and persistence. They played as a team because of what they had endured as a team. And so each victory was about more than getting to the title game -- it was about the lives of these players and coaches that they’d carried with them and what they meant to each other.
Each of them found different ways to honor these memories. Coach Saban started a program called “13 for 30” that aims to rebuild 13 houses for families who lost theirs in the tornado. Strength coach Scott Cochran pitched in with players almost every Saturday helping families recover and rebuild. Courtney Upshaw raised $20,000 in relief funds for the impacted families. And Barrett Jones lugged a chainsaw around Tuscaloosa to remove tornado debris from homes and yards. So the Tide showed us what it takes to win as a team, but they also showed what it means to be a part of a larger community: to look out for one another, to help. And that makes them pretty special.
So I just want to say to all these outstanding men and all the staff, Coach and the entire Crimson Tide community, congratulations on an extraordinary season, and best of luck next season. Who knows, I may see you again.
Thank you. (Applause.)
COACH SABAN: On behalf of the entire Crimson Tide Nation, we would like to make Mr. President Obama here a part of our team, for not only the support and opportunity that he’s given our team to be here today and to congratulate and honor them, but also the support that you offered and your leadership offered our community in a very difficult time last year with the tragedy of our tornado.
It takes a lot of teamwork. It takes a lot of hard work. It takes a lot of perseverance, certainly a lot of positive energy and attitude to be successful, and a lot of people with a lot of discipline and responsibility to be accountable to do what they're supposed to do -- probably some of the things that our country tries to do, as well.
And we just want our President to be a part of our team, and would like to present you -- Barrett Jones will present you a game jersey.
THE PRESIDENT: Now, that's a nice-looking jersey right there. (Laughter and applause.)
COACH SABAN: From the 2011 national champs. (Applause.) We would also like to give you a helmet over here. We certainly don't want to be responsible for any head injuries that the President might have. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: I was mentioning yesterday, I’m probably going to need a helmet between now and November. What do you think, Shelby? (Laughter.) Huh? All right.
COACH SABAN: Well, good. Well, we really --
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much.
COACH SABAN: We really appreciate the opportunity, and thank you for your time to honor our team. Thank you very much.
THE PRESIDENT: Coach, I appreciate you.
2:35 P.M. EDT