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April 19, 2012WASHINGTON, D.C. | Football players get excited about meeting the president at the White House.
The president got excited Thursday when he got to wear a national championship ring during the University of Alabama football team's visit to be honored for the 2011 national championship.
When players got to meet Obama, quarterback AJ McCarron asked the president to hold his championship ring.
"Hold it, hell. I'll flash it," Obama said, then donned the ring for a few moments to pose for photos with players.
It was a light moment in a day filled with fun and rare opportunity for Alabama.
UA coach Nick Saban thanked Obama "on behalf of the entire Crimson Tide nation," and it wasn't surprising that a portion of that fan nation was on hand to greet the team when it arrived at the White House.
An hour before the team's arrival, 48-year-old contractor Mark Wardlaw and his wife Rhonda sat on a bench clad in crimson. The couple resides in Bowie, Md., but is originally from Attalla.
"Back again," Mark said, noting that they also showed up two years ago to cheer the 2009 national title team. "We've been doing the Google searches and finally saw they were coming. Cancelled contracts, pushed customers to next week, so I'm here."
So was Sujin Yoon, a 21-year-old George Washington University student who grew up in Tuscaloosa.
"My dad's an alumni," she said. "I grew up there. I love the team. I'm out here to show them how excited we are that they won."
Sumiton Middle School's annual sixth-grade trip to the nation's capital happened to fall when Alabama was in town to meet the president, so the tour group showed up to cheer the team's arrival. A teacher contacted the UA athletic department, which shipped a large box of crimson and white shakers for the youngsters.
"How cool is it to be from Alabama and have your team here?" said Joanne Jent, a teacher.
The students joined in with a group of more than three dozen outside the security fence as the team buses rolled in. Among them was Joseph Webster, a 2002 UA graduate from Alabaster who works in the White House for the Department of Homeland Security.
"It's kind of a big deal," Webster said. "Most people (who work in the White House) are younger. They follow college football. When your team wins, they definitely know."
Not all members of the 2011 championship team made the trip. Five projected first-round National Football League draft choices -- Trent Richardson, Mark Barron, Courtney Upshaw, Dont'a Hightower and Dre Kirkpatrick -- did not attend.
The oddest sight on Alabama's tour was defensive lineman Jesse Williams, a warrior from Australia. Even sporting a Mohawk haircut with long strands flowing down his back, Williams looked sporty in his striped suit and neon-green tie. When the team left the White House and headed to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and Arlington Cemetery, Williams took off his coat to reveal his tattooed bare arms, visible because his button-down shirtsleeves had been torn off at the shoulder.
After making the trip following the 2009 national title season, linebacker Nico Johnson found it easier to absorb the entire experience the second time around.
"It makes you sit back and see everything from a different view," he said. "I must say I'm blessed, our entire team is blessed. Just sitting back and enjoying and thinking about everything we've been through, from the tornado to losing a player (Aaron Douglas) and one of our players (Carson TInker) losing his girlfriend, it's just a blessing to be hereickyick Saban, making his second White House trip with Alabama and the third in his coaching career, was introspective as he spoke in the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden before leaving the White House.
"It's a great experience because I appreciate the opportunity," he said. "I mean, sometimes I look around and say, will we have this opportunity again, and cherish this moment. It's a beautiful day, it's a beautiful time, a great time for our players and to them this is special. It's their time. I'm really happy for them."
Reach Tommy Deas at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0224.