WASHINGTON, D.C. – When the President of the United States, a devoted Chicago Bears fan, accuses the Green Bay Packers of coming to his house to “rub it in,” traditional decorum pretty much goes out the window.
The Packers’ White House visit on Friday was about as lighthearted as it gets, but to the players, that made it even more special, and likely more memorable. You don’t get to stand up on a stage on the Pennsylvania Avenue south lawn and trade jokes with the leader of the free world every day.
“You gotta be able to come back,” cornerback Charles Woodson said of the ongoing humorous exchange, which mostly centered around President Obama’s allegiance to Green Bay’s archrival. “He shoots one, you gotta shoot one back. It was a lot of fun.”
Woodson had the line of the day, and the last laugh. Before quarterback Aaron Rodgers presented Obama with a No. 1 Packers jersey, Woodson made him a part-owner of the franchise by turning over a framed share of stock.
Obama immediately pontificated that as an owner, he could immediately orchestrate a trade for Rodgers to quarterback the Bears. He had barely finished when Woodson put a hand on the President’s back and reminded him he’s “just a minority owner.”
Sense of humor aside, Woodson and Rodgers both said what made the biggest impression on them during the visit was simply Obama’s willingness to engage them and host the team for a short while.
“Everything that he’s challenged with every day, to come out and have a little fun, take pictures and shake hands, that whole thing, I’m sure he does that a thousand times a day,” Woodson said. “That’s the most impressive part about him.”
The team was equally impressed with the White House itself. During the touring part of the day, players and coaches snapped photos of one another next to the portraits of, presumably, their favorite presidents, and they made sure to test out the furniture, which was sturdy enough for football players.
They don’t expect to see Obama at next summer’s annual shareholders meeting, but who knows? He’ll be getting an invitation now, and if the Packers win another Super Bowl, the players might personalize the invite.
“That’s a pretty unique thing,” Packers President/CEO Mark Murphy said. “No other professional sports franchise could do what we did in terms of giving him a share of the team.”
Rodgers meanwhile has no illusions the President will ever don his new green-and-gold jersey with a “Commander in Chief” nameplate on the back, but knowing that Obama doesn’t need to be briefed by his staff on the happenings in the sports world means a little something.
“I don’t think (the jersey) will make the wall or get framed, but he’s a sports fan,” Rodgers said. “It’s fun to have a President so hip on the pop culture.
“I’ve met him twice, and he’s said very nice things about me and to me, and I’ve enjoyed the short conversations we’ve had. I have a lot of respect for him and the challenges that are on his shoulders.”
The Packers are about to embark on the challenge of getting back to another Super Bowl, a journey that begins on Saturday with the preseason opener in Cleveland.
While the team’s focus remains forward, the White House visit provided a nice respite from training camp and one last celebratory activity that was a long time coming.
“We weren’t sure we’d have enough time to do this, but I know the guys were all excited once we found out we got to be here,” Rodgers said. “It’s a long day of travel but it’s well worth it to be able to spend time at the White House and meet the President and enjoy the end of that Super Bowl run.
“It was a bit prolonged because of the lockout, but it’s nice to be able to put a cap on that season, and a cap on those memories with this visit.”
The fact that it came at the emotional expense of their friend for a day will make it that much harder to forget.
“I had an opportunity to speak to him after the (Super Bowl), and in his lead-in statement, he said it’s a hard phone call for a Bears fan to make,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “He’s dealing with it rather well I would say.”