WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama hollered "Roll Tide" Monday at the White House, honoring an Alabama national championship football team for the third time in four years.
"Since I'll be around for four more football seasons," the second-term Democrat said, "I expect I just might see these guys again before I leave."
As "Sweet Home Alabama" played on the White House South Lawn, the 10-minute celebration began five weeks after a winter storm scuttled the SEC powerhouse's March visit. The delay aside, White House visits have become routine for Alabama, and coach Nick Saban mentioned how much Crimson Tide paraphernalia Obama has collected after so many ceremonies.
"You're an official member of the team," Saban joked, "and I will have a meeting later with you to decide how much playing time you're going to get."
"I think we should keep me on the bench," Obama quipped to laughs.
Alabama finished 13-1, winning its 15th national title (by some counts) after beating Georgia in the SEC championship game and Notre Dame in the BCS showdown. While the April 25 NFL draft will deprive the Crimson Tide of center Barrett Jones and several other key players, the team expects another banner year with senior quarterback AJ McCarron leading the way.
But Monday wasn't about the fall of 2013. More like how cool it is to shake the president's hand.
"I'll take it any time a guy like that compliments you," Jones said. "That's a good day."
Like Jones, it was Tana Patrick's third White House celebration. The senior linebacker, Bridgeport resident and North Jackson High School graduate said he had never visited Washington before his Crimson Tide career.
"It's real nice to do all the things I've been able to do," Patrick said. "It's good to go back and have something to tell the little kids back home. You can do this even if you're coming from a small place, a small town."
The team had a few hours to kill before a Monday evening flight back to Tuscaloosa. Players and coaches trekked to the National Museum of Natural History, fittingly gathering under the Smithsonian's giant elephant display.
Before long, previously subdued tourists (mostly dads managing caffeinated kids) found themselves bug-eyed at the Alabama surprise, asking for pictures, getting autographs and gawking at championship rings.
Matt Dowd, a Crimson Tide fan from West Hartford, Conn., said his youngest son Charles made a quick adjustment upon recognizing his fellow museumgoers.
"He had this Maryland shirt on," the elder Dowd said, "and when he realized it was the Alabama football team, he pulled it right off."
The museum itself provided a lighter moment. Someone mentioned Natural History's top attraction to McCarron, whose girlfriend Katherine Webb drew national attention when ABC announcer Brent Musburger commented on her appearance during the Notre Dame game.
A reporter told McCarron he should photograph the world-famous Hope Diamond and send a snapshot to Webb.
"She'll get too many ideas on that," the quarterback said with a grin.