Wiedmer: Alabama's White House visit was D.C. at its finest

Wiedmer: Alabama's White House visit was D.C. at its finest

April 13th, 2018 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

President Donald Trump, center, poses for a photos with the 2017 NCAA National Champion University of Alabama football team at the White House in Washington, Tuesday, April 10, 2018. Head coach Nick Saban told the Trump jersey. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Photo by Susan Walsh

List the most memorable moments in Alabama football history over the past 50 years — both the good and the bad — and Ruby Falls president Hugh Morrow Jr. has seen almost all of them in person.

Whether it was that 33-32 win over Ole Miss and Archie Manning under Legion Field's bright lights in 1969 or the "Punt, Bama, Punt" fiasco inside that same Birmingham landmark in 1972, Morrow was there. Whether it was watching the Crimson Tide defeat Texas in the Rose Bowl to win the national championship at the close of the 2009 season or grimacing as Bama blew a 24-0 lead against Auburn a year later in the 2010 Iron Bowl, Morrow was there.

But he says that none of those titanic Tide moments, be they wonderful or woeful, can match what he experienced Tuesday when he joined the Alabama team on the South Lawn of the White House while President Donald Trump honored the 2017 national champions.

President Donald Trump is presented with a team helmet by the 2017 NCAA football national champions, the Alabama Crimson Tide, during a ceremony honoring the champions on the White House's South Lawn, in Washington, Tuesday, April 10, 2018. To the right left of the president is head coach Nick Saban. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

President Donald Trump is presented with a team...

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

"Hands down, by far, that was the coolest Alabama thing I've ever done," Morrow said Thursday afternoon. "Whatever your political views, when you celebrate an accomplishment like that, politics should be put aside, and this was a very nonpartisan event."

Morrow is Bama royalty once removed. His late father, Hugh Sr., was a Tide star who still holds the Sugar Bowl record for longest interception return for a touchdown, his pick-six in the 1945 game against Duke covering 80 yards. (Not that they were called pick-sixes in 1945.)

Yet that's not how Morrow Jr., himself an Alabama grad, got to go to the White House.

"One of my best friends is Stewart McLaurin, who's the president of the White House Historical Association," explained Morrow. "We were Sigma Chi fraternity brothers at Alabama. He was in my wedding. About three weeks ago he let me know I was getting an invitation to this and he'd love for me to be there."

Morrow arrived in Washington, D.C., on Monday night, eating dinner with several of his Sigma Chi buddies. He was at the first security checkpoint at 2 p.m. Tuesday for the 3:30 ceremony.

"When you got your invitation, you also got a form to fill out for the Secret Service," he said. "When we got there, they checked all of that against your driver's license and such. If one thing didn't match exactly from what you'd originally sent them, you probably weren't going to get in."

President Donald Trump, right, holds up a jersey he was presented with by Alabama team captains Bradley Bozeman, left, and Rashaan Evans, center, during an event for the 2017 NCAA National Champion University of Alabama football team on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, April 10, 2018. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

President Donald Trump, right, holds up a jersey...

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

But once there, everything was perfect. At the last minute, Morrow and a friend even wound up being seated on the third row — right across the aisle from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who graduated from Alabama's law school in 1973, and Doug Jones, Alabama's newest U.S. Senator.

While noting that Sessions is a Republican and Jones a Democrat, Morrow said, "To watch them interact, they're just people. This wasn't about politics. Everybody was there to celebrate a group of 90 to 100 kids who sweated and sacrificed more than most of us will ever do in our lives to accomplish something special."

As for Trump, Morrow found him to be "incredibly approachable, very relaxed. He shook the hands of the players and hugged them. One of the people in our traveling party got a selfie. Another one, who didn't come there as a fan of Trump, said afterward, 'He was charming.'"

He was also ready with at least one topical zinger.

While recalling how he was inside Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the championship win over Georgia, Tua Tagovailoa's 41-yard TD toss to DeVonta Smith in overtime, the President added, "I've watched a lot of (your) games, and sometimes, as Coach (Nick) Saban likes to say, you flat out made them quit. They quit. We're doing that to a lot of people, too, I learned."

However, what most impressed Morrow was how Trump, at the urging of punter JK Scott, joined the Crimson Tide in a 41-second prayer for the President and his staff.

"There was no hesitation," Morrow said. "When JK asked if he would join them, he said, 'Sure,' and 20 or 30 of them gathered around him and they all prayed together."

Asked what souvenirs he brought back, Morrow said, "Just all the pictures I got to take. At one point I was no more than 15 feet from the President, Coach Saban and (quarterback) Jalen Hurts. Washington. It was as advertised — incredible."

He did admit to thinking briefly of picking a crimson-colored tulip or two before deciding, "I might have been tossed out of there."

Instead, Morrow reveled in a rare nonpartisan moment (well, unless you're an Auburn or Georgia fan, perhaps) in the nation's capital, noting, "This is the people's city, the people's (White) House. And every time I see it it takes my breath away."

Kind of like Tagovailoa to Smith to secure the Tide's fifth trip to the White House in nine years.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

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