They were both underdogs once.
One was a freshman U.S. senator with an unusual name running for president; the other was a pro football team led by an undersized sophomore quarterback that few pegged as would-be champions.
On Wednesday, President Obama honored the Seattle Seahawks at the White House, celebrating their 43-8 Super Bowl win over the Denver Broncos as well as their individual triumphs over adversity.
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“We are here to celebrate the first Super Bowl victory for the city of Seattle,” Obama greeted the packed East Room audience of more than 200 guests and nearly half that many journalists. “As a guy who was elected president named Barack Obama, I root for the underdogs.”
Behind and next to Obama stood most of the Seahawks championship roster, plus head coach Pete Carroll, owner Paul Allen and team President Peter McLoughlin. A contingent of local and federal politicians sat in the front rows.
Many of the players were so nattily dressed that as they filed singly into the East Room, it felt like a venue for a fashion show. Minutes before, a guest wearing a Seahawks jersey had tried unsuccessfully to start a wave.
Though Obama is a confirmed basketball guy, he (or his speechwriters) packed his 10-minute remarks with knowing quips about various Seahawks foibles. He lamented that running back Marshawn Lynch — who famously appeared at a news conference and refused to speak — was absent.
“I just want to say how much I admire his approach to the press,” Obama said to appreciative laughter from the players. “I wanted to get some tips from him.”
Lynch’s mother, Delisa, told The Seattle Times Wednesday night that her son “just said he didn’t want to go.’’ She said Lynch has been mourning the recent death of a family member.
“No particular reason was given to me,’’ she said of why he didn’t go.
Obama ribbed Seahawks General Manager John Schneider, who was captured in a post-Super Bowl Instagram photo mugging shirtless and sporting an enormous belt.
“I’m curious, ‘Where is the championship belt today, John?’ ” Obama asked.
Obama also took a poke at cornerback Richard Sherman’s infamous trash talk after the Seahawks’ NFC championship win over the San Francisco 49ers.
“I considered letting Sherman up here to the podium … giving him the mike,” Obama said, then peered down at his watch. “But we gotta go in a little bit.”
Obama paid tribute to Carroll’s “outstanding leadership. I think it’s pretty clear that Coach Carroll does things the right way and we’re very proud of him.”
He lauded Allen not only for his stewardship of the team, but for his Paul G. Allen Family Foundation’s raising of millions of dollars for medical research into traumatic brain injuries, a concern for football players and war veterans alike.
Obama hailed Sherman’s upbringing in a close-knit family amid gangs, drugs and guns in Compton, Calif., and his scholarship to Stanford that “showed kids from his neighborhood that they could make it.”
Obama took note of Russell Wilson’s new, near-shaven head. He said Wilson once was deemed too short and drafted behind five other quarterbacks. Wilson, Obama said, went on to win more games in his first two seasons than any quarterback in NFL history.
“Part of the reason that I think Russell inspired a lot of folks is he’s been proving the doubters wrong for a very long time,” Obama said.
Obama suggested the Seahawks might have cheated to achieve their success at CenturyLink Field, where the team’s fans last season twice set the record for loudest crowd noise.
“You hired some physicist to make it so,” Obama said. “There are a lot of really smart people at Microsoft and up in those places that can design these things.”
Carroll, who spoke briefly after Obama, seemed awe-struck.
“Thank you, Mr. President. I can’t believe I’m saying that,” he said.
Carroll offered to lend Obama a hand should the country ever need it, promising that “the Legion of Boom is just a phone call away.”
Obama turned to Allen to give him a chance to speak. Allen shyly declined. Then Sherman handed Obama a blue 12th Man flag. Obama and the players unfurled it and turned to face a sea of cameras and smartphones.
After the event, Carroll and two players, wide receiver Doug Baldwin and defensive lineman Michael Bennett, gathered outside the north front of the White House to meet with local media, including reporters from four Seattle television stations.
Baldwin flashed a wad of presidential napkins swiped during a tour of the West Wing.
Carroll said being feted personally by the president of the United States made for “an extraordinary day.”
Bob Condotta contributed to this report. Kyung Song: 202-383-6108 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @KyungMSong