WASHINGTON--A jubilant President Obama welcomed the 1985 Chicago Bears to a long delayed White House celebration on Friday, calling them "the greatest team in NFL history."
"This is as much fun as I will have as President of the United States, right here. This is one of the perks of the job, right here," Obama said.
A Marine band quartet struck up the fight song, "Bear Down, Chicago Bears," as the Bears, lugging their Super Bowl rings, flanked Obama on the South Lawn of the White House.
"I think it's safe to say that this is the only team in NFL history with a gold record and a Grammy nomination," Obama said, referring to the hit-in-its day team rap song, the Super Bowl Shuffle.
"So this team changed everything for every team that came on after, on and off the field. They changed the laws of football. They were gritty; they were gutsy; they were hardworking; they were fun-loving -- sort of how Chicagoans like to think of themselves. And Chicago has always been a diehard football town, but this team did something to our city that we've never gotten over.
"We love the Bears. And as much fun as it is to finally have these guys here, we want today's Bears to come home to the White House with a championship as well," Obama said.
Watching--wearing orange and blue Bears hats, ties and jerseys--was an audience of Chicagoans who were invited--or wrangled an ask--to the historic reunion. A Bears spokesman said more than 40 players attended and the entire party--coaches, team executives and other staffers--total 100. They arrived at the White House in three buses.
"And in a sign that anything is possible, even in Washington, Coach Ditka and Buddy Ryan are here together,'" Obama said, a reference to a back story he assumed people knew. The Bears savvy audience applauded, because defensive Coach Ryan and Ditka had a falling out years ago.
Obama included a shout out to a player--Dan Hampton--who told WLS radio he was declining the invitation for a few reasons. He was not a fan of Obama and "it was 25 years ago. Let it go."
The president--looking just thrilled," went on about the power of the famed team. "I mean, there are guys who hit, and there are guys who hit. And these guys hit. Mike Singletary, Steve McMichael, Otis Wilson, Wilber Marshall, Dan Hampton, Gary Fencik, and Richard Dent, the Super Bowl MVP -- a guy I used to actually work out with in the gym and made me feel weak."
Punky quarterback Jim McMahon, now bald, wore a headband--it became his trademark during the run-up to the championship--and gave one with the letters "USA" to Obama. "I'm not wearing it," Obama joked.
In the one somber note of the afternoon, Obama noted the loss of two 1985 Bears who have died, David Duerson who committed suicide this year and Walter Payton.
"Even 12 years after we lost him to cancer at the too-young age of 45, Chicago still loves "Sweetness," Obama said. The president noted that Connie Payton and Duerson's former wife, Alicia were at the ceremony, still part of the 1985 Bears family.
No matter who the president, championship teams are almost always invited to the White House. The Bears 1986 visit was cancelled, coming just after the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger.
The make-good request came from the National Football League, Obama said. With a Chicago president--and Bears fan--in the White House, the Obama administration obliged.
White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley was there; he recalled when we chatted that he was at the Super Bowl in New Orleans for that 1985 game--and flew home on the same plane as the late Mayor Harold Washington.
"We had just a glorious time," said Bears board member Mike McCaskey told reporters afterwards.
Illinois Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) Ald. Joe Moore (49th), state Rep. LaShawn Ford (D-Chicago) and state Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia (D-Aurora) were among the elected officials at the event. The audience included staffers with Chicago ties, donors and some of the many who had friends in high places in Obama's Chicago White House.