WASHINGTON -- The New Orleans Saints marched in to the White House on Monday and received a salute from President Barack Obama for lifting up "the hopes and the dreams of a shattered city" with their Super Bowl victory.
Obama welcomed the Saints in an East Room ceremony where he congratulated the players, owner and coaches several months after they beat the Indianapolis Colts, 31-17, for their first-ever football championship. Obama said it was an unbelievable season for the team after decades of frustration.
"I'm a Bears fan, I'm not going to lie, but this was a big win for the country -- not just New Orleans," the president said. He noted that after Hurricane Katrina the Saints had to play an entire season on the road because their home stadium, the Superdome, was ruined in the storm.
"Back then, people didn't even know if the team was coming back. People didn't even know if the city was coming back," Obama said. "Now, New Orleans and the New Orleans Saints are here to stay."
Obama noted that he has to make tough decisions as president. "But I never decided on an onside kick in the second half of the Super Bowl," the president joked, referencing the bold play that helped the Saints clinch their victory.
Team members presented Obama with a Saints jersey with the number of his presidency -- 44 -- on the back.
Quarterback Drew Brees and other team members planned to visit troops at Walter Reed Army Medical Center after their White House stop. They also put on a football clinic for kids from Boys & Girls Clubs. And, team members showed off some of New Orleans' famous cuisine. They served some shrimp to the White House press corps and were sharing recipes with White House staff, including, according to Obama, a 30-foot po-boy that was to be served at lunch.
Obama also talked about the latest disaster to hit the Gulf, the BP oil spill. He expressed optimism that the battle to stop the flowing of the oil is just about over, but said there was plenty of clean-up work still to be done.
"That's a commitment my administration is going to keep," he said.
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press