WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Torrey Smith stepped down off the riser, a big grin on his face, his right hand ready for the shake. And the President of the United States said, "Oh man! Your dreads!"
The Baltimore Ravens' congratulatory visit to the White House on Wednesday was quick and festive, yet very personal, too. Barack Obama teased Ed Reed, offered a little trash talk on behalf of his beloved Chicago Bears (who will host the Ravens in Week 11 this season) and, yes, recognized that Smith had cut off the long, thick braids he's worn since high school.
"I'm high on life right now," Smith said as he walked off the North Lawn and toward the buses the Ravens drove in from Owings Mills, Md. "This was pretty cool."
Cool was Obama matching the expected recitation of quarterback Joe Flacco's striking playoff statistics with a deadpan, "Good timing with that contract up. That was some good timing."
It was Obama introducing the now-departed Ravens stalwarts, Reed and Ray Lewis, before ad-libbing, "Ed is getting some gray hair, though. I'm not the only one." And then, with Reed doubled over: "You're like an old man."
It was Obama extolling the way Lewis came back from a torn triceps last fall, sliding in an aside that the injury might have come from "that dance he does." It was the way that, as the now-retired linebacker encouraged the president to perform the famous "squirrel dance," Obama playfully shut him down: "No. I am not doing that dance."
Ravens senior vice president of public and community relations Kevin Byrne said, as the players walked out, a common refrain was that the president really seemed to know them. All dressed in suits (Tyrod Taylor wore a white blazer), with a few purple ties thrown in, the winners of Super Bowl XLVII posed around the White House most of the morning, tweeting out pictures and doing a lot of smiling.
An hour before the ceremony, after the team held a walk-through to figure out where to stand (and how to choreograph the handshake line with the president), Lewis, Smith, running back Ray Rice and coach John Harbaugh met with nearly three dozen students from Chicago's Harper High School. Visiting the White House at the behest of first lady Michelle Obama, the high schoolers also attended the ceremony (and cheered loudly when the president said the Ravens would need his "good luck" wishes for their November visit to Soldier Field).
Several key pieces of the Ravens' championship team were absent. Paul Kruger (who signed with the Cleveland Browns) and Cary Williams (now with the Philadelphia Eagles) begged off because of mandatory minicamps with their new teams. Receiver Anquan Boldin tweeted that he'd stay in California with his new team, the San Francisco 49ers. While Boldin expressed regret, safety Bernard Pollard, now with the Tennessee Titans, defiantly said he did not wish to be near the team that cut him.
Obama proudly posed with the Ravens jersey Harbaugh gave him (emblazoned with the No. 44 and the words "Mr. President" on the back), and with the short-sleeve golf-jacket general manager Ozzie Newsome offered. Obama also commended the Ravens' community-service work and announced their donation of football uniforms and girls' basketball uniforms to 42 Baltimore high schools.
"This year, Baltimore won't just be seeing the Ravens on Sundays or Monday night or Thursday night," Obama said. "You'll see their impact in high schools under Friday night lights. And that's a testimony to the connection they feel to this city."