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Thursday, June 9, 2011
Defending champs visit the White House

By Edward Aschoff

Auburn’s football team finally got some presidential treatment Wednesday.

The defending national champs visited the White House and President Barack Obama for a ceremony in the East Room.

Kodi Burns and Barack Obama
Kodi Burns gave President Obama an Auburn jersey during the team's visit to the White House.
According to a release from the school, President Obama commended the Tigers for their undefeated season during a 25-minute ceremony.

“It wasn’t always an easy road,” Obama said. “This team played one of the toughest schedules in all of college football last year. In nine games, they came from behind to win -– including after being down 24-0 on the road to Alabama. Unbelievable. That was an unbelievable game. I watched that game. I’m busy, but I watched that game. That was unbelievable.”

Talk about inflating the significance of this rivalry.

Kodi Burns presented the president with an Auburn football helmet and a Tigers jersey with Obama’s name on the back.

“As soon as President Obama got elected, I remember telling my parents, friends and everybody that one of my goals in life was to be able to meet him," Burns said. "It felt great seeing him in person. Being at the White House was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Added Cam Newton: “It was special,” he said. “It is something that you look at on TV and you just wish and wonder what that feels like. Now we’ve been blessed enough to have this opportunity to meet President Obama. The whole experience was incredible.”

Auburn coach Gene Chizik said he and President Obama discussed the devastation in Alabama caused by the horrific tornadoes in late April. The president toured the destruction two days after the storms, while Chizik and a strong Auburn contingent helped with some of the relief efforts shortly after the storms hit.

“It has been great to be at the White House with the national championship football team,” Chizik said. “What a great honor and privilege this has been for the Auburn family. It’s so neat that so many of our seniors could come back. This is one of the last times this group will be together and what an honor it is to be together here at the White House and celebrate an unbelievable season.”

Auburn sent 150 individuals, including around 90 players from the 2010 championship team.

“It’s a great day for these players,” Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs said. “Nobody gave them a chance at the beginning of the year, and to be at the White House is really special for these players, coaches and the Auburn family. It’s been great to see so many seniors come back for this special occasion. It’s been like a reunion for the team.”

The team also toured the nation’s capital, including the Lincoln Memorial, an extremely special moment for wide receiver Emory Blake.

“I walked up the stairs and saw the plaque where Dr. King was standing when he gave the ‘I have a dream’ speech,” Blake said. “I took a picture of it with my phone and I will definitely save that because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience to see where history was made.”

Members of Auburn’s football family weren’t the only Tigers in town. After the ceremony, the team signed autographs and posed for pictures with Auburn fans who were invited.

“This was an awesome experience and I’m so glad I decided to come,” Josh Bynes said. “It was overwhelming to actually see the president in person and to shake his hand. This was probably the one and only time in my life that I will ever be in the White House. It’s been an exciting experience and I’m glad I came.”