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Monday, July 31, 2006
Saban turns down dinner with President Bush

Associated Press

DAVIE, Fla. -- When the White House extended an invitation to dine with President Bush, Dan Marino accepted. But Miami Dolphins coach Nick Saban said no.

Saban said his obligations at training camp took priority over the chance to spend an evening with the president. Politics weren't a factor, he said.

"It was really a tough decision," Saban said Monday. "I feel like my first responsibility is our team. That in no way disrespects the importance of the opportunity I would have loved to have had to spend dinner with the president."

Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor said he also turned down a chance to attend because the dinner Sunday night conflicted with team meetings on the second day of training camp.

The dinner took place at Joe's Stone Crabs, a landmark Miami Beach restaurant. Among those joining President Bush were Marino, a former Dolphins quarterback and an NFL Hall of Famer, and Nick Buoniconti, Jim Mandich and Jim Kiick, members of the 1972 Dolphins team that achieved the only perfect season in league history.

Marino, Buoniconti and Mandich took their wives. Marino said he was honored to be included but declined further comment.

Among the other guests were actor Andy Garcia and Univision host Mario Kreutzberger, known as Don Francisco. Topics of conversation included movies, the 1972 Dolphins and Marino's achievements, but little politics, Kiick said.

"It was a pretty wild feeling to know you're having dinner with the most powerful person in the most powerful country," Kiick said. "Usually it costs you $20,000 to get close to the president."

Regarding Saban's decision not to attend, Kiick said: "I find it hard to imagine turning down the president."

A Dolphins spokesman said Saban opted against accepting the invitation in part because the dinner conflicted with a visit by an undisclosed out-of-town guest who addressed his team.

How did Saban's wife react to his decision to decline?

"I'd rather this not become a public issue, because I don't think I even told her, to be honest with you," he said. "Now that you mention it, maybe I should wear a helmet home tonight."

Saban said he would have cherished dining with the president.

"It's a great experience, but it's a personal experience," Saban said. "And my obligation is to these players right now.

"Once we commit to camp, I'm out of everything. It helps me with the precedent of saying, 'This is what I'm doing, this is what I'm committed to, and I don't have to make exceptions for anything or anybody,'" he said.

Taylor said Marino invited him to the dinner.

"It's great to be able to do some things like that, but I've got an obligation here," Taylor said. "I've got a job to do and a responsibility."

Taylor and other players said they weren't surprised that Saban told the White House no.

"He's a football guy," safety Travares Tillman said. "He'll take us over the president any day."

When asked if he's a political person, Saban shook his head but said his best friend growing up was Joe Manchin, now governor of West Virginia.

"I can't even tell you what his political deal is, to be honest with you," Saban said. "But he's my friend."

As coach at LSU, Saban met Bush when the team visited the White House after winning the 2003 national championship. And while at Michigan State he met President Clinton, who took advantage of Saban's hospitality during a break between a morning fundraiser and an afternoon commencement speech.

"They took over our facility building, so he had an office there," Saban said. "I'm working in my office, he's in the other end of the building. Two Secret Service guys come down and say, 'Hey coach, can we use your couch? President Clinton doesn't have a couch. He wants to take a nap.' I said sure. My claim to fame is that he took a nap on my couch."