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Obama welcomes national champs Crimson Tide: 'You can call me O'Bama'

By Tyler Kendall, Medill News Service   |   March 2, 2016 at 9:55 PM
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WASHINGTON, D.C., March 2 -- President Barack Obama said he must be good luck for the University of Alabama's football team as he welcomed the Crimson Tide to Washington for the fourth time in seven years on Wednesday.

"In fact, you could call me O'Bama," the president joked in the White House's East Room. "Do you like that?"

Alabama earned the trip after winning college football's national championship in January. The Tide defeated the Clemson Tigers 50-45 to secure the victory after a 14-1 season.

"It's like winning a best-of-seven series except you're playing 127 teams around the country," Obama said, with the players standing in rows behind him.

The team's most recent visit to Washington was in 2013 after a 42-14 win over Notre Dame for the national title in the old Bowl Championship Series.

"The last time a team went on this kind of run was in the 1940s," Obama said. "Back then, folks were still wearing leather helmets. I don't feel like anybody in a leather helmet would do too well trying to tackle Derrick Henry. Of course, even with modern helmets, they didn't do too well tackling Derrick Henry."

Henry was the 2015 Heisman Trophy winner. The junior running back holds the Southeastern Conference career rushing record with 3,591 yards-- which is the fifth most in major college history.

The president recognized other players, including three All-Americans: Ryan Kelly, A'Shawn Robinson and Reggie Ragland.

Quarterback Jake Coker also got a shout out. He threw for 300 yards in the victory against Clemson in Glendale, Ariz.

The man of the hour, however, was head Coach Nick Saban.

Saban is in the running to become the greatest college football coach of all time, according to Obama and some college football experts. The victory in January gave the coach his fifth national title – including one at Louisiana State University. Saban has coached college football for 20 years and has an overall record of 196-60-1.

"I'd also like to congratulate our team and thank our team for a wonderful job this year," Saban said. "They did some things that were special in their own way, and I think the thing that was greatest about this team was that they won as one."

The president also noted Saban's philanthropic efforts. The coach and his wife, Terry, have raised more than $6 million through their children's foundation.

This visit continues a tradition by the president of honoring sports teams not only for their triumphs on the field, but also for their efforts to give back to their communities. Obama highlighted the team's volunteering in Tuscaloosa, Ala., at retirement homes, hospitals and schools, as well as their time spent Wednesday with Wounded Warriors from Walter Reed Army Medical Center and Fort Belvoir.

The Tide's captains alongside Saban presented Obama with a football and an Alabama red jersey and helmet. The number 16 was on both pieces of gear to represent the 16th national championship in Alabama history.

"Congratulations and I'd like to say I'll see you next year, but we've got this thing called term limits," Obama joked. "You can keep on going."

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