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Navy Makes Triumphant Return to White House

Thursday, April 21, 2005; Page D02

Last year, during a ceremony honoring Navy's football team, Coach Paul Johnson told President Bush, "You get back to the White House, we'll be here again, too."

After beating Air Force and Army to win the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy for the second season in a row, the Midshipmen were standing in the Rose Garden yesterday, being honored by Bush again.

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"Coach Johnson told me last year, he said, 'Don't worry about it, Mr. President, we'll be back,' " Bush said yesterday. "I like a man who keeps his word."

Johnson led the Midshipmen to a 10-2 record, their best season in 99 years and Bush, of course, won his reelection over Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in November. "It's also an honor to have you back. You kept your part of the deal as well, and we're excited about that," Johnson told Bush.

Navy beat Air Force, 24-21, and Army, 42-13, to win the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy in consecutive seasons for only the second time in academy history and the first since 1978-79. The Midshipmen capped their season with a 34-19 victory over New Mexico in the Emerald Bowl in San Francisco, only their fifth bowl victory.

"This team is tough and it has talent and you know how to win," Bush told the players.

Johnson faces an arduous challenge in rebuilding Navy next season, as the Midshipmen lose all but four starters from last year's team. Quarterback AaronPolanco, from Wimberley, Tex., and free safety Josh Smith, from Attica, Ind., presented Bush with an autographed football.

"No wonder their team did well," said Bush, a former Texas governor. "They had a Texan at quarterback."

Navy opens the season Sept. 3 against Maryland at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. "Being that it's such a short trip from Annapolis to the White House, we'd like to make this trip every year," Johnson said.

-- Mark Schlabach

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