“You’ve been here six times, and this is your first time in the Oval,” Trump said to Saban. “They didn’t invite you. Trump invites you.”
Trump had attended the game in Atlanta in January, appearing on the field for the playing of the national anthem and the presentation of the American flag. It was a gesture that came after the president engaged in a season-long fight with the National Football League over the demonstrations by some players who knelt during the anthem to protest police brutality, something Trump called disrespectful to the country.
Trump left the game to return to Washington at halftime, with Georgia leading 13-0, missing the Crimson Tide’s thrilling comeback led by backup quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
“It was truly a win for the ages,” Trump said. “I don’t know if you know, but I was there.”
He added that: “It will go down as one of the most exciting finishes in college football history — of any sport.”
“I was watching,” Trump declared, even though he had not tweeted about the game after it was over or publicly commented on it. “I said, ‘Coach, it’s not looking too good.’ Down 13-0 at halftime to a great Georgia team; the champions fought back as they did all season long.”
Trump mentioned a number of Alabama players by name, including starting quarterback Jalen Hurts, who, the president said, “displayed amazing poise and leadership.” Of Alabama’s defense, Trump said: “You beat opposing offenses into submission. You flat out made them quit. They quit.”
After a beat, Trump smiled and added: “We’re doing that to a lot of people, too.”
Trump told Saban he could sell his secret to winning “and make a lot of money, ” and he concluded his remarks by saying “Roll Tide” before introducing the coach.
Saban, in his own remarks, thanked the president, and the team captains presented him with a jersey with the number 17 and TRUMP printed on the back. The group smiled and posed for pictures, and the president put his arm around Saban’s wife, Terry, who joined them on the podium.
But perhaps the biggest compliment Trump offered, at least in the mind of a president who has specific markers for success, came at the start of his remarks when he called the players “extraordinary” and predicted: “They’re going to be very rich, very rich.”
Some other teams and athletes have expressed unease with the traditional White House visit because of political differences with Trump, but offensive lineman Ross Pierschbacher said Saban ended any potential debate before it could start.
“Coach Saban addressed it and just said, ‘Hey, we’re doing this regardless of your political thoughts,’ ” Pierschbacher said (via AL.com). “’We’re going, just to celebrate this team. It’s an honor. And just to be able to say that you’ve gone to the White House is something that you can cherish forever.’ So that was basically the extent of that.”
“It’s an incredible honor for us to be invited to the White House,” added running back Damien Harris before the visit. “It’s something that comes with being national champions, so we’re definitely thankful for the opportunity. There’s a lot of young guys that haven’t been able to make that trip yet. We’re glad we’ve got guys that can go for the first time and experience it the way that we did when we were young.”
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