President Barack Obama really didn’t have much of a choice as to how to begin his White House ceremony honoring the 2014 national champion Ohio State Buckeyes.
“O-H!” he yelled, and the crowd packed into the East Room of the White House on Monday filled in the rest.
Accompanied by OSU football coach Urban Meyer, OSU president Michael Drake and athletic director Gene Smith, Obama took the stage to congratulate the Buckeyes for winning the national title in January by defeating Oregon 42-20 in the first-ever College Football Playoff championship game.
“This was a team of true character, of true resilience,” Obama said. “As I said to them when I had a chance to shake the hands of all the players, everybody is going to go through ups and downs in life, and how folks handle it, how the quarterbacks on this team supported each other, that’s what every organization wants to see — is people stepping up for each other.”
The Buckeyes won despite losing quarterback Braxton Miller to injury before the season began. Then they lost quarterback J.T. Barrett to an injury in the regular-season finale.
Obama’s remarks were part of a whirlwind day that saw the Buckeyes visit the White House, have their photos taken on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, and visit the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.
Before the White House ceremony, Obama met privately with the players, greeting them personally. After that, the players filed into a room filled with lawmakers including Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Reps. Joyce Beatty, D-Jefferson Township, and Marcia Fudge, D-Cleveland, former Ohio State wide receiver and NFL great Cris Carter and two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin.
Later, the team — visibly exhausted — sat on the steps of the Capitol for a group picture with members of the Ohio congressional delegation. They did so after a tour of the Capitol organized by Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Genoa Township.
It was, as Meyer said, something the players could “tell their children’s children about.”
“This entire experience has been amazing,” said OSU wide receiver Evan Spencer, who was singled out by Obama in the White House for “his selfless play, great blocking, and even a perfectly thrown touchdown pass to Michael Thomas in the Sugar Bowl.”
Spencer, who was astonished to get a shout-out by the commander-in-chief, had someone on his mind.
“I know my mom is probably freaking out,” he said, saying she was probably “texting me right now.”
“That speech alone will be in my memory forever,” he said.
But Spencer wasn’t the only Buckeye singled out during 10 minutes of remarks that also saw the president joke that he ”could throw a football 75 yards also.”
Obama mentioned all three quarterbacks and praised defensive end Joey Bosa, provoking one of Bosa’s celebratory shrugs, and complimented the rising junior’s haircut.
“I actually like it shorter,” Obama said.
“That would be for you,” Bosa replied, unflappable.
And the president offered praise to running back and championship game MVP Ezekiel Elliott, known for his half shirts on the field. “Thanks for tucking in your shirt today,” Obama teased. “We appreciate that.”
The Buckeyes, Florida State, Alabama and Oregon were selected as the four teams to play in the first-ever College Football Playoff. Ohio State defeated No. 1 Alabama, 42-35, to advance to the title game.
Obama lauded the team for the more than 1,000 hours of community service and charitable efforts that they have completed in central Ohio.
“The love between this team and their community is mutual,” he said. “I will say when you get 100,000 fans to show up to a practice — I think it’s fair to say that your fans are a little crazy.”
Jack Torry contributed to this report.