By Mike Bires
WASHINGTON, D.C. _ This time, the Pittsburgh Steelers had a much different experience than they did three years ago.
There were no chants of “Here We Go Steelers!” among those assembled and no references by a U.S. president of Iron City beer which is brewed in Pittsburgh.
This time, the Steelers were put to work.
After a nine-minute salute to the Super Bowl XLIII champs on Thursday, Barack Omama had the Steelers stuffing 3,000 care packages for troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I often say that the beauty of serving others is that anyone can do it,” Obama said from the White House’s South Lawn. “You don’t have to be President, and you don’t have to be a pro football player. All you need to do is to have a desire to make a difference, to give back to your community and to contribute to your nation. And that’s what we’re going to do right here.
“So, congratulations again Steelers for an extraordinary season. Good luck next year, and thank you again for your willingness to go above and beyond and not just come here for a photo op, but to join the men and women who protect this country to make sure that we are safe.”
After Obama’s remarks, Steelers players and coaches teamed up with 50 wounded soldiers in putting together care packages that all sorts of goodies ranging from beef jerky, potato chips and pretzels, chewing gum and raisins. Even Obama himself helped pack the care packages.
The only members of the Steelers’ Super Bowl roster who didn’t attend the ceremony were linebackers James Harrison and Larry Foote and cornerback Bryant McFadden.
Harrison, the 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, simply didn’t want to attend. He also missed the White House visit in ’06. Foote was recently cut by the Steelers, while McFadden departed via free agency when he signed with the Arizona Cardinals.
Two other free-agent defections – wide receiver Nate Washington (Tennessee Titans) and quarterback Byron Leftwich (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) – did attend.
So did strong safety Troy Polamalu. Even though Polamalu chooses to skip the off-season workouts called organized team activities, he did fly in from California to be with his teammates on this very special moment.
“I love coming to the White House,” linebacker James Farrior said. “I hope we can come back again.”
As Obama gave his opening remarks, Farrior was one of five Steelers standing behind the president. The others were quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, wide receivers Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes, running back Willie Parker and kicker Jeff Reed. Also on the platform were coach Mike Tomlin, team chairman Dan Rooney and team president Art Rooney.
Among those in the by-invite-only audience were Pennsylvania’s two Democratic senators, Bob Casey and Arlen Specter, and Pittsburgh mayor Luke Ravenstahl.
“Congratulations to the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers for the NFL-record sixth Lombardi Trophy,” Obama said. “Some are calling it ‘Sixburgh’ these days. Congratulations to all the fans of the Steeler Nation who wave that Terrible Towel every Sunday.
“Now, I already told these guys, no matter how big they are, I am a (Chicago) Bears fan. But it’s no secret that I was pulling for the Steelers during the Super Bowl last year, and that’s part of the reason why this is so much fun for me.”
One reason why Obama is such an avid Steelers fan is that Dan Rooney campaigned for him in the 2008 presidential election.
Obama in return nominated Dan Rooney as the United States’ ambassador to Ireland.
“Welcome back, Dan Rooney, and the entire Rooney family,” Obama said. “For nearly five decades, Dan has been a tremendous ambassador for pro football and for the city of Pittsburgh. And in the years to come, all Americans will be fortunate to have his service as our United States Ambassador to Ireland.
“On a personal note, I had occasion of meeting a lot of people during the course of my campaign for the presidency. I can tell you that I don’t know anybody who is more of a gentleman, who is more loyal, who is more committed to excellence, than Mr. Rooney. He and his family have just been such extraordinary pillars for the city of Pittsburgh.”