Pretty cool stuff...
WASHINGTON -- The Super Bowl champions came to the White House for a photo op with the president and Barack Obama instead put them to work.
After announcing that "we're doing something a little bit different here today than when sports champions usually come to visit the White House," Mr. Obama pitched in to help the Steelers stuff 3,000 USO care packages with peanuts, razors, chewing gum, food and other goodies to be sent to U.S. troops overseas.
"I think everybody was excited to get out and do it and support our troops," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said.
The president spent a good hour in bright sunshine on the South Lawn of the White House mingling among the players and about 50 wounded veterans from Walter Reed Army Medical Center and National Naval Medical Center and their families.
The players wore slacks and white Steelers golf shirts rather than suits in preparation for their work on the packets. Before he dug in to help them, Mr. Obama shed his suit coat and told coach Mike Tomlin it was OK for him to do so as well.
It was difficult to tell who enjoyed the visit more, the Steelers or Mr. Obama, the nation's 44th president who received a Steelers No. 44 jersey with his name on the back from team president Art Rooney II.
"It's an honor," said safety Troy Polamalu, who flew here from California. "It's an honor to be around real warriors, the president and the White House. It's a beautiful setting."
The weather was perfect as well, with temperatures in the mid-80s, low humidity and continuous sunshine as the players worked on their packages with the president. Behind them was a scenic view of the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial. There also was a new addition to the White House lawn, a swingset installed for the Obama kids.
Mr. Obama told of how, when he first started watching football while growing up in Hawaii, "it was guys like Terry Bradshaw and Franco Harris and the Steel Curtain and Mean Joe Greene, who is here. Where's Mean Joe? There he is, right there."
Mr. Greene, the Hall of Fame defensive tackle who earned his fifth and sixth Super Bowl rings as a Steelers scout, said later that he told the new president he became emotional on election night when Mr. Obama was declared the victor.
Of the Steelers' victory over the Arizona Cardinals, Mr. Obama said, "I can't remember a more exciting Super Bowl." He called the six-yard winning touchdown pass from Mr. Roethlisberger to Santonio Holmes with 35 seconds left "one of the greatest touchdown catches I've ever seen."
No one, including Mr. Obama, referred to the famously missing linebacker James Harrison, the NFL defensive player of the year who turned down the trip with his teammates. But two former teammates, quarterback Byron Leftwich (now with Tampa Bay) and wide receiver Nate Washington (Tennessee) turned out.
So too did a gaggle of politicians, including both U.S. senators from Pennsylvania, Arlen Specter and Bob Casey, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Dan Onorato, Allegheny County chief executive. Pittsburgh police chief Nathan Harper and four of his officers -- who were among the first to arrive at the scene when a gunman killed three of their colleagues April 4 in Stanton Heights -- also attended. Among the politicians was new U.S. House member Tom Rooney, a Florida Republican and nephew of Steelers chairman Dan Rooney.
"Awesome," tackle Willie Colon said. "I definitely appreciate being here."
Dan Rooney and his wife Patricia already had been in town for two weeks attending what is called "ambassador school," which trains new diplomats for their job.
Mr. Obama, who has nominated Mr. Rooney as ambassador to Ireland, singled out the Steelers chairman.
"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 ...
"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. And he and his family have just been such an extraordinary pillar for the city of Pittsburgh."
Mr. Obama took his first post stuffing care packages between Hines Ward and Mr. Specter. He referred to the smiling wide receiver as "always the happiest man in football. Hines is always happy."
The Steelers flew in and out of the capital city yesterday on a chartered jet that included players, coaches, family members and office workers.
Before they left, Mr. Tomlin said they had to get back home because many in the party wanted to attend the Penguins playoff game at Mellon Arena last night.
Mr. Tomlin also said of the team's second visit to the White House in three years: "It's something we aspire to do each and very year."
"This," defensive captain James Farrior said, "never gets old for me. I love coming to the White House."