With the sounds of jazz echoing through the halls of the White House, the Super Bowl champions New Orleans Saints came marching into the East Room, one-by-one lining the risers on the stage, so that President Obama could not only fete the champs but also make sure people understood the hardships the region and team have faced over the last five years.
“This was a big win for the country -- not just for New Orleans -- because five years ago, this team played its entire season on the road. It didn’t have a home field,” Obama said. “The Superdome had been ruined by Hurricane Katrina. … And back then, people didn’t even know if the team was coming back. People didn’t know if the city was coming back. Not only did the team come back -– it took its city’s hands and helped its city back on its feet,” he said.
“After decades of frustration, the Saints finally won the big one. The “ain’ts” and the “sad sacks” gave way to the “Who Dats,” he told a crowd that included several high profile Louisiana folks including former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial, James Carville and Mary Matalin, and Senator Mary Landrieu. “It’s a rare thing when a sports team carries a city through tough times. And that’s why there’s such a deep bond between this organization and the city. I’m not sure there’s any other city that feels that same way right now. And that's not just for what the Saints have done on the field, but what they’ve done off it to see that the city keeps rising.”
And Obama pointed out that the recent BP oil spill in the Gulf tested the region again but that the Saints are helping to reassure the nation that Gulf seafood is still vital and safe for America.
“We’re excited that fishermen can go back to work and Americans can confidently and safely enjoy Gulf seafood once again. We’re certainly going to enjoy it here at the White House. In fact, we had some yesterday,” Obama said. “While they’re here today, several Saints players are going to spend some time teaching our staff their favorite Gulf seafood recipes. So who’s cooking?” he said to laughter.
And cook they did. After the President left the White House, White House Assistant Chef and Senior Policy Advisor for Health Food Initiatives Sam Kass and four of the Saints—Tackle Zach Strief, Center Nick Leckey, Defensive End Bobby McCray & Kicker Garrett Hartley—surprised journalists and visitors in the White House briefing room with freshly cooked Gulf shrimp and Andouille sausage. Streif passed the tray around while Leckey extolled the virtues of the seafood.
“You can’t believe everything you see or read. This shrimp is perfectly safe,” he told ABC News’ Ann Compton. “Actually some of the best shrimp I’ve ever had in my life. I’m dead serious,” he said, adding the shrimp had been flown in this morning from Venice, Louisiana. The shrimp/sausage dish was prepared by Kass’ staff following a recipe from Streif’s charity cookbook, “When You’re the Biggest Guy on the Team.” (Streif is 6’7” tall and 320 pounds.)
And even after the Saints left the White House to visit wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Hospital, the White House kitchen continued the two-day “Gulf seafood is safe” theme by serving a 30-foot shrimp and oyster Po’boy to staff and employees working at the White House complex.
-- Jon Garcia