WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The World Champion New England Patriots took their celebration tour out of the region Tuesday when they accepted an invitation to meet President George Bush in the White House Rose Garden in Washington D.C.
With the polished silver Vince Lombardi Trophy gleaming in the capital city sunlight amidst the 65 degree temperature, President Bush welcomed around 50 of the Super Bowl XXXVI champions and extolled the virtues of their trademark teamwork that became the club's staple on its improbable championship run.
"I remember all the experts -- no one thought they would win," Bush said. "They learned what I learned. The experts are often wrong.
"What impressed me most was when the team took the field prior to the Super Bowl," Bush continued. " It wasn't was one of these things where the spotlight was on any individual; everybody went out at the same time. I thought that was a pretty good signal to America -- that teamwork is important -- that the individual matters to the team but the team is bigger than the individual. That's one of the things I try to explain to people in Washington -- that we're here to serve something greater than ourselves. I appreciate very much that signal to the country."
The President, who was predictably on a tight schedule with a trip to Philadelphia immediately to follow, kept his remarks short, but quoted Patriots great Gino Cappelletti.
"I remember the early Patriots and I remember watching Gino Cappelletti, who said about this team: ' I think every guy that's ever played for the Patriots would be proud of this bunch. They were not only a team with great heart and toughness, but they were also a good group of guys. They were champs on the field and more importantly, champs off the field.' So it's an honor to welcome true football champions, but as well, really fine Americans."
With that, Patriots owner Robert Kraft stepped to the podium and, along with Head Coach Bill Belichick, presented President Bush with a dark blue Patriots jersey donning the No. 1 and "Bush" across the back.
"We as the Patriots family feel that in a very small way, we represent what the president's inspirational leadership over the last year has meant to our country," Kraft said. "We're a team of underdogs. We're red, white and blue. We put team first, but most of all, in the end, we were winners. We brought this country together in a way the president brought the country together through his leadership.
"We're happy that our Super Bowl journey started with [the president's] dad tossing the coin [in the NFL's opening week] and we're happy to complete it here today and make him an honorary captain."
Belichick presented President Bush with an autographed football before the president shook hands with players on his way out of the ceremony.
The Patriots then toured the East Wing of the White House before heading back outside to watch President Bush exit his residence and board his helicopter, Marine One, as he left for a scheduled appearance in Philadelphia.
Most of the Patriots players made the trip to the White House, including quarterback Drew Bledsoe, who isn't expected to return to New England. Among notable absentees were center Damien Woody, running back Antowain Smith, safety Tebucky Jones, wideout David Patten, linebacker Bryan Cox, tackle Greg Robinson-Randall and defensive linemen Brandon Mitchell and Richard Seymour.
Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy and Rep. Edward Markey as well as Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords were in attendance for the ceremony.