PHILADELPHIA — President George W. Bush playfully kicked a football and presided over the pre-game coin toss on Saturday as he basked in the pageantry of the annual Army-Navy game, one of the sport's most storied rivalries.
The crowd at Lincoln Financial Field let out hearty cheers of "USA, USA" as Bush made his way to midfield for the ceremonial coin toss, which Army won. At about the 30 yard-line he saw a football on tee from the warm-ups, took a few steps and just gave it a boot, almost 15 yards worth. He later shook hands with the players and game officials.
He told CBS from the sidelines that he appreciated the chance "to come and be with people who will be joining the finest military in the history of the world." Asked what he would miss most about being president, Bush mentioned treasuring his role as commander in chief "of men and women of courage and character and decency."
Both teams heard pep talks from Bush before taking the field. "I wish you all the best today. Play hard, I'm proud of you," he said in the Navy locker room. To the Army squad, he said, "Have fun out there."
It was Bush's third time at the Army-Navy game, considered one of the most intense and passionate yearly rivalries, regardless of the records of the teams. The Army players wore camouflage helmets and pants; the backs of their jerseys had the words "Duty, Honor, Country."
For the 109th meeting between the service academies, Bush sat during the first half on the Army side with troops wounded while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. On a cold day, with the crowd bundled in hats and gloves, Bush sat in the stands, treated to midfield seats.
He switched to the Navy side for third quarter and left before the fourth as Navy romped to a 34-0 victory. The outgoing president, a big sports fan, seemed to revel in the cheers granted to him as commander in chief.
Bush also attended the game in 2004, when he was asked on the field who he thought would win and responded: "The United States of America." His first Army-Navy game as president was in 2001, less than three months after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Before the game he walked around the perimeter of the field, drawing cheers of "USA, USA" when he approached the Navy sidelines. The crowd erupted in cheers when members of both the Army and Navy parachute teams spiraled out of the sky, landing at or near the 50-yard-line.
Asked for whom the president would root, spokesman Gordon Johndroe said before the game, "The guys in uniform."
Air Force One flew over the stadium on the way into Philadelphia from Washington. It was more than two hours before kickoff, and the stands were lightly filled at the time.
Navy, 8-4 this season, now has won seven in a row over Army, which is 3-9.
Earlier in the day, Bush got a look at how history will remember him _ at least in one artist's view _ as he presided over the unveiling of his portrait at a private club.
"Welcome to my hanging," Bush said, drawing laughs from the well-dressed audience in The Union League's ornate hall.
The portrait shows Bush staring straight ahead, looking comfortable but not quite smiling, against the backdrop of the White House's Treaty Room. The sitting took place in March, when artist Mark Carder took hundreds of photographs to capture details, such as Bush's skin color.
The president put his hands on his hips and eyed the painting when it was unveiled, as if to judge whether Carder got it right. "He did a really fine job with a challenging subject," Bush said.
The club was founded in 1862 to support the policies of Abraham Lincoln. Bush received its gold medal for service to the country and thanked members for honoring Lincoln's life and work.
"I have drawn strength from his example," Bush said.
The portrait was commissioned by the Abraham Lincoln Foundation and paid for with a grant from The Thornton D. and Elizabeth Hooper Foundation, the White House said. Carder has done portraits of such other prominent figures as the president's parents, George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush.
The president said his 83-year-old mother was recovering well from surgery in Houston for a perforated ulcer. "I hope they don't put this on TV, but she's a tough old bird," he said. Barbara Bush was released from the hospital Tuesday.
On the Net:
Mark Carder: http://www.markcarder.com/