WASHINGTON — It took one shout of "Who Dat!" to get the celebration started in the White House on Monday as President Barack Obama saluted the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints.
The band played "When the Saints Go Marching In" as team members came in smiling to cheers and shouts for quarterback Drew Brees. Team owner Tom Benson pumped his fist in the air, flashing a Super Bowl yellow-gold diamond ring. [Article continues below.]
Obama congratulated the team, owner and coaches in an East Room ceremony. He said the team lifted up "the hopes and the dreams of a shattered city" in the wake of the ravages of Hurricane Katrina.
The Saints beat the Indianapolis Colts, 31-17, in Super Bowl XLIV in Miami.
Obama said the Saints' Super Bowl win was huge for New Orleans and for the country. He noted that after Katrina, the Saints had to play an entire season on the road because their home stadium, the Superdome, was ruined in the storm.
"Back then people didn't even know if the team was coming back. People didn't even know if the city was coming back," Obama said.
Now, the president said, the Saints proved their team and city are here to stay.
Brees presented the 44th president with a No. 44 Saints jersey. The Chicago Bears fan joked he couldn't get away with wearing it in Chicago.
Coach Sean Payton is also from Chicago.
"You've got to be tough to be a Chicago guy. I make some tough decisions every day, but I never decided on an onside kick in the second half of the Super Bowl," Obama said.
The Saints took a risk using an onside kick - called ambush - against the Colts to open the second half of the championship game.
"I'm glad that thing went alright," Obama said. Players and members of Congress and Obama's Cabinet laughed.
Brees, in a previous White House visit, filmed a public service announcement to encourage kids to exercise for 60 minutes each day. The team spent the morning in Washington playing football with kids from the Boys and Girls Club. Later, they visited wounded troops and their families at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
"These are big guys with big hearts, and shoulders big enough to carry the hopes and dreams of an entire city with them," Obama said.
Obama also talked about the BP oil spill, the latest disaster to hit the Gulf. He was optimistic about the battle to stop the flow of oil now that the leak appears to be plugged. His administration, he said, remains committed to the Gulf's recovery.
The president said seafood from the Gulf is now safe to eat, and the White House served some this week. Team members showed off some of New Orleans' famous cuisine. They served some shrimp to the White House press corps and were sharing recipes with White House staff, including, according to Obama, a 30-foot po-boy that was to be served at lunch.
But before lunch, there were autographs, silent cameraphone clicks and more cheers. Players standing on bleachers in the East Room snapped pictures of the president as he made his way around to shake their hands.
Then the Saints left the same way the came in - to claps, chants of "Who dat!" and the band playing their song.