Chizik, Burns Speak At the White House

President Barack Obama honored the 2010 national championship Auburn football team on Wednesday as Coach Gene Chizik and wide receiver Kodi Burns spoke on behalf of the Tigers. A report includes a video of the event.

Washington, D.C.--Senior Kodi Burns received the honor of presenting an Auburn jersey and football helmet to President Barack Obama and Coach Gene Chizik spoke at the White House ceremony on Wednesday honoring the 2010 national champion Auburn Tigers.

After President Obama lauded the Tigers on their 14-0 season that included a 22-19 victory over Oregon in the BCS Championship Game, Chizik said, "Thank you, Mr. President. What an honor and a privilege it obviously is for the whole Auburn Family to be able to stand here in the White House today and really embrace this moment.

"This is not just a great championship team, it has got great character," Chizik said of his Tigers. "It has got great kids who care about communities, they care about service, they care about doing all of the right things.

"What I would like to do today is introduce one of our seniors, which by the way I really want to say a word of appreciation for so many of our seniors that have been spread out. They have moved on with their life and decided to come back today just for this event and it is big for us.

"Kodi Burns, one of the most selfless players we have on our football team, has a special presentation to you from Auburn University," Chizik added.

Kodi Burns presents President Barack Obama with an Auburn jersey.

Burns, who changed positions from quarterback to wide receiver for the good of the team as a junior in 2009 after the coaching staff change, caught a touchdown pass in the BCS Championship game. The senior from Ft. Smith, Ark., said, "Mr. President, on behalf of Auburn football, I want to present you with this helmet as well as your exclusive, Auburn football national championship jersey."

At the end of the ceremony, Obama shook hands with all of the 90 Auburn players who made the trip along with the coaches and support staff, a group of 150 people. He also did a chest bump with Auburn assistant coach Trooper Taylor. The president thanked the Auburn group for taking the time to talk to a Washington, D.C., youth group on their way to the White House on Wednesday.

The Tigers left campus at 7 a.m. on Wednesday and flew to Washington, D.C., for the one day trip via charter airplane from Columbus, Ga., to Reagan National Airport. They toured the Lincoln Memorial and the White House before heading back to Auburn on Wednesday evening.

The president also praised the Tigers for helping with the cleanup of the town of Pleasant Grove, Ala., which was hit hard by the massive April 27 tornado outbreak. The Auburn team was scheduled to be honored at the White House back on April 29th, but the ceremony was postponed until Wednesday because Obama was touring the damage in the state of Alabama caused by the storms the week the ceremony was originally scheduled.

Coach Gene Chizik takes his turn at the podium.

Obama also praised the Tigers for having the teamwork necessary to win the national championship and singled out All-Americans Cameron Newton and Nick Fairley along with several other players for additional praise.

"Of course, I have got to give it to a couple of players who have not got a lot of attention, but did a great job," the president joked. "There is a guy named Cam Newton, who had a pretty good season and went on to win the Heisman Trophy. There is a guy named Fairley, who won the Lombardi Trophy, the top defensive lineman in the nation. This guy is rough, Fairley. You don't want to be tackled by him. You really don't."

As crucial as Cam and Nick were to this team's success, obviously this is a team sport and you only win it with a team that is passionate and dedicated," the president said. "They had help from teammates like freshman, Michael Dyer, who had an incredible 37-yard run on that final drive after everybody, except Michael, thought he had been tackled. Actually that was some good coaching because the folks on the sideline were yelling, ‘Get up, get up.'

"Teammates like senior Wes Byrum, who knew he had to knock the winning field goal through for the guys who had been fighting that whole game. And, obviously, Coach. Coach Chizik, in just two seasons, helped the Tigers go from good to great.

"Then there is the Auburn Family, the folks who celebrated at Toomer's Corner no matter what, no matter what the weather was, folks who haven't missed a game in decades and have waited a generation for a feeling like this. I am sure I speak on behalf of the team in saying everybody here has a little piece of that title.

"So I want to congratulate this team once again on a great season," the president said. "I want to thank them for taking the time during this visit to meet with some local kids from D.C. and share a little joy and inspiration.

"One of the things the First Lady is constantly reminding our young people about is that athletics is just not a spectator sport," he said. "Even if you are not going to be a Nick Fairley or a Cam Newton you can still get out there and move. For the players here to send that message to young people is tremendous."

The 2010 Tigers made several impressive comebacks during the season, but the biggest one came during the 28-27 victory over Alabama to close the regular season. Auburn trailed 24-0 in the second quarter before rallying to win.

"That was unbelievable game," Obama said. "I watched that game. I am busy, but I watched that game."

Also attending the ceremony was Auburn native Robert Gibbs, who was formerly the press secondary for Obama, and his son Ethan who posed for a photo with Obama and the team.

A crowd gathered in the East Room of the White House for the ceremony on Wednesday afternoon.

Jay Jacobs, Auburn's athletic director, made the trip and said, "It's a great day for these players. Nobody gave them a chance at the beginning of the year and to be at the White House is really special for these players, coaches and the Auburn Family. It's been great to see so many seniors come back for this special occasion. It's been like a reunion for the team."

Opening the event, Obama said, "Welcome to the White House. And congratulations to the Auburn Tigers. War Eagle. I notice you all brought some Alabama weather up here, too.

"I want to start by recognizing some very proud members of Congress who are here today. Members of Congress delegation, where are you? Here you go, all the Alabama crew right here--Shelby, Sessions, too. They are very proud. All they do is just talk about you all, Alabama and Auburn. I don't know which way they..."

An audience member then yelled "Auburn," and Obama said, "Okay. See?"

The president then said, "And I want to welcome back to the White House--this is a point of personal privilege--the biggest Auburn fan I've ever met my former press secretary Robert Gibbs is in the house along with my main man, Ethan Gibbs, who has inherited the passion for Auburn that his dad had. Look at...Gibbs has his tie and everything. Come on.

"As some of you may know, Gibbs was born in Auburn. His parents worked in the university library so he and his brother grew up watching the Tigers play. So earlier this year when the team was making its run to the championship, Robert was insufferable. He had a little statue of Aubie on his desk. He had his son, Ethan, he and Ethan would roll the trees in front of the yard after a big win so this is a big day for him.

"Now, this visit was originally scheduled to happen a couple of months ago, but two days before this team was supposed to be in Washington the state of Alabama was hit by a series of devastating tornados. So Michelle and I went down with many members of the congressional delegation to meet some of the folks who had lost loved ones, making sure everything possible was being done to help the community get back on its feet. And it was a heartbreaking visit. Coach and I were just talking about you don't understand the devastation until you see it firs thand.

"But what was also inspiring was the amount of strength and generosity that was shown by so many people in the midst of so much tragedy. And that includes the members of this program. Two days after the tornado, almost 70 Auburn coaches, players and athletic department staff--led by Coach--traveled to Pleasant Grove and Cullman to help out with relief efforts.

"And even though one of the toughest-hit areas by the storm was the home of the Crimson Tide, this team knew what we all know in situations like this, which is we're all on the same team. We're all Americans first and foremost, and we've got an obligation to support each other in times of need.

"So I've said before, I will say again, we will continue to stand with the victims of these disasters, whether they're in Tuscaloosa or in Joplin, Mo., which I just visited a couple weeks ago, we're going to do this as long as it takes until families are able to rebuild.

"Now, the reason obviously we're celebrating today is because of a happier moment for the people of Alabama and to congratulate the Tigers for winning their first national title since before I was born. And I'm getting quite a bit of gray hair so that was a long wait for Tigers fans."

Newton said he was glad he broke away from his NFL training to make the trip. "Seeing those guys (his former teammates) was big in my book," he said. "Just to be reunited with these guys and see their faces once again, I'm cherishing every single moment. I can remember a time when I would see them every day and not think much of it, but now seeing them really means something. When we have our kids and look back, we can say we had a chance to visit the White House.

The quarterback said it was a special day being able to meet the president. "It was special. It is something that you look at on TV and you just wish and wonder what that feels like. Now we've been blessed enough to have this opportunity to meet President Obama. The whole experience was incredible."

Josh Bynes, a senior linebacker on the 2010 team, said he was surprised the president mentioned one of his quotes in the speech. "I was shocked and my heart was beating kind of fast," Bynes said. "I was hoping that he would pronounce my last name right. I was worried he was going to call me 'Burns' or something like that. When he got my last name right, I smiled real hard. It was on national TV so I hope everybody in my family saw it."

Bynes, a key player for the Tigers the past three seasons, said, "This was an awesome experience and I'm so glad I decided to come. It was overwhelming to actually see the president in person and to shake his hand. This was probably the one and only time in my life that I will ever be in the White House. It's been an exciting experience and I'm glad I came."


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