Obama congratulates BCS champs
President Barack Obama welcomed the Florida Gators to the White House
Obama threw a football in the East Room and accepted a Gators jersey
The President still supports a playoff system instead of the bowl system
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama welcomed the Florida Gators to the White House and congratulated them on winning a second national championship in football in three years.
Obama on Thursday joked with the 115 players crammed on risers in the East Room while praising them and their coaches. Being a champion doesn't end when the clock runs out, the president said, noting that that the team volunteers 400 hours each year.
Obama said strong leadership formed a team that plays hard and works in the community.
"I want to congratulate everybody who makes this program run -- from the assistants to the trainers, from the students to the ticket takers," he said. "All of you should be very, very proud."
In a moment of levity, Obama said he still supports a national playoff system instead of the bowl system.
"I don't want to stir up controversy. You guys are the national champions -- I'm not backing off the fact we need a playoff system. But I have every confidence that you guys could have beat anybody else. And so we'll see how that plays itself out."
The top-ranked Gators beat the No. 2 Oklahoma Sooners, 24-14, in the BCS national championship in January.
As the president spoke, a player's cell phone rang, prompting Obama to tease him.
"Is that one of the player's phones? 'Fess up," Obama said as the audience burst into laughter. "Coach [Urban Meyer] is going to talk to you about not turning off your phone."
The team presented the president with a blue Gator jersey bearing Obama's name and the number 1. They also gave him a football with his name on the side. The president tossed the football to Reggie Love, an aide who played for Duke University.
Obama called Tim Tebow, the Gators' quarterback, an inspiration for many people. Tebow is a Heisman Trophy winner who speaks openly about his Christian faith.
"He puts faith, family and academics above football. And that's incredible when you think about what he's done on the field," Obama said.
Tebow said in an interview after the ceremony that he appreciated the president's remarks.
"It's a big honor coming from our commander in chief," Tebow said. "It was a tremendous blessing."
Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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