When Rep. Chris Van Hollen struck up a conversation recently with a U.S. Capitol Police officer he sees every day on his way to work, he immediately learned two things about the man: He's from Baltimore and he's a huge Ravens fan.
And so the Montgomery County Democrat took a break Wednesday from the budget battles playing out in Congress to take Officer Aaron Smith to the White House, where President Barack Obama honored the Super Bowl champions — and jokingly implored them not to tear up the South Lawn.
Smith "wanted to get the Ravens to come to Capitol Hill, and I said that was above my pay grade," Van Hollen said. "This is about Maryland pride and, as the president said, the Ravens team really reflects the soul of Baltimore City."
Dozens of elected officials from Maryland ditched their talking points and donned purple ties or dresses to pay homage to the Ravens. As the team lined the steps to the South Portico, their silver Vince Lombardi Trophy glistening in the sun, it was the state's political leaders who occupied the field outside the White House.
State lawmakers, members of the Baltimore City Council and most of Maryland's congressional delegation sat in white folding chairs arranged in perfect rows on the lawn, craning their necks for a view of the president as he razzed quarterback Joe Flacco about his contract and Ed Reed about his gray hair.
Former Gov. Parris Glendening, who helped bring the former Cleveland Browns to Maryland in 1995, wore a tie that the Ravens organization presented to him when the team won its first Super Bowl in 2001.
"As a Ravens fan I enjoyed it very much," Glendening said of the White House event Wednesday. "But there was that extra element of, I guess, excitement, pride and maybe even vindication to see the Ravens recognized again."
"My mind flashed back once or twice to the battles we had to bring them here and a lot of the second-guessing that was going on," he said.
Some elected leaders skipped the event, including Gov. Martin O'Malley and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
O'Malley, a frequent presence at the White House, explained his absence by saying the ceremony "was the president's thing." He said he gave his tickets to state lawmakers.
Rawlings-Blake was attending an economic conference in New York, a spokesman said.
Sens. Ben Cardin and Barbara A. Mikulski, both Maryland Democrats, missed the ceremony because they were in New York attending the funeral of Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg. The longtime New Jersey lawmaker died Monday.
No matter. There were plenty of people eager to fill the seats.
Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, who this week joined the 2014 gubernatorial ticket of Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, shook hands near the Lombardi Trophy. State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller strolled by a throng of sports and political reporters without stopping to take questions. Del. Luke H. Clippinger, whose district includes M&T Bank Stadium, said the Ravens are "one of the loves of my life."
Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Baltimore County Democrat, sent a tweet to the White House while sitting in front of Obama. When the president, wearing a purple tie, joked that he didn't see much of the team's color in the audience, Ruppersberger wrote: "Hey @whitehouse — I have on MY purple!!"
Baltimore City Councilman William H. Cole IV said it was his third time at the White House — the first for an event of this kind.
"Any time you get a chance to come down and hand the president that jersey and show off the trophy it's a good day," Cole said. "It's exciting to be a part of it."
The team gave Obama a Ravens jersey with "The President" and "44" — he's the 44th president — emblazoned on the back.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Baltimore walked over to chat with reporters after the event. As the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, it was inevitable that he'd be asked about the panel's investigation into the Internal Revenue Service scandal.
Cummings usually doesn't shy from addressing the issue. But on Wednesday, he quickly turned the conversation back to sports.
"It's a great day for Baltimore," he said. "It puts our city back on the map once again."
Baltimore Sun reporter Erin Cox contributed to this article.
twitter.com/jfritzeCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun