After a two-year hiatus, the Navy football team was back at the White House on Friday to accept the Commander in Chief's trophy from President Obama in a ceremony held in the East Room.
The Midshipmen had won the trophy — which is presented to the winner of the series among the three service academies — seven consecutive times beginning in 2003, but that record streak ended when Air Force claimed it in 2010 and 2011. Navy has won the trophy 13 times in all.
"This never gets old," Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "Not that you ever take for granted coming to the White House, but I think we took the Commander in Chief's Trophy maybe a little for granted."
This past season, the Midshipmen beat Air Force in overtime, 28-21, on Oct. 6 with a fourth-quarter rally in which quarterback Keenan Reynolds took over the starting job. Reynolds, the first freshman to start at quarterback for Navy since 1991, also capped the regular season by scoring the decisive touchdown late in the fourth quarter of a 17-13 victory over Army.
After the ceremony, the team shook hands with Obama and posed for pictures next to the silver trophy that rested on a table next to the lectern.
Senior captains Bo Snelson and Brye French gave Obama an official Navy football helmet, but despite urging from the crowd, the president politely declined to wear it.
"Here's the general rule: You don't put stuff on your head if you're the president," Obama said, drawing laughter throughout the room. "That's politics 101. You never look good wearing something on your head."
Obama also introduced Niumatalolo as "my fellow Hawaiian," and Navy's fifth-year coach hugged the president before thanking him for taking the time to meet with the team. Niumatalolo and Obama both grew up in Hawaii, where they attended rival high schools.
Some of the heartiest applause came when Obama pointed out that Navy has been at the White House eight times in 10 years after winning 19 of its past 21 games against service academy opponents.
"Michelle and I were thinking about just leaving a key under the rug," Obama said.
Said Niumatalolo: "Obviously the president is a very busy man. He has a lot of things on his plate. We just feel very fortunate that with everything going on in the world, all the things he has to deal with, the most powerful man in the world, he would take a few minutes out for our team, for these young men. I know that the president recognizes who these guys are and what they represent and what they do."
Sept. 7, time TBA