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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 2, 2000
                        REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
                    TO 1999 NCAA FOOTBALL CHAMPIONS,
                        FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES

                             The East Room

6:22 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Please be seated. Well, President D'Alemberte, I was hardly old enough to vote the first time I met you. (Laughter.) You're aging well. (Laughter.)

Coach Bowden, welcome. I also want to welcome all the Floridians who are here. I thank Senator Graham and Senator Mack for coming; and Representatives Boyd, Brown, Deutsch, Foley, and Miller -- and we have Senator Breaux from Louisiana is here, and Congressman Blumenauer from Oregon are here. I don't know if they're trying to spy for their football teams -- (laughter)-- but we're honored to have them.

The Mayor of Tallahassee is here, Scott Maddox; and State Representative Margie Turnbull. We welcome all of them. And mostly, I want to say a warm word of welcome to the Seminoles. I want to welcome you back to the White House.

This was the first national champion football team that I welcomed at the White House, in early 1994. (Applause.) And that team was 12-1; this team is undefeated. I came in with you and I'm going out with you. (Applause.)

This team has won 109 games, this Florida State team, in the 1990s. Truly the team of the decade in American football. In the first Sugar Bowl of the new millennium you played a Virginia Tech team that you got way ahead of, but I think you must respect them a lot because they didn't give up. And Michael Vick and his Hokie teammates turned out to be worthy adversaries, Coach. And for those of us who love football, it was a sight to behold.

We all sat on the edge of our seats as you reclaimed the lead in the fourth quarter with your 85-yard scoring drive, and quarterback Chris Weinke's touchdown pass to Ron Dugans. It was a 46-29 victory, hard won and richly deserved. After it was over, I think there wasn't a single football fan in America who doubted that Florida State was truly the best team in the country and a deserving national champion. (Applause.)

I could say a lot about all the players and the ones who had starring roles in the games, and not just the championship game, but the other games. I watched several of them on television last year. But I want to say a special word of personal admiration and respect for Coach Bowden.

I have watched him year in and year out. I have watched him be gracious in victory, and gracious in defeat, which is more difficult. Of course, it's easy if you don't lose very much. (Laughter.) That makes it a little easier. But I have been immensely impressed by the leadership that he and his team have brought to the young men that have been on this football team, especially this year, but also in past years.

Bobby, I was told that for 24 years you had an empty picture frame on your desk, waiting for an undefeated team, and I'm glad you can finally fill that picture frame. Congratulations to you.

And let me say to all the young men on this team, some of you will play some more football and go on into the pro ranks, and if you do, I wish you well. Most college football players, even on national championship teams, don't go on to play in the pro ranks, and I wish you well, too. What it takes to win on the football team -- hard work and discipline and devotion to a common effort -- give you pretty good lessons for life. And if you remember what brought you to the national championship, you'll be a champion when you leave Florida State, whether you play any more football, or not.

That is the ultimate lesson, Coach, of the way you run this team. I respect you; I admire you. I congratulate you all. And I thank you for giving the rest of us who just watch from the stands or on television a magnificent season. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

MR. D'ALEMBERTE: Mr. President, thank you so much for having us here. You referred to that wonderful story about the picture frame, and I asked Coach Bowden before this, gosh, what are you going to do now to put up another picture frame, to give people motivation for some higher accomplishment than this? There can be no higher accomplishment than having an undefeated season and having a national championship.

But Coach Bowden has already got it figured out. The answer is, this undefeated season was 12 games. Next year there are 13 games. (Laughter.) And so I volunteered to buy him another picture frame. (Laughter.)

We like coming here, Mr. President. We've enjoyed being with you as you came in and came out. But we'll even accept an invitation next year, as well. This could become very habit-forming.

I want to just say a couple of other things about this team. The players in front of you played incredible schedules. They have never lost a home game. You don't see a player on this stage who has lost a home game. And this team is now the 13th team to have finished at the end of the season in the top 4 in the country. No one else in college football history has ever done that. So the people here tonight are just incredible people, and I'm most indebted, most proud of the leader of this team, Coach Bobby Bowden.

Coach. (Applause.)

COACH BOWDEN: Thank you very much. Good to see everybody here and we appreciate you letting us come back. I hope we can make it again in the future. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: Unlike me, you're not term-limited. (Laughter.) You could do it.

COACH BOWDEN: Yes, but you ain't old. (Laughter.)

Trying to think of something to say about being at the White House, we use a term in coaching a lot about it's not far from the penthouse to the outhouse. But if you're ever in the outhouse, it's the same distance back to the penthouse. And -- but anyway, I'm just thinking about this kind of culminates us, from the outhouse to the penthouse to the White House. (Laughter.) So we've reached the top. And I also --

THE PRESIDENT: Just depends on what day you're here. (Laughter.)

COACH BOWDEN: Am I tying you up? (Laughter.) But the reason we are here, Mr. President, is that we simply had a better year than you did. (Laughter.) We won all 12 of our battles. You didn't quite win all of yours. (Laughter.) But yours were much bigger and much more important, will be more everlasting. And we appreciate the job you've done, and we thank you for letting us come back to the White House. God bless you, sir. (Applause.)

Todd Frier, one of our seniors, has already graduated, has something he wants to present to the President.

TODD FRIER: Mr. President, I just want to say, as a team we're honored to be here today. And I just want to thank you for welcoming us as a football family to come into your house. And as the number one team in the country, I want to present this to the number one man in our country, and around the world.

Thank you, Mr. Clinton. (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: That's great. I'm going to have to bulk up before I can -- (laughter.) Well, this is terrific. I want to thank all of you. A lot of people here I see made the trip up from Florida, and I want to welcome you to the White House, and in closing, just say this. When we have an event like this and we're able to invite people to come in here and express their pride and support for some remarkable achievement, it embodies the motto that the White House is the people's house.

And I think I should tell you that this is not only the first national championship of this new millennium, first national championship team, but you are coming here in the 200th anniversary of the White House. It was completed in 1800, and John Adams, our second President, was the first person to live here. Every President since then has lived here.

And this house has seen a lot of changes and a lot of things come and go. But the feelings you have today, and I hope the pride you feel as Americans in being here are what has sustained us now for 200 years. And if we just keep them, a couple hundred years from now, there will be another group of young people here celebrating an athletic achievement; chances are they'll still be playing football, and the offensive line will average 500 pounds. (Laughter.)

Thank you very much, and welcome. (Applause.)

END 6:45 P.M. EST