While I was taking powder runs (and working very, very hard) in Jackson Hole, Miss Berra drove from Jersey to D.C. to accompany the Anaheim Ducks to the White House. Here’s her account of the day …
I HAD NEVER been to the White House, so when my editor Mark Giles got a call from a Bush staffer asking if we were sending anyone to cover the Stanley Cup Champion Anaheim Ducks’ visit with the President, I happily obliged. And all I had to do was send them my D.O.B. and Social Security Number for security clearance. Shockingly, it’s a lot harder to get a U.S. Open tennis credential.
I arrived at the White House on Wednesday afternoon with photographer Andy Cutraro, who lives in DC and has done this sort of thing many times before. At 1:30, we presented ourselves at the Northwest appointment gate, only to be told that our security clearance would not be active until 1:45. So we waited, and entered without incident. The first thing I notice is the four snipers perched on the White House roof. There are also a few black-clad men patrolling the grounds with automatic rifles. One of them winks and smiles, which I am quite certain violates some sort of protocol!
The long driveway from the gate leads past the area on the White House Lawn known as “Pebble Beach,” where dozens of TV networks set up their cameras for live shots, and past the entrance to the West Wing, where the presence of a full-dress Marine signals that the President is in. I enter the White House Briefing Room, and I’m shocked by how small it is; there are seats for only about 40 people, with a small riser at the back for cameras. Each media outlet has their name on a small plaque on each chair, except for Helen Thomas, who is the only individual journalist with her own chair. The podium we’ve all seen thousands of time on TV is at the front of the room.
The press room and briefing room have recently been redone – apparently, it was in pretty bad shape a few years back- but as it is an historic building, the footprint of the building cannot be changed. So all they can do is spruce up the inside and hope the very cramped journalists all get along. Random historical note: below the briefing room is John F. Kennedy’s indoor pool. It’s still there, tile and all, but now it’s filled with electrical wires for the press proceedings above it. I learn all this from a few friendly fellow cast members from ABC News (they’re owned by Disney too), who also agree to take my picture in front of the podium. But only in front- standing at the podium is very big no-no.
Call time for the Ducks’ ceremony was 2:35. Journalists wait at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the East Wing of the White House, and an escort brings them up. Miss the escort, and no Ducks for you. In the lobby, the U.S. Army band is playing under a giant crystal chandelier, just like they were on every episode of the The West Wing. To the left, the East Room is packed. Bernadette Mansur, VP of PR for the NHL, tells me she’s never seen it so busy; normally, a Stanley Cup ceremony draws about 120 people. Today, there are almost 300, including Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle, California Congressman Ed Royce, and the entire Northern Virginia Ice Dogs mite hockey team. And, in a random twist, my friend Nancy Walton’s brother Ned, who tagged along with a buddy that had an invite.
Amidst the pandemonium and pomp-and-circumstance in the East Room, Lord Stanley’s Cup sits, off to the side, in front of a full-length portrait of George Washington. Another random historical note: this painting, along with the painting of George’s wife Martha that flanks it, was famously plucked off the wall by Dolley Madison when the White House was torched during the War of 1812. Now, the father of our nation seems to be gesturing at the Cup, as if he actually gives a rat’s ass about Canada’s game. I find the whole thing very funny.
The Ducks file in and climb onto a riser behind the President’s podium. This is very funny, too; Bush in his very conservative navy blue suit, flanked by Scott Niedermayer’s shocking pink tie and fifth-Beatle hair, Teemu Selanne’s Paris Hilton spray-tan, and, smack in the middle of the back row, George Parros’ Dirk Diggler moustache. Though, apparently, none of this is nearly as offensive as the flip-flops worn by the 2005 NCAA champion Northwestern women’s lacrosse team!
Bush speaks for a whopping nine minutes. Vice President Cheney likes to shoot Ducks, he quips. He thanks Ducks owner Henry Samuelli for bringing his pretty teenage daughters along. (Inappropriate?) He jokes with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. “Mr. Commissioner, this isn’t the first time we’ve been together like this,” he says. “It will probably be the last.” And, in perfect W. fashion, manages to seamlessly link hockey to War through Ducks GM Brian Burke’s visit to Camp Pendleton with the Cup. Very quickly, the President wraps up his remarks, and with a final God Bless, he and the Ducks are gone.
Some of the players reappear moments later in the driveway in front of the West Wing, an area referred to as “the stake-out.” They give the customary “what a great experience” remarks. But, during the perfunctory patriotic applause following Bush’s remarks about supporting the troops, I had noticed him tapping Niedermayer’s elbow and whispering in his ear, so I ask Scott about it.
“Apparently the President is a cyclist, and he heard I’m a big mountain biker. So, he said if I’m ever in town…..,” Niedermayer’s voice trails off. “But really, I have no idea what that means.”
Neither do I, Scotty. But have fun with that.
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And this is the account she wrote for the next issue of the magazine. But we don’t have a lot of space in there, so it was chop, chop, chopped to fit. This version is more fun …
AMIDST THE PANDEMONIUM in the East Room of the White House – 300 invited guests are packed between its gilded walls – Lord Stanley’s great silver Cup sits on a table in front of a full-length portrait of George Washington. The father of the United States looks like he’s gesturing at the Stanley Cup with his right hand, his face set in grim admiration, as if he may have actually given a rat’s ass about Canada’s game. But if he didn’t, the current George W. certainly does, at least for the nine minutes on Feb. 6 that he has the Stanley Cup Champion Anaheim Ducks riding the risers behind him.
It’s hockey-hair meets pomp and circumstance; President Bush in his straight navy-blue suit, flanked by Scott Niedermayer’s shocking pink tie and fifth-Beatle hair, Teemu Selanne’s Paris Hilton spray-tan, and, smack in the middle of the back row, George Parros’ Dirk Diggler moustache.
Bush makes a joke – Vice President Cheney has some history shooting Ducks, if you recall – then acknowledges Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle, California Congressman Ed Royce and the entire Northern Virginia Ice Dogs mite hockey team. Ducks’ Owner Henry Samueli and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman are in the front row, too. Bush thanks Samuelli for coming, then nods at his pretty blonde daughters and thanks him for bringing the girls. “Mr. Commissioner, this isn’t the first time we’ve been together like this,” President Bush says to Bettman. “It will probably be the last,” perhaps bemoaning the absence of term limits for professional sports commissioners.
Visible surprise registers on defenseman Sean O’Donnell’s face when the President mentions that O’Donnell’s lab, Buddy, ate dog food out of the Stanley Cup; O’Donnell merely shook W’s hand after the Ducks’ hour-long tour of the White House, so the President’s staffers have clearly done their homework. Unlike President Clinton before him, who once spent an entire day with the Superbowl Champion Cowboys, Bush’s interaction with the Ducks was brief. Then the President got serious. He notes that Ducks GM Brian Burke took the Cup to Camp Pendleton. “He knows what I know,” President Bush said, in a tape-to-tape pass from hockey to war. “America is incredibly lucky to have brave men and women volunteer in the face of danger to serve our country.” It goes without saying that Burke is luckier to have Selanne and Niedermayer back on the ice.
During the ensuing patriotic applause, Bush turns, taps Niedermayer’s elbow, and says something in the playoff MVP’s ear. And with a final God Bless, the Ducks are gone, leaving the crowd to file out of the East Room to the sounds of the U.S. Army Band; they’re in the lobby, under the massive crystal chandelier, just like they were on every episode of The West Wing, minus C.J.
Later, Niedermayer, Selanne, Burke and Ducks Captain Chris Pronger appear in the driveway in front of the West Wing, know as the “stake-out area.” There are snipers on the White House roof and black-clad men trolling the grounds with automatic rifles, but the full-dress Marine that had previously been guarding the door to the West Wing has disappeared; the President is no longer inside. “What a great experience,” Niedermayer said. But Scott, what did the President tell you? “I guess he’s a cyclist, and he heard I’m a big mountain biker, so he said, if I’m ever in town….,” Niedermayer’s voice trails off, and he shrugs. “But I have no idea what that means.”