UConn Visits the White House: Obama Reflects on “Adolph Ruff”Posted by rtmsf on May 16th, 2011
It’s a traditional rite of springtime, one just as certain as the March rains, the April cherry blossoms and the May political posturing that takes over Capitol Hill as we head into yet another election cycle in Washington, DC. Jim Calhoun’s Connecticut Huskies spent Monday on the Hill, visiting President Obama in the time-honored American sporting tradition of meeting the president and having him butcher players’ names and stumble over specific facts from his speech. These events are always somewhat awkward, as the leader of the free world tries to speak knowledgeably about a team he usually knows little about while the team honored does its best to genuflect and not trip all over themselves in front of such a dignitary. You can watch the entire nine-minute proceeding below, but we wrote up a few of the highlights just in case you don’t want to waste the time.
In keeping with the measured yet light-hearted tone of these things, Obama tried to inject levity into the proceedings throughout. He began with a comment about how UConn winning the title was bittersweet for him, as he was “reminded once again that [his] bracket was a bust.” Luckily, he had a ready-made excuse in the form of ESPN’s Andy Katz, who he claimed told him “there’s no way UConn’s winning” the title. Not to go all factcheck.org on the Prez, but he’s guilty of a little naysaying here — his bracket on ESPN.com finished in the 87th percentile, which is about forty percentage points better than his current approval rating.
One unintentional piece of humor from the speech was when Obama listed off the names of coaches with three or more national titles to honor Calhoun, now also with three. After mentioning John Wooden, he listed someone named “Adolph Ruff” as a coach who, along with Bobby Knight and Mike Krzyzewski, represent the group of elite coaching giants that the UConn head man has now joined. We won’t get into the dripping irony inherent in the first black president of the United States mis-pronouncing the name of a basketball coach [Adolph Rupp, incidentally] who, rightly or wrongly, has come to represent a bygone era of southern white racism, but needless to say that it’ll probably become some enterprising UK student’s senior thesis soon enough [start at the 2:05 mark of the video].
Jim Calhoun spoke for a few minutes and was surprisingly a little tongue-tied even though he’s been to the White House two other times as a national championship head coach, but he found his bearings the more he spoke. It was abundantly evident during UConn’s March/April run that Calhoun was in love with his team last year, and he punctuated that sentiment with a remark tying back to Obama’s presidential campaign of 2008: “You know what? Yes, we can. [applause] And like you, Mr. President, yes, we did.” Obama responded with encouragement to the Huskies to make another run at the title next season, and after some friendly banter with Kemba Walker about playing one-on-one ["as long as he's wearing street shoes and a suit"] and the receipt of a special B. Obama #1 UConn jersey followed by a few pictures, the event was over.
These things are always fun in the same way that watching Christopher Guest movies are fun — you spend the entire time waiting for something incredibly awkward yet insanely hilarious to happen. Maybe we didn’t reach that goal in this year’s honoring of the national champion, but presidents tend to get goofier the deeper into their terms they go. Give it some time.