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A funny thing happens when sports heroes visit the White House. It's as though a truce is called. For an hour or so, no one especially wants to argue about the best way to cut the deficit. Instead, the politicians, reporters and government aides wandering about the White House campus prefer to be fans.
Such was the case last week, when the 1985 Chicago Bears showed up on the South Lawn for a belated celebration. The team crushed the Patriots in Super Bowl XX, an accomplishment that under normal circumstances would have gotten them an invitation to meet President Reagan.
But tragedy intervened. The space shuttle Challenger blew up two days after the game, and the visit never came off.
President Obama sought to make amends on Friday, bringing in the team for a White House reception at long last.
An aide to Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) was spotted walking on the lawn with a Bears helmet for the players to autograph. Durbin's staff wants to display it in his office. Others on the grounds that day wore Bears jerseys. Reporters brought in family members to see the team, and lingered in the White House driveway in hopes of getting a glimpse of ex-coach Mike Ditka. A Marine Band played the team fight song: "Bear Down, Chicago Bears."
Obama said the event was the "most fun" he'd have as president -- and sounded like he meant it.
Afterward, Durbin called and left a phone message describing what the day meant to him.
"What was it like, the Bears thing? It was like a high school reunion. 25 years. Everyone looked a little older, a little grayer, a little heavier, different. But, God, what great memories! Had a wonderful time. Introduced myself to a lot of the Bears I didn’t know. And taking a look at 'em, (wide receiver) Willie Gault could start for the Bears again tomorrow. Looks like he's in fantastic shape.
"… And of course, [quarterback] Jim McMahon, God bless him. Crazy as ever. Had a ball just talking to him for a few minutes. I asked him about the Vikings game (in September 1985), when he came in with the Bears behind and out of nowhere he brought them back. Was it two or three touchdowns?
"He said, 'I harassed Ditka on the sidelines. Told him if he kept [quarterback Steve] Fuller he's going to lose the game. Finally he got so damn mad at me, he put me in.'
"Bears fans all over the place," Durbin added. "Just had a ball."