George W. Bush photo

Remarks on Presenting the Commander in Chief's Trophy to the United States Naval Academy Midshipmen

April 19, 2004

Welcome. Please be seated. Nice going, you finally got back. [Laughter] I am proud of the Midshipmen of the United States Naval Academy, the proud keepers of the Commander in Chief's Trophy. Welcome. Earning the trophy says a lot about these men. It says you work hard, you set high standards, and you beat Army. [Laughter]

I'm honored that Tony Principi, the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, has joined us. He is a proud graduate of the Naval Academy.

I appreciate Senator Thad Cochran from Mississippi who is with us, who is on the U.S. Naval Academy Board of Visitors. Senator, thank you for coming. You honor us with your presence.

I appreciate the Governor of Maryland, Bob Ehrlich, joining us today. Thank you for coming, Governor. He claims he was a pretty good linebacker in his day—[laughter]—slow but could hit hard. [Laughter] Also on the U.S. Naval Academy Board of Visitors is the Lieutenant Governor from Maryland, Michael Steele. Thank you for coming, Michael. Glad you all are here.

Gordon England is with us, the Secretary of the Navy. He reminded me of the time I went to the Army-Navy game in the fall of 2001. It was a miserable experience for the Naval Academy. My, times have changed. [Laughter] Mr. Secretary, I'll give you some of the credit.

General Hagee, Commandant of the Marine Corps, is with us. General, thanks for coming. I told the General coming in, his troops in Iraq are performing brilliantly. Thank God we're on the same side.

I want to thank Vice Admiral Rodney Rempt, the Naval Academy Superintendent, for joining us today. Coach Johnson, Paul Johnson, a winning coach, is with us. Coach, appreciate you being here. Proud you're here.

As I said, it's been a while since the Commander in Chief's Trophy was at the Academy. It turns out that the last time it was there—when Ronald Reagan was the President. And a lot of the players on this team weren't even born. [Laughter] That's a long time ago for them. [Laughter] It's not so long ago for some of us older fellows.

I—here's what I found interesting about this team and its captain, Greg Cooper, that the night after you beat Army, Cooper flies to Colorado Springs to pick up the trophy. That's called desire. [Laughter] It turns out that Cooper wasn't sure how big the trophy was and that it was too heavy for the flight home. So he rents a truck and drives the trophy from Colorado Springs to Annapolis. When we recruit the finest, we look for determination in the U.S. military, and we have found it in Captain Cooper.

I've watched some of your games on TV. The first scouting report I got, however, on the mighty Midshipmen football team was from Number 41—that would be President George H.W. Bush—who went to see the Rice game. I don't know if you remember the Rice game, but Navy beat a pretty darn good team by 32 points in Houston. He said, "Prepare the grounds for the arrival of the Midshipmen this year to receive the Commander in Chief Trophy." I said, "Okay." [Laughter]

One of the things that the young men at the—and women at the Naval Academy learn is leadership, how important it is to be a leader, what it means to lead, how one sets standards and calls people to a higher calling. That's what we expect of the officers who wear our uniforms, and that's what Coach Johnson has taught the young men who play football for the Naval Academy. He believes in high standards. His view is: Failure is not an option; success is what we aim for.

He had some great individual stars on this team but, obviously, was able to say to those stars, "You're playing for something greater than yourself. You're playing for the team, so that perhaps, if you do what I ask you to do, and if you work hard enough, you can come to the White House and receive the Commander in Chief's Trophy."

Coach Johnson, you have set a high standard. You and your team has achieved one of the most dramatic turnarounds in NCAA football history. And it is my honor to welcome you and your team and your leadership qualities here into the East Room of this great house of the people.

You know, I know that every player works hard to work—to win on Saturday afternoons. And that's vital if you're a football player. I mean, what the heck, you might as well work hard so you can win. I don't know a lot of people who work hard so they can go out and lose. But one of the things that I know you know is taking place now is that you're preparing to lead our Nation in a time of war, that you wear uniforms of football so you can—and you'll wear a uniform of the United States of America as we fight the first war of the 21st century. It is the teamwork that you're learning on the field that will enable you to lead others to make America more secure. That's the lesson you're learning as you became great football players.

I'm proud of your predecessors. Many of the people who played football at the Academy are now serving overseas. They're serving brilliantly in zones of combat. They're doing everything they can to be as tough and as compassionate as we expect our soldiers to be. They're tough on the one hand and compassionate on the other. We have got a mission in this Nation, and that is not only to make ourselves secure from an enemy which hates our freedom but, at the same time, spread freedom so that the world will be more peaceful, so people have a chance to live with dignity and hope. And members of the classes before you, members of the great Naval Academy classes, understand that mission, and they're accomplishing it with great class and dignity.

Many of the seniors here will be given that same opportunity to serve our Nation. And I just want to tell you the Nation will be grateful for your service, be grateful for your sacrifices, will be grateful of what you do to make the world a better place for all of us to live.

And now it's my honor, Coach, to present the Commander in Chief's Trophy to winners, people who achieved the big dream, people who will represent our country in the finest of Navy traditions. May God bless them, and may God bless their families. And May God continue to bless the United States of America.

Coach Johnson.

NOTE: The President spoke at 1:02 p.m. in the East Room at the White House.

George W. Bush, Remarks on Presenting the Commander in Chief's Trophy to the United States Naval Academy Midshipmen Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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