Rex Burkhead joined his little buddy, Jack Hoffman, at the White House.
By Randy York
Surely you saw 7-year-old Jack Hoffman staring up at President Barack Obama on Monday. It was a compelling photo for brain cancer awareness with the light dramatizing one of Jack’s scars from two major brain surgeries … an important reminder of why the Hoffmans were at the White House talking to the free world’s most important leader.
That scar became its own badge of courage that commemorated a day when Andy and Brianna Hoffman described an experience so dreamlike it simply could not have been more memorable. Today’s N-Sider gives you a closer look at the enduring memories from a surreal Monday that was chronicled on the front pages of Nebraska’s two largest newspapers, just like ABC News, ESPN and the Cincinnati Bengals Blog that ties Jack to his big brother-like buddy, Rex Burkhead.
Tuesday, I asked Andy and Bri for some reflection upon returning from the Nation’s Capital back to their hometown in Atkinson, Neb., where they love living and will forever frame their White House memories. When the Hoffmans were in the West Wing waiting room to see the President, Bri told her three children that they were about to experience something most people only dream about, so they should “look around and pay real close attention because this is the last time you will ever see this part of the White House again,” she said. A nice man, also waiting to see the President, heard the comment and politely corrected a mother he did not know. “Don’t say that,” he told Bri. “Any one of these three kids could be President someday.”
Obama Focused First on Jack, Then on Rex
Bri and Andy smiled, picking up the positive vibes and agreeing with that assessment. Even though the family would walk out the door and Andy would accommodate interviews with USA Today, NBC and CBS, among others, they cherished every second of their 15 illuminated minutes of White House fame. They were thrilled that President Obama used that precious time just like they envisioned and wanted him to use it – the vast majority focusing on Jack and everything left over acknowledging Rex’s role and the inspiration the two draw from each other.
“What a nice guy,” Andy said. “I really liked the way he honored Jack.”
“Saw you on ESPN,” the President told Jack. “Boy was that a nice run!”
The President thenasked Jack to introduce him to his parents, his two younger sisters and his special guest.
“I’ve got something for you, Jack,” Obama said, admitting that his white football with the Presidential White House Seal and a special message to Jack “isn’t nearly as cool” as having a signed football from his favorite team, but he wanted to give it to him anyway.
“Jack, we’re so proud of you!” the President said, repeating the same message he wrote on the white football before signing it himself.
President Knows Hard Knocks Coming Rex’s Way
PresidentObama also engaged with Burkhead, the honorary captain of college football’s 2012 Good Works Team.
“Cincinnati Bengals?” the President asked Burkhead. He asked Rex what was ahead for him. When Rex finished his answer, Obama changed to a serious tone, implying that he knows what comes next. He then confided the source of his information: Hard Knocks on HBO. Yes, it was truly another lighthearted moment.
The President seemed to grasp the essence of Team Jack. “You could tell he took the time to understand what the story is all about,” Andy said. PresidentObama then thanked Rex for everything that he had done for Jack. “It was a nice Presidential thank you for Rex, and that gesture was a very rewarding part of the visit,” Andy said.
When the Hoffmans thanked President Obama for raising awareness for pediatric brain cancer, the President seized the opportunity to discuss with the Hoffmans and Rex the new brain science initiative that he was working on. The President said he was committed to science and to brain research and went on to explain his new initiative.
This Bo-liever Didn’t See Bo, the White House Dog
Jack was hoping to see Bo, the First Family’s dog. “We didn’t get to see Bo, but we got his trading card in the gift bag,” Jack said.
“That was the quote of the day from Jack because he ended up getting some M&Ms and some coins and some pictures and the Bo card and a yo-yo,” Andy said. “Jack really enjoyed being able to read about Bo.”
We’re talking Bo the dog, not the other Bo, even though Coach Pelini is right at the top of Jack’s major hero list.
The Hoffmans gave the Obamas six Team Jack Tee-shirts. They were impressed with the President’s engagement with all three kids. “Jack was Jack. He was very calm,” Andy said. “Even though his little sisters became somewhat rambunctious, the President handled them well.”
Bri agreed. “The scene was somewhat surreal, but the President was awesome,” she said. “He’s charismatic, concerned, and I found him to be very warm. When we got up to leave, the president was shaking everyone’s hand.”
Instead of shaking her hand, Obama said: “Moms get hugs.” He then leaned forward and gave Bri a Presidential hug.
Presidential Advice: Thank Your Nebraska Senator
“I thought he was really nice and really genuine,” Bri said. “While we were there, I got the feeling that he really wants to help people, and I feel the same way now. I don’t know how the experience could have gone much better.”
On their way out the door, President Obama reminded the Hoffmans to thank Senator Deb Fischer because she helped enable the White House visit from the very beginning.
“We have thanked Deb, and we will thank her again,” Andy said, “even though it’s still hard for us to believe that all of this actually happened.”
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