WASHINGTON - The Super Bowl football heroes brought their own special hero with them to the White House for their meeting with President Bush.
Army Lt. Col. Greg Gadson, who lost both legs in Iraq and later gave the New York Giants a pep talk that helped propel them to the Super Bowl, stood among the Giants players on his prosthetic legs and listened yesterday as President Bush singled him out for praise.
"I'm proud to be on the stage with this man," said the president. "He has got the Purple Heart and three Bronze Stars, and now he's got a Super Bowl ring minted for a true giant."
|President Bush shakes hands with Lt. Col. Greg Gadson, the New York Giants inspirational co-captain, on the White House South Lawn on April 30 as quarterback Eli Manning looks on.|
After his remarks, the president stopped and bantered for a moment with Gadson.
"He really just thanked me," Gadson told me today. "It was a genuine thanks, and he told me I was a good man and he was proud of me."
From one battleground to another
Gadson's journey from the battleground in Iraq to the South Lawn of the White House began on May 7 of last year when a roadside bomb tore apart his legs on a street in Baghdad. I first met him on Sept. 12 while he was recuperating at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
"I've been here a little over four months," he told me at the time, "and I've been on my feet for a little bit, and I'm making steady progress, so that's all I can ask for."
Ten days later, Gadson was asked by Mike Sullivan, a former football teammate at West Point and an assistant coach for the Giants, to speak to the 0-2 team before its game against the Washington Redskins.
"I just talked to them about life," said the former Army defensive end and linebacker. "I talked to them about their obligation as professionals to do their best."
The Giants went out the next day and upset the Redskins, 24-17. New York turned its season around and reeled off six straight victories and a record 10 straight road wins.
"If he wasn't with us at games, he'd call us and talk to the team beforehand," Giants quarterback Eli Manning said after yesterday's White House ceremony. "He's become a good friend to all the Giants."
|President Bush stands with members of the Super Bowl XLII Champion New York Giants during an event to honor the team on the South Lawn of the White House on April 30.|
'An unbelievable inspiration'
Gadson gave the Giants another pep talk before their stunning 17-14 upset of the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.
"I told them you have to play together as a team and believe in each other," he said.
I asked Manning what Gadson has meant to the Giants.
"Greg has just been an unbelievable inspiration to this team," said Manning. "He has a wonderful outlook on life. And still, everything he's been through, his spirits are high. He loves to laugh and smile and he's just a joy to be around."
I asked the 42-year-old Gadson what the Giants and their Super Bowl run meant for him.
"They've been part of my healing process, just being able to interact with them," Gadson said. "I mean, I'll tell you, the difference between me talking to them in September and in February was that I was still struggling to get on my feet, fighting through and working through and just trying to get myself better."
One soldier, one football team, two class acts.