WASHINGTON – President Trump spoke for about four minutes on Tuesday afternoon. He made no mention of the Eagles.
At 3:03 p.m., with American flags waving and the United States Marine Band and Army Chorus offered as an opening act, Trump started addressing an invited crowd on the White House's South Lawn without the Lombardi Trophy in sight.
There was a smattering of Eagles clothing among the guests – an Eagles cap here, an Eagles shirt there – but that was the only way of knowing that the Eagles were supposed to be appear with Trump on Tuesday while the replacement event took place. After the invitation was rescinded because of the president's unhappiness with a small delegation the Eagles planned to send, the White House turned the 3 p.m. slot on the president's schedule into a "Celebration of America."
Trump spoke about the national anthem, the military, and the economy. He did not make any references to the Super Bowl champions.
"We love our country," he said. "We respect our flag. And we always proudly stand for the national anthem."
One person in attendance appeared to kneel before fleeing the event. That's one more than the amount of Eagles who knelt during the national anthem during the regular season and playoffs last year. Trump had cited the anthem in his initial statement revoking the Eagles' invitation and made the Tuesday event about the anthem, although the White House's explanation for the about-face had less to do with the anthem on Tuesday.
The White House blamed the Eagles during press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders' briefing, offering its version of the story that the Eagles submitted 81 names for the visit last week and changed their plans at the "eleventh hour," calling it a "political stunt" by the team. The Eagles have not responded to the White House's assertion.
A few in attendance who agreed to interviews believed the White House's version of the story and were disappointed in the Eagles. (They attended as guests of the White House, so it was not like a random sampling on Broad Street.)
"I was an Eagles fan until yesterday," said Joe DeAngelis, 71, from Robbinsville, N.J. "They tried to embarrass the president. It's uncalled for."
He directed his ire at Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, citing Lurie's political leanings. DeAngelis said he had tickets to come to the White House for the past month. He attended with his son and his grandson. Even when the team was disinvited, they still wanted to come, choosing to drive to Washington. He said that he is now a New York Jets fan – his son said he was joking and his grandson's rooting interests are unchanged, but the damage was already done for DeAngelis.
"We were all Eagle fans until yesterday," DeAngelis said.
An Eagles fan from Mount Laurel, dressed in Eagles green, called the visit a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" and wished the Eagles treated it as such. He insisted that the visit should not be about what the players think of the president.
That was the position of Christian Ziegler, a 35-year-old from Sarasota, Fla., and a "lifelong Eagles fan." He called it a "disappointing" that his favorite team did not visit the White House.
"It doesn't matter who's president – Trump or Obama – you should respect the office enough to show up," Ziegler said. "I think the president welcomed them, sent them an invite to the White House, and they decided to send only a couple people and maybe a mascot? It's just disappointing. You have a lot of players who are grandstanding. I think the office of the Presidency and the White House is bigger than any political disagreements that we have."
When the Eagles initially accepted the invitation, Carson Wentz said he did not view it as a political event and coach Doug Pederson considered it an honor to visit the White House. But the size of the Eagles' contingent turned it into a political issue for the White House. Instead of mentions of the "Philly Special," the 3 p.m. talking points on Tuesday were about why Americans should stand for the national anthem and the nation's unemployment rate. There were many American flags – not many Eagles flags.
"This is a beautiful, big celebration," Trump said. "Actually, to be honest, it's even bigger than we had anticipated."