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Obama on Army-Navy game combatants: 'The best we have'

President Obama on Saturday saluted the participants in the annual Army-Navy football game, calling the future servicemen “the best we have.”

Obama made the short trip from the White House to FedEx Field in Maryland via Marine One for the first incarnation of the annual rivalry to be played in the Washington, D.C., area. The commander in chief greeted Army cadets and naval midshipmen on the field, before orchestrating the opening coin flip.

Obama used a string of poignant words during an interview with CBS in describing how he views the future soldiers, sailors and Marines: “remarkable,” “smart,” “dedicated” and “tough.” He lauded them for “loving their country” and volunteering to put themselves in “life-and-death situations … to protect our country.”

“They do an incredible job,” he said of the games’ participants in an interview with CBS announcers Vern Lundquist and Gary Danielson late in the first quarter. “It’s an incredible rivalry.

“It constantly makes you grateful,” Obama said. “They are the best we have to offer.”

Obama said the annual rivalry game’s first appearance in the Nation’s Capital Region has generated “lots of excitement in the community.”

Lundquist, who has called numerous Army-Navy games played in other cities, said he senses “a real resonance to having it here.”

The commander in chief noted many of the players will during their military careers serve either in the Pentagon or other assignments in the Washington region.

The announcers advised Obama to be careful when interacting with the players, who eagerly attempt to determine whether spectators are quietly rooting for the other side.

“I have to be very careful,” Obama said, though he acknowledged his grandfather served under the command of Army Gen. George Patton.

The interview featured several light moments, like when Lundquist informed viewers Obama was going to do a little football commentary.

“We know he can do basketball,” Lundquist quipped.

Obama offered a scouting report on Navy, saying his personal assistant Reggie Love, who played college hoops at Duke University, once told of him Navy’s basketball players: “No one, pound-for-pound, was tougher than Navy.”

Obama largely left the play-by-play duties up to the legendary Lundquist, though he did add to the veteran announcers call on a Navy fumble by telling viewers: “Looks like a fumble.”

And he assisted the quarterback-turned-analyst Danielson when he noted that a Navy extra-point kick that hit the right upright before going through was “nerve-racking.”

The president, showing some political savvy, said he was a fan of the University of Illinois football team when he lived in Chicago.

But these days?

“I got to be honest, most Saturdays, I’m workin’,” Obama said.

Lundquist and Danielson got several laughs out of the president, including when CBS showed a still picture of an Auburn University play card being flashed to its offense. On the large card was a picture of Obama looking deep in thought.

“Auburn came to the White House” recently to celebrate its 2010 Bowl Championship Series Championship," Obama said. “They didn’t tell me what the play was.”

Lundquist was ready with some political analysis: “Probably something to the center or slightly to the left.” The president roared with laughter.

Obama was joined at the game by Vice President Joe Biden, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and the civilian and uniformed leaders of the Army, Navy and Marine Corps.

Following the interview, Obama and Panetta were sitting on Navy's side of the stadium. At halftime, the president crossed the field to watch the second half from Army's side.