For four years, Super Bowl Champion Ali Marpet ’15 protected Statesman teammate Dom Ellis ’15 on Boswell Field; recently U.S. Secret Service Officer Ellis met with his former classmate on his turf at the White House.
From 2011 to 2014, Ali Marpet ’15 and Dom Ellis ’15 and the rest of their classmates led the Hobart football team to four straight Liberty League Championships. On Tuesday, July 20, the duo held a reunion of sorts. Marpet, who now plays guard for the Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was in Washington, D.C., for the team’s visit to the White House. Ellis, an officer for the U.S. Secret Service assigned to protect the White House, went into work early to catch up with his former teammate. The pair were part of The Athletic news coverage of the event which was held on the South Lawn.
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Ali Marpet’s personal White House connection, Tom Brady’s political jokes and the best of the Buccaneers’ visit
By Greg Auman Jul 20, 2021
WASHINGTON — Ali Marpet’s job in winning a Super Bowl with the Buccaneers was to protect Tom Brady, but on Tuesday morning, he caught up with an old college teammate who can do one better: protecting the President of the United States.
As the Bucs visited the White House to be greeted by President Joe Biden as Super Bowl champs, Marpet had a minute with Dom Ellis, who played fullback at Hobart College when Marpet was an offensive lineman there. He’s now an officer in the Secret Service active detail, working in the West Wing on Tuesday, and a little more excited than most to see the Bucs visit.
“I’ve been a Bucs fan since the beginning, so this is even better for me,” said Ellis, a St. Petersburg native who played at Northeast High before going to Hobart, graduating like Marpet in 2015.”
Ellis, 28, was due to report for work at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday but went in a bit early to see the Bucs, catching up with Marpet for a photo as players waited to meet with Biden in a ceremony on the White House’s South Lawn. The two have kept in touch since their playing days, catching up at Bucs practices, and he said Tampa Bay winning a championship in February was a huge thrill.
“I can’t even explain my excitement,” said Ellis, whose sister Rebecca remains a Bucs season-ticket holder. “There’s really no words for it, honestly.”
Ellis has been with the Secret Service for three and a half years but fondly remembers his playing days at Hobart, and Marpet for his voracious appetite. When players at Hobart ate together, they had to go through the chow line, some more than others.
“They’d only give you one portion, and if you wanted more, you had to go back,” he said. “I remember Ali getting in line literally three times. He’d get a portion and get right back in line, get another portion and get back in line.”
Marpet, who was able to shake hands with Biden during the ceremony, is now part of the Bucs’ Social Justice Committee, and two teammates were able to get a private audience with Vice President Kamala Harris during Tuesday’s visit, talking with her about voting issues. He said it’s important to take advantage of the spotlight on athletes to help make a change.
“I think football just gives you a platform,” he said. “However, any player chooses to use that platform is up to them. Personally, I feel a responsibility to try to get people out to vote, or something else I care about.”
Brady brings the political humor
Bucs quarterback Tom Brady has won seven Super Bowls under four different presidential administrations, but he hadn’t been to a White House ceremony since 2005 (under George W. Bush), having skipped the Patriots’ visits in 2015 and ’17, with the team not invited in ’19.
Brady has tried to keep quiet politically — though once was photographed with a ‘Make America Great Again’ hat in his locker shortly after Donald Trump announced his campaign for the White House — but had a few jokes during a two-minute speech on the podium, drawing laughs from Biden, who had noted that the Bucs were a team that is “a testament of the fact that it’s never too late to come together and achieve extraordinary things.” Brady took it from there.
“It didn’t look great there at one point. We were 7-5, struggling a little bit, as the president alluded to,” Brady said. “But we found our rhythm, got on a roll. Not a lot of people think that we could have won. In fact, I think about 40 percent of the people still don’t think we won. You understand that, Mr. President?”
Biden, 78, relished that Bruce Arians (68) and Brady (43) are the oldest coach and quarterback to win a Super Bowl, saying “you won’t hear any jokes about that from me. As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing wrong with being the oldest guy to make it to the mountaintop. That’s how I look at it.”
Brady also had a self-deprecating nod, recalling the end of the Bucs’ loss to the Bears, where he lost track of downs, holding up four fingers in confusion when he thought he had another play after throwing incomplete on last-minute fourth down.
“It’s nice for me to be back here,” Brady said. “We had a game in Chicago where I forgot what down it was. I lost track of one down in 21 years of playing and they started calling me ‘Sleepy Tom.’ Why would they do that to me?”
You literally can’t spell “bipartisan” without Arians, and the Bucs coach closed his brief speech on the podium by saying the Bucs won a Super Bowl by coming together as “one team, one cause,” then turning to Biden and saying he hoped for the same in politics.
“I hope the Senate and the House start helping you,” he said.
The Bucs never got to visit the White House as a team when they won their first title in 2003, with the invasion of Iraq pushing peripheral events to the side. So, Tuesday was a special moment for the franchise, with a full band on site playing the old-school “Hey, Hey, Tampa Bay” song as players arrived, lining a stage behind the Lombardi Trophy.
They were the first NFL team to visit the White House since 2017, with Donald Trump pausing the annual tradition but Biden bringing it back just this month, starting with baseball’s Los Angeles Dodgers. In all, 41 Bucs players were in attendance, with receivers Mike Evans and Antonio Brown, linebacker Lavonte David and tight end Rob Gronkowski among the biggest names that didn’t make the visit.
The team presented Biden with a white Bucs No. 46 jersey, a nod to his being the 46th president, and Biden likely will have another Tampa Bay team visiting soon with the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning, who just won their second straight Stanley Cup championship.
“We have to say that the fans down in western Florida are having a pretty good year this year,” Biden said. “I tell you, you know, the Stanley Cup, in addition to the Super Bowl. We’re making a pretty strong case to start calling Tampa the city of champions.”
Biden spent 36 years representing Delaware as a senator, and he had a soft spot for Bucs receiver Chris Godwin, who grew up in Middletown, Del., after being born in Pennsylvania, like Biden.
“I’m mildly prejudiced about that,” Biden said, turning and shaking hands with Godwin. “You know, born in Pennsylvania, raised in Delaware, where I come from, that’s a heck of a combination, man. … Like me, he takes a lot of pride in his home state. Chris, you’re inspiring a whole lot of kids back home in Delaware.”
Godwin, flattered to get the star treatment about two hours from his family’s home, said visiting the White House was just another part of a dream the Bucs have realized this year.
“Honestly, it was awesome,” Godwin said. “It’s such an honor for me to … have time to talk to him a little bit. I’ve always watched things like this since I was a kid. To be a part of it, to be part of a great team, to win a championship and be here, is such an honor.”
Back home in D.C.
The trip to Washington had special significance to Bucs offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, who was born in raised in the nation’s capital, graduating from nearby H.D. Woodson High School. Leftwich got to visit the White House in 2009 when he was a backup quarterback with the Steelers (Arians was an assistant on that team), and his return was a proud moment for his high school coach, Bob Headen, with whom he talked by phone Monday.
Headen, now retired, remembers visiting the White House as far back as during John F. Kennedy’s term in office, and he still has a letter from Richard Nixon congratulating him and one of his high school teams. Headen coached football and girls’ basketball at Woodson, and one of his basketball players, Jamelle Elliott, has been to the White House five times for NCAA championships won as a player and assistant coach at Connecticut.
Elliott’s favorite White House memory was in 2009, in Barack Obama’s first year in office, when the president played a game of HORSE with UConn players as part of their visit.
“It was kind of surreal because growing up in D.C. public schools like Byron and I did, that was the norm of going on a field trip there,” Elliott said by phone Monday. “At least every other year, if not every year, one of our field trips consisted of visiting all the different monuments and historical places in the city. But to go back on a special invite by the most important person probably in the world, it was something that really was a dream come true, especially growing up there. It lets you know how far you’ve come.”