Fond Tailgate Tour reflections

Posted by Aaron Popkey on June 22, 2016 – 5:42 pm

160622-TT-popkey-950After logging 735 miles, celebrating five tailgate parties and creating thousands of new memories, the 2016 Packers Tailgate Tour completed its 11th year and has now raised more than $2 million for charity.

Tour participants offered some reflections on their experiences.

Mark Murphy: “This year’s tour was different than many of our other tours, because it took place over the weekend and was later in the year. We were able to do some things we don’t often do, such as visit camps and tour on the Ducks. The activities were more summer related than school related, which was a nice change.

“The group was great. The players got along really well. For me, it’s always fun to see how our alumni and current players sit on separate parts of bus at the beginning and by the end of trip they’re all together sharing stories and having fun.”

Sean Jones: “This tour has been a lot of fun. There are things I have done that I wouldn’t have taken the time to do, like riding the Ducks in the (Wisconsin) Dells. I’m going to bring my family back to do that.

“It was great to have the ability to touch people and put smiles on their faces. Many of them wouldn’t be able to go to a game or visit Lambeau Field. We’ve been able to bring that feeling to them and help them create great memories. I say that to my kids, the aspect of making great memories in your life. And the other thing I stress is to ask great questions…otherwise you won’t get great answers.”

LeRoy Butler: “It was fantastic. I enjoyed meeting people that will never get a chance to come to Green Bay to see a game. I enjoyed seeing kids that were impacted that we were able to play with at the hospital. They were thanking us but we were thanking them. That’s the mutual bond.

“We raised a lot of money for charity. They counted on this. To come through for them is awesome.”

Robert Brooks: “It was a great success, great to see the fans. I didn’t expect anything less than great turnout with this fan base. I don’t think any other team could pull off what we did. The fans that watched our teams, their excitement was like yesterday; they remember you and the plays and the times during that era. Makes you feel special.”

Sam Barrington: “This tour is what makes us one of the most prestigious organizations in the league. Not about how much the team’s worth or games won, it’s the ability to have collective heart for the community. That’s what I believe.

“The consistency was reiterated at each event. One was not more enthused than other. Everyone was enthused and happy.”

Jayrone Elliott: “It was a great opportunity for us to interact with the fans and to bond with teammates and meet former players. I learn some techniques from Sean. LeRoy was fun to be with and I learned about business from RB (Robert Brooks).

“It was tremendous how many fans turned out each night. You could see their excitement in their body language. The surprise visits were great, especially at the children’s hospital.”

Jared Abbrederis: “Mean Gene was fun; he was a hoot. We had some fun stops with some surprise twists. Fun interacting with the fans. The highlight of the trip was the children’s hospital. We also enjoyed good food spots around Wisconsin.

“It surprised me how much the older guys goofed around. It was fun to hang out with these guys. I learned something from Robert Brooks: get the scuba gloves for the winter. Get the scubas and you’ll catch 100 balls, he said.”

View more coverage from the 2016 Packers Tailgate Tour


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Final party in Shawano benefits Red River Riders

Posted by Aaron Popkey on June 21, 2016 – 11:43 pm

160621-TT-popkey-shawano-950Hundreds of fans filled the Crawford Center Tuesday evening in Shawano to hear from the Packers, take selfies and get autographs, all in support of Red River Riders Therapeutic Riding Program for the Disabled.

The tour members again enjoyed a special entrance as a fire truck escort led the way and the bus pulled entirely inside the pavilion and served as a backdrop for the stage.

On stage, Mark Murphy introduced all the players and helped direct questions from the audience. Before the Q&A began, though, Murphy paid special tribute to one of Shawano’s own, Lee Remmel, the late, longtime Packers PR man and team historian. Lee grew up in Shawano and is well respected in his hometown, and the audience confirmed it with an enthusiastic hand.

The session with fans featured Mean Gene, a memorable Packers fan who has made appearances at other Tailgate Tour parties in previous years. Murphy and Packers staffers on the trip were appreciative of Mean Gene’s repeat attendance and enthusiastic question-asking.

Murphy was asked about the chances of a Super Bowl being played in Green Bay, a question often asked in recent years after MetLife Stadium in the New York area hosted after the 2013 season. After explaining that the game would not be coming to Lambeau Field due to the community’s lack of support facilities, Murphy did make a pledge, though.

“We will host as many NFC Championship Games as possible,” he said, to great delight from the fans.


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Who wants to ride?

Posted by Aaron Popkey on June 21, 2016 – 11:36 pm

160621-TT-popkey-red-river-riders-950Prior to the evening’s festivities, the tour members had a chance to visit the Red River Riders Therapeutic Riding Program for the Disabled, a non-profit organization that provides horse riding lessons and training for people with special needs.

It was a unique experience for the players and alumni, to see the facility and witness firsthand the wonderful work the organization carries out.

“I’m going to you on one of these horses,” Jared Abbrederis said to LeRoy Butler.

“No way,” replied Butler. “I’m like Billy Crystal in City Slickers. Very uneasy.”

While the tour has had the opportunity to visit past benefiting organizations, this one had extra appeal.

“This is a different type of charitable organization,” said Mark Murphy. “We were able to actively see their program. It was impressive to see in action and the direct benefits to riders.”

Carrie Barribeau, an instructor and treasurer for the Red River Riders, said everyone enjoyed having the tour make a stop.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us and we were thrilled to have them support the organization that way,” she said.


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Surprise at day camp

Posted by Aaron Popkey on June 21, 2016 – 4:39 pm

160621-TT-popkey-wausau-child-care-950The skies were blue and the wind was perfect for bubbles.

What more could the players and alumni ask for but a surprise stop at Wausau Child Care’s day camp.

More than 60 children clapped with joy as the Tailgate Tour bus pulled up at their playground to enjoy some games. But before the games could commence, several of the players were mesmerized with the classic childhood activity, blowing bubbles.

“I love bubbles,” said Robert Brooks with a wide smile. “I would have done that the whole time. But then they pulled me away. I wanted to get the big one, but others had it. I said, ‘You’re killing me.’ The key was the wind. It was just blowing perfect.”

On the field, Jared Abbrederis seemed to be working on his run-after-the-catch moves as he repeatedly faked out children trying to catch him.

“I always do that with my nephew,” Abbrederis explained. “I juke him left or right and he runs forever.”

Photos: Packers pop into day camp

Kickball and other field games were relished to such an extent that you could sense the disappointment when it was time for the tour to depart.

Two more stops remain on the tour.


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Helping keep spirits up

Posted by Aaron Popkey on June 21, 2016 – 1:56 pm

160621-TT-popkey-childrens-hospital-950It was difficult to tell who had bigger smiles on their faces, the Packers players and alumni or the children to whom they paid a surprise visit at Ministry Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Marshfield, Wis.

After a greeting in a group setting at the entrance, the tour members visited the neonatal and the pediatric units and spent quality time chatting with children and their families at their bedsides.

“It was great to get there and visit the children,” said Jayrone Elliott. “You could tell they were excited to see us. It was fun for me. I connected to with a couple kids.”

Hearing about the families’ health challenges and providing encouragement was a positive experience for Sam Barrington.

“It reminded me of my daughter. As a parent you hope your kids are healthy,” said Barrington. “Seeing parents dealing with their situations makes you not take life and health for granted.”

The patients and their families enjoyed the attention from the Green and Gold during difficult times, even if they had to get over the surprise.

“We didn’t expect it at all. It was a nice surprise,” said Megan Acker from nearby Boyd, Wis., who was in the neonatal unit with her newborn son, Silas. “It definitely boosts our spirits a bit.”

Photos: Packers Tailgate Tour visits children’s hospital

While the visit was designed to lift spirits for the children and their families, it was clear that the players even got a lift.

“The kids were inspiring, more to us than us to them,” said Robert Brooks. “All those small children and the kids just coming out of surgery. There was a kid who had just broken his femur. If that was me, I’d probably be laid up. They were in good spirits.”

There was a secondary benefit of the visit, too.

“The staff loved it,” said Heidi Giese, child life manager for the hospital. “We kept it a surprise from most of them, too. The day means a lot, to see the smiles on the faces during a hard time for the kids and parents alike.”


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Sean and Sam’s song and dance routine

Posted by Aaron Popkey on June 20, 2016 – 10:34 pm

160620-tailgate-tour4-REVISE-950A crooning Sean Jones and a dancing Sam Barrington were the highlights of Monday’s tailgate party in Black River Falls, Wis., to benefit Riverfront Inc., a nonprofit organization which provides a continuum of innovative support for individuals with disabilities so that they may live meaningful lives, and facilitate these individuals’ ability to live, learn and work.

Sean Jones established a tailgate tour first when he performed the birthday song for Eileen Whitman, a fan from Florida who was celebrating her day at the event. Upon hearing the news, Jones brought Whitman on stage and led the Packers tour group in an impressive rendition of the classic song. The crowd roared its approval.

“The young lady was celebrating her 72nd birthday and her daughter asked us to sing,” Jones said with a laugh. “That’s endemic of what this tour’s about. Sometimes you make fans one at a time. It’s macro and micro in same breath. We have big groups and we’re helping an organization, but then we’re making memories for individual fans at the same time.”

Video: Packers serenade fan on her birthday

Later, a contest took place on stage that challenged three fans to register as many steps as possible on a step indicator. Barrington was inspired and jumped up on stage to join the contest, also a first for the tour.

“I try to have some fun,” Barrington deadpanned.

Photos: Packers entertain fans at Black River Falls

Mary Kessens, president and CEO of Riverfront Inc., was impressed with the support of the fans.

“The goodwill of the Packers’ fan club is great to see,” Kessens said. “Wisconsin supports the Packers and the Packers support Wisconsin.”

“The evening was amazing,” she continued. “It was great to borrow the Packers’ fame to do good things and to help people with disabilities.”

The final day of the tour awaits.


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Where’s Yogi?

Posted by Aaron Popkey on June 20, 2016 – 4:03 pm

160620-tailgate-tour3-950Inspired by a trip off the beaten path in the Waterpark Capital of the World, the tour next stopped at a different kind of park, one with plenty of pic-a-nic baskets. They greeted fans and families at Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park in Warrens, Wis.

Jason Grady, a vacationer from Waukon, Iowa, wondered what all the commotion was about when a daughter started running away from the pool area.

“First I said, ‘No running,’” he recalled. “Then I said, ‘What did you say?’ She said the Packers were here. Then I saw the bus and knew.”

Grady, you see, was at a tailgate party in Prairie du Chien, Wis., last year and knew about the Tailgate Tour.

“This is pretty cool,” he said as he watched fans of all ages approach the players for photos, along with some pickup basketball.

Photos: Packers invade Jellystone Park

The group enjoyed the surprise at a completely random place

“I like the surprises, when people don’t know we’re coming,” Jared Abbrederis. “They’re more shocked.”

After a quick stop at a Culver’s for a treat, the crew is enjoying some down time before tonight’s party to benefit Riverfront Inc. in Black River Falls.


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We’re going to ride in that?

Posted by Aaron Popkey on June 20, 2016 – 1:44 pm

160620-tailgate-tour2-REVISE-950The Packers exchanged their tour bus for a more eclectic (and versatile) vehicle on their Wisconsin Duck Tour in the Wisconsin Dells, surprising tourists and locals alike.

The players split up into two groups and joined other riders to enjoy the hour-long expedition through a lush forest and on the beautiful Wisconsin River.

Led by an informative and entertaining tour guide, Trevor, the group learned about the history of ducks (developed to ferry troops and supplies from ship to shore during WWII; manufactured in Pontiac, Mich., home to the former home stadium of the Detroit Lions, the Pontiac Silverdome) and the beauty of the area, especially the rock formations along the Wisconsin River.

Trevor’s entertaining quips were especially enjoyed by LeRoy Butler, who chuckled heartily at seemingly each of his jokes. One in particular was about how they painted a goal line around the forest in which the duck was riding in order to keep out bears and lions, because everyone knows bears and lions cannot cross a goal line.

Photos: Packers take a ride on Wisconsin Ducks

“I liked him, especially his Bear jokes. They were great,” Butler agreed.

Sam Barrington found the ride very relaxing.

“It was very scenic,” he said. “I liked it for that.”

After the tour, the group enjoyed lunch at Riverwalk Pub. Tony Fisher and Jayrone Elliott, the Cleveland Cavaliers fans, stopped in front of some TVs to watch live images of the NBA champion Cavs’ triumphant return to Cleveland.

“Come on, Tony, you can’t live in the past,” teased Mark Murphy. “You need to move on.”


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Summer School in session

Posted by Aaron Popkey on June 20, 2016 – 10:04 am

160620-tailgate-tour1-950Day Four’s first stop was at Wisconsin Heights Middle School in Mazomanie, Wis., as the tour members visited with students who are augmenting their studies with summer school.

In the school’s gym, about 50 elementary students heard from the players about the tour and few life subjects.

Sam Barrington implored the students to respect their peers and their teachers.

“You do that and I promise you’ll do well,” he said.

LeRoy Butler echoed those sentiments and added that they make sure to plan for success.

Players answered some questions for the students, including a query about who was the fastest player.

“They should race!” shouted one student.

The race was not run, but the current players said cornerback Sam Shields was the fastest. The alumni mentioned wide receiver Don Beebe.

Photos: Packers inspire elementary school kids

Favorite pets was broached as a topic and the tour learned that Sean Jones had a preferred pet that was slightly out of the norm.

“When I was 8, I asked for a chimpanzee for Christmas,” he said.

Later on the bus, Jones admitted he did not get the pet.

“I wouldn’t have known what to do with it. But I did get a chimpanzee ventriloquist doll.”

Also on the bus, much of the conversation focused on the NBA Finals Game 7 contest last night that saw Cleveland win in dramatic fashion. Cleveland natives Jayrone Elliott and Tony Fisher, the Packers’ player/alumni coordinator, both were celebrating the long-awaited victory, the city’s first pro sports championship since the Cleveland Browns won the 1964 NFL championship.

“It still hasn’t sunk in,” said Elliott, with a smile.

The tour continues…


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It’s for the future pets

Posted by Aaron Popkey on June 19, 2016 – 3:48 pm

160618-TT-popkey-dodgeville-950Blaze, a 9-year-old Labrador mix waiting for adoption, wasn’t a featured attendee at Ley Memorial Pavilion in Dodgeville, but he drew nearly the same amount of attention as the players at the Tailgate Party to benefit the Iowa County Humane Society

No, Blaze wasn’t signing autographs, but he did receive many pets from supporters and served as a great ambassador for the shelter that serves this community humanely by providing shelter and care to animals in need.

Photos: Tailgate Tour touches down in Dodgeville

The support provided by the more than 800 fans who turned out will go a long way to helping the shelter with its general operations, as well as a much needed roof replacement.

The Packers’ attendance helps in another way, according to the Humane Society’s outreach manager, Jen Siegel.

“We’re reaching a lot of new people at one time with the Packers’ event,” she said. “That will help us in our rural setting, where we have some more challenges than shelters do in the larger cities.”

“Nice family event on Father’s Day, with all the activities they had like the bounce house,” Jared Abbrederis observed. “Great support today.”


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