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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Thank you for your service

Posted by Aaron Popkey on June 19, 2016 – 12:17 pm

160618-TT-hartwig-veterans-950The Tailgate Tour stopped this morning at S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison had a thankful tone as the players had the opportunity to share their appreciation for a number of veterans.

Visits to the bedsides of approximately 25 patients on the upper floors of the hospital were first, encounters that included conversation, picture-taking and presentations of a special Packers challenge coin.

Michael Stearns, a Vietnam veteran, was thrilled when the visitors surprised him in his room as he was speaking with his family.

“An awesome surprise,” he said. “It is a great Father’s Day, the best I ever had.”

Photos: Tailgate Tour visits veterans hospital

As the group walked past the rooms a second time on the way out of the wing, the hospital staff remarked at the wide smiles that remained on the faces of patients and their families. The memories would remain for even longer.

Further visits took place in a group setting before the group departed, and many of the members admired a service dog that was on site. The border collie appeared very excited to see the additional hospital visitors.

Hospital director John Rohrer said the staff gets a boost from the visits, as well, and had a couple specific memories that would stand out: one being a 52-year-old man who said he felt like a little kid and was nearly crying, and another man who said that he didn’t care if his children forgot to call him today. It wouldn’t matter because he was able to meet the Green Bay Packers.

Jayrone Elliott enjoyed the opportunity to express his appreciation.

“It was a great experience,” he said. “To see guys get emotional, you knew they appreciated it and were happy to see us; you could see it in their eyes like it was Christmas morning. They put in a lot of hard work and made sacrifices. I appreciate we could have that effect on them.”

Day Three continues with an afternoon party to benefit the Iowa County Humane Society.


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Happy Father’s Day

Posted by Aaron Popkey on June 19, 2016 – 9:30 am

160618-TT-popkey-breakfast-950“Happy Father’s Day all you fathers,” said Jared Abbrederis to all the fathers present as he boarded the bus for the start of Day Three.

The tour members enjoyed a traditional Sunday brunch at the Maple Tree Supper Club in McFarland, Wis., and visited and posed with other patrons before their first stop of the day.


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We’re friends of the bride

Posted by Aaron Popkey on June 19, 2016 – 9:19 am

160618-TT-hartwig-wedding-950Of all the surprise visits the Tailgate Tour has sprung over 11 years, the Day Two finish was one of its most unique as the group crashed the wedding reception of Rachel and Andrew Boersma in Fort Atkinson.

“What is going on right now?” Rachel asked, completely shocked with the Green and Gold visitors who approached her with congratulations.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Andrew said. “Best team in the NFL.”

“I thought our transportation was here early,” Rachel said, wondering what the initial commotion was. “Then I said, ‘Oh my gosh, oh my gosh.’”

Photos: Wedding Crashers: Tailgate Tour edition! 

Sean Jones enjoyed causing the minor disruption.

“At first, they didn’t know what was going on, like, ‘What are these people doing coming through here?’” he said. “It was priceless.”


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Boys & Girls Club benefits from Day Two

Posted by Aaron Popkey on June 18, 2016 – 7:12 pm

160618-TT-popkey-atkinson-950Fans in Fort Atkinson came out in full force Saturday afternoon as more than 600 Green and Gold supporters turned out at the high school for the tailgate party to benefit the Boys & Girls Club, a non-profit that serves youth in the Fort Atkinson area by offering programs and activities to inspire and enable all young people to reach their full potential as productive, caring and responsible citizens.

With a second consecutive tailgate party arrival by escort – this one with Harley-Davidson motorcycles in addition to a fire truck – the tour members were energized at the start.

Mark Murphy led the introductions of the players in the high school gymnasium and then served as the questioner for the Q&A session.

Sean Jones was asked about what it was like to play with Reggie White, the late Pro Football Hall of Famer who starred with the Packers during the 90s.

“I do get asked that question a lot, but I remind people that Reggie had to play with me,” said Jones, with a laugh. “As great as a football player he was, he was a better person.”

Another questioner asked about the how the group enjoyed their tour stop at Fort Atkinson’s famous Fireside Theatre. LeRoy Butler had some fun at Sean Jones’ expense as he described the show featuring rock music from the 50s, 60s and 70s.

“Sean was around then, so he was enjoying the music and the memories,” Butler said, drawing strong laughter from the crowd.

Butler was also asked about the first Lambeau Leap and if it was something that was planned.

“I wish I could say it was something that was planned, but it was a cold day and I think I just wanted to stay warm, and everyone knows the warmest place is in a man’s arms,” he said in reference to the fan who caught him.

On the subject of favorite football memories, Robert Brooks enjoyed relaying the story about his NFL-record 99-yard TD reception against the Bears.

“We used to run that play in practice all the time,” he said. “But we wouldn’t run it in a game too often. Mike Holmgren was tight, especially in that situation (with the ball on the 1-yard line). So Brett comes into a huddle with a smile and says, ‘You’re never going to believe this.’ And he calls the play.”

As fans enjoyed getting autographs from the players, Alicia Norris, the director of the Boys & Girls Club, explained how impactful the event is for the organization.

“It’s very exciting for the organization, not only because it’s a significant fund raiser, but it also brings so much awareness for us,” she said. “This helps our after school program, but so many other programs we have, too.

“Kids are our future, and we need to invest in them.”

Day Two is nearly complete, but the tour members are enjoying a meal together before the day’s final activity.


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What? I have to sing?!

Posted by Aaron Popkey on June 18, 2016 – 2:57 pm

160618-TT-popkey-fireside-950“This is a first for the Tailgate Tour,” Mark Murphy said to Cathy Dworak as the members of the tour were ready to take the stage at the Fireside Theatre in Fort Atkinson, Wis.

No, the opening act for the dinner theatre’s ‘lunch and a show’ Saturday matinee wasn’t the Packers, but the guests weren’t quite expecting some of their fellow audience members to be members of the Green and Gold.

But they did have the opportunity to ask questions prior to the “Rockin’ at the Fireside” 50′, 60’s and 70’s show. Two shows for the price of one, if you will.

And yes, Robert Brooks was asked to sing, but he would not oblige any lines from “Jump in the Stands.”

After some downtime, the members will head to Fort Atkinson High School for today’s tailgate party to benefit the Boys & Girls Club.

Photos: Tailgate Tour rocks the Fireside


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Football, Army…we’re both a team

Posted by Aaron Popkey on June 18, 2016 – 12:02 pm

160618-TT-military-950The 115 members of the Wisconsin National Guard 127th Infantry Unit received a much different welcome home party than they had expected upon returning from their two weeks of field training when the members of the Tailgate Tour entered the armory’s gymnasium as they were in formation.

After some formal introductions, the unit broke from formation and casually greeted the players and took some pictures. The entire group then got together to hear from Mark Murphy and the players.

Many of the questions dealt with the routines of football, including meals, workouts and practice schedules, making it very clear to the players that many similarities exist between football and an army unit.

“We’re all teammates,” Jayrone Elliott observed. “You need to learn about each other, the habits, and develop camaraderie in the locker room or in the field. Our schedules are similar. We get up early, work out and be around your teammates all day and have your meals together. Great brotherhood.”

Photos: Packers surprise military members to start Day 2

The unit appreciated the surprise close to the training, according to their commander, 1st Lt. Jason Morrison.

“It was for the guys,” he said. “They’ve been training hard for two weeks. This is last thing before they go home so this is huge for them.

Morrison also observed the strong parallels between the two groups.

“They watch team every weekend and it’s huge to see them,” he said. We use a lot of football analogies in our job, too. Talk about team. Talk about leadership.”

The soldiers also were curious about ways football teams keep it light, which led to a discussion about who the current Packers view as the biggest prankster.

“You’re probably looking at him,” admitted Sam Barrington, with a smile. “I do it for fun, but sometimes you need it, to give some tough talk to a teammate.”

In addition to the fun the players had sharing stories, it also gave them the opportunity to thank the soldiers for their service.

“It was tremendous,” Elliott said. “To be able to meet them and show them respect was great. They do so much for us, sacrificing their time for a bigger cause and giving great effort. We’re thankful at end of the day.”


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