8:45 p.m., May 14, 2011
After 700-plus miles, two states and 15 cities, the sixth annual Packers Tailgate Tour to benefit charities is now complete after a tailgate party at Green Bay East High School to support Green Bay Public Schools.
Although rainy weather forced the party indoors from its originally scheduled location of East High’s City Stadium, the Packers’ home field from 1925 to 56, the spirit of the team’s tradition and history was nonetheless present.
While on the bus making their way to the school, Forrest Gregg, the Hall of Fame offensive lineman, recounted stories for the other tour members about playing at the field during his rookie season, 1956, the team’s last at the stadium. He said it was obvious the stadium was behind the times with respect to the quality of the facility, but when you stepped on the field, you knew it was a special place.
“The tradition and history was apparent,” he said. “Curly Lambeau’s great teams had played there.”
“You guys, by being here tonight, are now fully part of that history.”
And to the current players, he offered an observation that could only come from a five-time NFL champion.
“You are Super Bowl champions. No one can ever take that away from you. You must carry that forward the right way. Keep it going.”
Inside the gym, nearly 700 fans took delight in seeing the members of the tour enter with four Super Bowl trophies.
After introductions and applause for tour members, the attendees were treated to the tour’s last Q-and-A session.
Gilbert Brown gave his insights on what an honor it was to play with the late Reggie White.
“He touched everyone because he was a born leader on and off the field,” Brown said. “It was an honor to play for him.”
While fans at other stops heard about Antonio Freeman’s famous overtime catch to beat the Minnesota Vikings, he did have other special plays that stood out in his career, including a 76-yard punt return for a touchdown that helped defeat the Atlanta Falcons in a 1995 Wild Card Playoff game at Lambeau Field.
And on the subject of memorable plays, Dorsey Levens was asked about his touchdown catch in the 1996 NFC Championship Game at Lambeau Field. The leaping, 29-yard reception was an exciting component to a great all-around performance by Levens which saw him account for 205 yards of offense.
Levens, when asked about what advice he could give to the new Super Bowl champions, told Desmond Bishop, Matt Flynn and Josh Sitton to expect stiff competition each week from their opponents.
“Every game you play this year is going to be the Super Bowl for the other team,” he said.
Jim Taylor spoke of one of his favorite career moments was being selected as the 1962 season’s MVP.
“It was a joy to be recognized that way,” he said. “I was so humbled.”
Elsewhere at the event, children were able to experience a Packers Youth Football training opportunity as they ran through obstacles, caught footballs and dived through tackling dummies onto a mat. Some exhausted future Packers were to sleep well after that activity.
Attendees enjoyed the remainder of their evening, taking in autographs with the players and pictures with Super Bowl trophies.
Overall, the tour was a great help to the charities it benefitted, with more than $100,000 cumulatively raised to help support Bay Cliff Health Camp, BRICK Ministries Inc., Big Brothers Big Sisters Northwestern Wisconsin, The Women’s Community Inc. and the Green Bay Area Public School District.
Fans across the tour were able to see the players in a different light as they joked around and shared memories of their careers. They also got a chance to hear updates from Mark Murphy about the organization, Lambeau Field and Super Bowl rings.
Murphy spoke of the south end zone expansion, a project that is to get underway in 2012 and add approximately 7,500 seats. Fans were excited to hear about more seats, which will move additional people off the waiting list that currently stands at more than 86,000 names.
He also spoke of the team’s new program, PackersEverywhere.com, which will bring Packers fans, pubs, bars and restaurants across the country together in a new and innovative way. The initiative will provide an opportunity for fans to get together and watch the games at their local pub or bar and make a real connection with the team. Fans and establishments can find out more about the free program and sign up now at www.packerseverywhere.com.
Super Bowl rings, Murphy said, are being produced by Jostens and details are still being finalized for a ceremony for the players. He also said former Packers cornerback Al Harris will receive a ring, which drew a cheer from fans.
“I thought the tour went very well,” Murphy said of the five days. “It was fun to finish up at East High School in Green Bay and celebrate our history.”
“Surprises at the schools and hospitals were particularly enjoyable. I was very excited to see all our fans in the Upper Peninsula. I had heard about our strong support from up there, but now I’ve seen it in person.”
Members of the Super Bowl XXXI team took delight in being back in front of their fans.
“The turnout really was awesome; I was impressed with the amount of fans in the U.P., too,” said Freeman. “I didn’t quite know what to expect, but it was different than other community events that I’ve been a part of. It was great to be back in Wisconsin and do some good things for charity. Riding the bus was fun, too. It was a great way to see all the areas, and gave me a chance to catch up with the other players.”
“For the fans, it was great to see smiles on faces, see them light up. One guy in the hospital, the nurses said, wouldn’t get out of bed, but he got excited to see us and was up and walking around. That was rewarding.”
Gilbert Brown: “Once a Packer always a Packer. Greatest fans in the world. It was awesome to see them. I enjoyed making people smile on the surprise stops, especially the kids. A lot of people don’t get to see us, so that’s a good thing to offer.
“I also cherished the moments with teammates. Being a part of something special, with the championships and tradition, you can’t fake it. It means a lot.”
Dorsey Levens: “It was cool. I had a great time. The hospital and cancer center were especially important to me. The courage and strength of some of those patients really touched me.”
The trip was rewarding for the current Packers as well.
“It was a great experience,” said Josh Sitton. “Meeting the ’96 guys and Gregg and Taylor from the first Super Bowls was tremendous.
“Surprising the kids was a lot of fun, too, and the trip to the veterans’ home meant a lot for me since my dad is a Vietnam veteran. I liked thanking those guys who have done bigger things for our country than we would ever do.”
Matt Flynn: “We did a lot a good for charities around the state; that’s awesome. The happiness we were able to bring to the people in the hospital, even for a little while, was cool. To help them rebound from their situations is a good feeling.
“Fans are always supportive and it’s great to see that support in person. Seeing the smiling faces in the elementary school was fun.”
Desmond Bishop: “It was good exposure for me, to get out and connect and interact with the fans for a good cause and to have some fun. I am always impressed with how knowledgeable they are.
“It was fun to meet the alumni, too, and to see Gilbert Brown have so much fun.”
Memories and smiles from the Green Bay Packers Tailgate Tour will not fade anytime soon, for both the players and the fans.
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