Reflections from the Packers’ 10th anniversary Tailgate Tour

Posted by Aaron Popkey on April 22, 2015 – 6:25 am

q-blogSome aspects of the Packers Tailgate Tour were easily quantifiable: 832 miles, 18 cities, five tailgate parties, 3,000 autographs and thousands of dollars raised for great organizations.

Other highlights would be quite a challenge to count: bright smiles, deep laughs and vivid, lasting memories.

Regardless of whether it was an autographed picture, a selfie with a player or simply a good-luck-this-season high five, the experiences – both by the players and the fans – are what make the tour special.

“The fans really had a great time,” said Mark Murphy. “I thought it was a very successful tour and we definitely had, by far, the best weather.”

In addition to the parties and the surprise stops, Murphy enjoyed seeing the players appreciate each other’s company and insight.

“I enjoy that the most, the interaction between alumni and current players,” he said. “With Jerry and Dave, it was unique opportunity to hear from Lombardi players. At the start, there was not so much mingling, but by the end of week, the guys were eating together and spending time together. They have so much in common. It’s 50 years of Packers history and players.”

Murphy also liked the new setup employed at a few of the school stops, where the current players and recent alumni visited with the students while Murphy, Kramer and Robinson had the opportunity to visit with a local civic group, along with others.

“We had a little different approach and met with business leaders and teachers from the school,” he said. “Having Jerry and Dave there, it was really fascinating to see how riveted people were, to hear directly from Dave and Jerry about the Lombardi era.”

Murphy also reflected on other tour highlights: “Children’s Hospital really stood out for me today. The kids were so excited to see the players.

“The veterans clinic also was special. The residents there were so sharp. You can tell they really follow the Packers. It meant a lot to see the younger players thank them for what they did for our country.

“The history and tradition of the organization is so significant, to bring Jerry and Dave and more recent alumni along is important. It helps down the road for another generation of fans to hear the history directly.”

Although the final totals haven’t been tallied, the monies raised for nonprofit organizations has climbed past $1.8 million over the 10 years of the tour, a great show of support from Packers fans for outstanding causes in their local communities.

As Jerry Kramer reflected on the tour, he was impressed with the enthusiasm of the fans.

“I’ve certainly experienced the great support of the fans over the years,” he said. “But we got another look at them. We helped out, but they were doing things to help out in their communities. That’s wonderful and the way the world should be.”

He recalled a Lombardi quote that today could apply to the tour’s mission as it features the players and the fans essentially working together for the good of the community.

“When the game is over, the lights are out, the parking lot is empty and the story has been written,” Kramer recalled Lombardi saying, “and in the quiet of your room, you take off the championship ring and put it on the dresser. The only thing left at that time is the quest for excellence and trying to make the world a little bit better place because you were in it.”

Tour members reflected very fondly about the experiences of the week. Here are some of their thoughts.
Micah Hyde: “Meeting the guys was awesome, and hanging out with everyone. Surprising the kids at school was fun and spending time with the people at the nursing home was a blast.

“The kids at the hospital were special. I’m glad we had the opportunity there.

“Everything is the same with the players, no matter the age. It’s the same stuff, just 50 years older.”

Casey Hayward: “I really enjoyed the trip, especially the Children’s Hospital visit and the veterans home.

“It was very interesting to see perspective from each generation of players. Big Gil and his big personality. I really enjoyed everyone. Free (Antonio Freeman) even though he was late. All he talked about was his catch.

“And the Lombardi era. Those guys can really tell stories. Thank you, Jerry and Dave.”

Andrew Quarless: “I enjoyed Children’s Hospital. The talk about bullying: the girl apologizing was a touching moment for me.

“It was great to interact with the alumni. To hear about Lombardi. Enjoyed Jerry and Dave the most. They still active and enjoying life, and really funny, which is encouraging to me.

“And of course, interacting with the fans.”

Dave Robinson: “Thought it was great. It was my first time, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Pleasantly surprised day after day. Tony Fisher (Packers alumni coordinator) kept us in line all week. Kudos to him.

“Anyone from the Packers that hasn’t been on a tour needs to be on one.

“Refreshing on how in the small towns, these people turn out. Packed in to see the guys. I didn’t’ realize how deep-rooted the support for the team is in the state. I had been away from some of these places for so long. I got excited every day.

“And I came to know that Andrew is a fellow Penn State alumnus. Great to get to know him, and the other guys. Amazing how many things we have in common with these guys.”

Jerry Kramer: “I had a great time. Very glad I came. The Wisconsin fans responded as expected. Tour is well organized. They’ve got a good handle on it. Mark (Murphy) and Cathy (Dworak, the Packers’ director of community outreach and player/alumni relations).

“It was fun to hang out with the younger guys and experience the antics that still go on in the locker room. Casey and Micah whacking each other verbally. That was fun. Little bit of everything.

Antonio Freeman: “Great to do it with the guys: former, past and present. Hospital visit was humbling. Awesome to see the smiles and excitement of all the Packers fans where we went.

“The tour gave us the locker room feeling we all missed so much these five days. That made it fun. Thanks to everyone who had a hand: sponsors, staff and players. It was first class.”

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Surprise at Suster’s

Posted by Aaron Popkey on April 19, 2015 – 8:22 am

blog-susterThe tour’s practice of making stops in Wisconsin’s small towns continued Saturday as the motor coach made a surprise stop at Suster’s Arcade in Denmark.

While the restaurant’s famous broasted chicken was reason enough to visit, Mark Murphy and the Packers also wanted to recognize the restaurant’s proprietor with Packers ties, Ed Schuster. Schuster served on the team’s board of directors for 54 years (1931-85), the third-longest tenure in club history.

Murphy presented the family a plaque to be hung in honor Schuster, and then the group settled in to enjoy a spread that included chicken, potatoes, slaw and other tasty offerings.

“Now that was some good food,” Gilbert Brown declared.

“I wish I had a hot box. I’d take some with me,” added Antonio Freeman.

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Wish granted in Sheboygan

Posted by Aaron Popkey on April 18, 2015 – 4:43 pm

blog-sheboyganWith an escort from a very talented and energetic drumline, the Packers Tailgate Tour members experienced a rousing entrance to the party at the Blue Harbor Resort in Sheboygan.

The final get together of the 10th anniversary tour benefitted Make-A-Wish Wisconsin, an organization dedicated to granting the wishes of seriously ill children in Wisconsin.

The Packers already enjoy a heartwarming relationship with Make-A-Wish, as the Packers host the wish visits nearly every home-game Friday at Lambeau Field. Today’s event supports the organization even further.

“We are unparalleled partners in making wishes come true, but this event is a nod to be part of the fan base and an amazing opportunity to share our mission,” said Patti Gorsky, Make-A-Wish’s president and CEO. “Together, with the partnership of this event, it takes us to new heights.”

Photo gallery: Packers hold final tailgate party in Sheboygan

During the stage portion of the event, Gilbert Brown got the crowd on their feet when he discussed the appreciation he gained this week for Jerry Kramer and Dave Robinson.

“These two guys are the Packers’ national treasure,” he said as the crowd responded enthusiastically.

Antonio Freeman was asked about the Monday Night Miracle, the overtime, on-the-ground TD catch at Lambeau Field that beat the Minnesota Vikings. It was a story he enjoyed telling more than once this week.

For Mark Murphy, this event and the tour across Wisconsin are important for the organization in a number of ways.

“It highlights the uniqueness of the organization,” he said. “We’re community owned and viewed as state’s team. For us, giving back is high priority for organization. Fans are so supportive and so loyal, we can’t take them for granted. To get out across the state and thank them, it makes good sense.”

After leaving the beautiful, lakeside resort, the Tailgate Tour motor coach made its way north, with one more surprise stop in store before returning to Green Bay.

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Back-to-school night for the Tailgate Tour

Posted by Aaron Popkey on April 18, 2015 – 9:22 am

elkhorn-blogElkhorn Middle School was the site of the Packers Tailgate Tour Friday night, where a sold-out gathering of more than 600 enjoyed the opportunity to connect with the players.

The walk down the hallway toward the gym brought back memories of Casey Hayward’s own middle school experience.

“We had to walk a line in the hallways at my school,” he said. “It wasn’t a bad thing, just some structure.”

The event benefitted VIP Services, a nonprofit that empowers people with disabilities to explore and experience endless possibilities. It offers employment opportunities, life skills development, transportation service and other assistance to people in the community with disabilities.

Photo gallery: Elkhorn tailgate party

Live music kept the crowd entertained while they waited in line for autographs or enjoyed the tasty tailgate food. Associated Bank was on hand to present a check in support of VIP Services as well.

The question-and-answer session again featured some insight into the players careers, with Micah Hyde describing the various ways he contributes to the Packers, including corner, slot defender, safety, return man and a possible new wrinkle.

“I’m trying to put on some weight so I can play linebacker,” he quipped.

Jerry Kramer gave the crowd some insight into Vince Lombardi’s legendary ability to motivate players as he recalled a day at practice when he missed a block and then had a false start.

“He got four inches from my face and said, ‘Mister, college students have a concentration span of five minutes, high school is three, kindergarten is 30 seconds. Where does that put you?’ ”

Later, as a dejected Kramer sat in his locker and pondered his now seemingly dubious future, Lombardi approached.

“He patted me on the shoulders and neck and said, ‘Son, one of these days you’re going to be the best guard in the league.’ Talk about being ready to go.”

vip-blogPrior to the party, the players had the opportunity to meet several individuals who work for VIP Services when they surprised them during a pizza party. It was clear the group was touched by the visit as smiles as wide as the room accompanied the many hugs and pictures.

“That was fun,” said Bill Schroeder. “I really like how emotional the clients are. You can tell they appreciated the visit.”

Mark Murphy appreciated the opportunity to help VIP and its mission. Over the course of the tours, stops have been made at a handful of such organizations.

“It’s a great program,” Murphy said. “I’m really impressed with VIP. Organizations like this are so valuable to the individuals as it gives them a sense of purpose and have a job and contribute. It’s helpful to the families, too.”

At the post-event dinner, Gilbert Brown wasn’t around to defend himself when Dave Robinson considered the all-you-can-eat items on the menu.

“You’re lucky Gilbert Brown isn’t here,” he said to the restaurant staff.

As the conversation turned to other subjects, Robinson was describing what it’s like to be color blind when Hayward pulled up on his smart phone the famous picture of the “the dress” that was all the rage on the Internet recently. As he passed it around the table, most of those in attendance thought it was either blue and black or white and gold. But Robinson had his own take.

“That dress is red,” he insisted, as the others laughed heartily.

The members of the tour are looking forward to the final day.

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Hand me that sledgehammer, please

Posted by Aaron Popkey on April 17, 2015 – 12:45 pm

hyde-blog-hammerWho said the Packers Tailgate Tour is all play?

The members of the tour traded in their Sharpies for work gloves Friday morning in Sun Prairie and helped the Hammer with a Heart program with a home-improvement project at the home of Madelyn Link. The players demolished an old storage shed and built a raised garden bed to pitch in.

Photo gallery: Tailgate Tour stops to fix up a home

“It was fun,” said Micah Hyde. “I’ve done that before and have really enjoyed it.”
Hyde also reflected on the impressive hammer swinging of his teammate, Andrew Quarless.

“It’s about time he used his strength for something, since he doesn’t use it on the field.”

Link was very excited, not only to have the work being done on the home, but also to have the Packers take part.

“Excited is an understatement,” she said. “I blew a gasket when I heard they were coming. With the house, I was to a point where I didn’t know what to do. Jason (Hafeman) and Project Home came and looked at the house and said it was something they could do. I could give them all a bear hug.”

For Hafeman, the organization’s outreach manager, Link is exactly the type of person the program seeks to help.

“She’s got an amazing story,” Hafeman said. “She’s been in this house since she was born and a crossing guard at the school five blocks away for 31 years. To make it safe and keep her in her home is great.”

The Hammer with a Heart program, which is run through Project Home and supported financially by the Packers, assists approximately 1,000 households each year with a variety of no-cost and low-cost home improvement programs. Hammer with a Heart provides major home repairs and maintenance, and improves the families’ safety, comfort and health in their homes through the help of sponsors, volunteers and staff.kramer-blo

While the younger members were at the home site, Mark Murphy, Antonio Freeman, Dave Robinson and Jerry Kramer paid a visit to the Colonial Club to play Wii bowling and toss the bean bag with the residents. The visit included a discussion of some of the great moments of the Lombardi Era with Kramer and Robinson.

“It was a lot of fun,” Murphy said of the visit with approximately 70 residents. “They definitely know their history about the Ice Bowl.”

Afterward, the tour enjoyed a delicious lunch at the Sweet Spot in Whitewater as they continued their route south to Elkhorn for tonight’s party to benefit VIP Services Inc.

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Rock stars – Packers style

Posted by Aaron Popkey on April 17, 2015 – 7:48 am

blog-rock-starsThe setup Thursday night in the Upper Dells Ballroom of the Ho-Chunk Casino in Baraboo was fitting for a rock concert, complete with a stage, lights, sound system and video screens.

To the nearly 1,000 Packers fans in attendance, the members of the Tailgate Tour were their rock stars. And they greeted them appropriately.

Photo gallery: Tailgate Tour stops in Baraboo for party

The Tailgate Tour team was at full strength, too, with the return of Antonio Freeman. The former wide receiver had to stay in Green Bay Tuesday when he experienced some issues with his shoulder. After a series of tests revealed no serious concerns and the level of discomfort subsided, Freeman was able to catch up with his teammates.

“It’s great to be here because it was killing me having to stay back in Green Bay,” Freeman said. “The camaraderie with my old teammates was something I looked forward to, and putting some smiles on some faces.”

When the event settled in, the attendees heard from the members on a variety of subjects. Micah Hyde spoke about one of his early moments in the NFL, an experience that revealed the level of talent that exists in the pro league that is a huge step up from the college ranks.

“It was in a practice and Aaron Rodgers had this no-look pass for a touchdown,” he recalled. “And it wasn’t just a short throw, either. It was a corner route that he threw while looking the other way. I was thinking, ‘What did I get myself into?’ I hoped that not all NFL quarterbacks would be able to do that.”

blog-kramerJerry Kramer was asked if he was going to write another book to complement the four successful writings he’s authored.

“I am considering maybe it’s time for another book,” he said. “I’ve been approached by a few publishers. Maybe I can do a final book and tie the experiences all together.”

The benefit was a huge boost to Benefit People Helping People, an organization which applies the time and talents of its members directly toward needs within the local community by conducting fundraisers, food drives, bake sales, sidewalk sales and fall festivals in order to support local food banks and other help centers. It also coordinates the “Adopt-a-family” outreach program and the School Supply Program.

Bill Harris, the organization’s founder and president, was extremely pleased with the evening’s success.
“Wow…wow!” he exclaimed. “It is unreal to have this night. Who would have thought we’d have a visit from the Packers. It’s a huge benefit for us. We’ll be able to better serve the broken hearts and those in need in our community. We’ll bring them back up.”

Away from events and visits, the players simply enjoy each other’s company and the playful banter that comes with the relationships. A late-night dinner featured such conversations, and Freeman was a target when he was offering some observations on the event.

“Johnny Come Lately be quiet!” Gilbert Brown commanded, perhaps making up for some of Freeman’s lost time.

Bill Schroeder was discussing some frustrations with his smart phone when Dave Robinson offered a solution as he held out his old-style, flip phone.

“Throw that away and try a real phone,” Robinson quipped.

Also at the dinner, the current players reported that they got a workout in during the afternoon’s break time, an effort that included some swimming in the hotel’s lap pool.

The tour is now officially over the hump and Day 4 will see the motor coach head south toward Elkhorn.

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I’ve got $400, can I get $500

Posted by Aaron Popkey on April 15, 2015 – 2:21 pm

auctionLive auctions typically are a great way to raise money, but a surprise stop at SpringBrook Assisted Living in Onalaska featured an auction simply as a way for the more than 50 residents to have fun.

In a first for the Tailgate Tour, players and Mark Murphy participated by signing Packers items as a way to increase the bids. There was a question in players’ minds, though: were they using real money?

“At first I was thinking, ‘Wait a minute. These people shouldn’t be spending this kind of money on an auction,’ ” said Andrew Quarless.

Soon he and the others saw that it was strictly an in-house, SpringBrook currency.

“Then I knew it was OK,” said Bill Schroeder with a laugh.

Jerry Kramer and Dave Robinson took turns with the microphone, each trying to have his autographed item raise the highest price.

“I don’t know how to do this,” Kramer finally admitted. “But I’ll keep going anyway.”

The stop at SpringBrook followed a tasty lunch at Features Sports Bar & Grill in Holmen and a quick pit stop to a nearby Festival Foods where Gilbert Brown and Casey Hayward picked up a few provisions and briefly mingled with shoppers and staff.

The Tailgate Tour motor coach continues south along the beautiful Mississippi River toward tonight’s destination, Prairie du Chien.

Photo Gallery: Going once, going twice…

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Students urged to sack bullying

Posted by Aaron Popkey on April 15, 2015 – 12:52 pm

gb-blogBullying was the subject and Gilbert Brown delivered the message with emphatic intensity, much like he did on the football field when he felled Packers opponents.

“Bullies are cowards,” he said to 450 students at Durand Middle and High School. “They need an audience and don’t give them that. Also, if you’re being bullied, try not to show any fear, because when you do, the bully gets stronger.”

Brown went on to describe how bullying is now a 24/7 activity with social media. Prior to the onset of the online culture, victims would have a brief respite when they were away from school or other social settings, but now worry about the constant putdowns that can take place through the web.

“There are kids that cry themselves to sleep each night because of it,” Brown continued. “Don’t be any part of bullying. Put a stop to it. Stand up for those that are being bullied. Tell a teacher, tell a parent. Put a stop to it.”

Andrew Quarless added to the effort, too, when he said, “dare to be different.”

The students, who sat in focused attention, participated fully with thoughtful questions. One young lady became particularly emotional when asking how one apologizes to someone for being a bully.

There were light moments, too. Brown chastised three students who were wearing Minnesota Vikings jerseys. Maybe Brown forgot that the state border was close by.

“How can we have three idiots in this crowd,” Brown said with a laugh.

Photo gallery: Tailgate Tour surprises Durand Middle & High School students

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Energy-filled event caps first day

Posted by Aaron Popkey on April 15, 2015 – 9:25 am

150415-tour-day-one-650An electric atmosphere with more than 1,400 Packers fans capped the kickoff day of the Packers 10th anniversary Tailgate Tour Tuesday night at the Dunn County Fairgrounds Ice Arena in Menomonie.

The event benefited the Bridge to Hope, a nonprofit dedicated to ending domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking. Bridge to Hope aims to empower those who have been affected by violence, provide options and give support to individuals for a fresh start.

“It was awesome seeing the community coming together,” said Naomi Cummings, executive director at Bridge to Hope. “The joy at the event and the happiness was outstanding.”

After the fanfare-filled entrance, the group, led by Mark Murphy, spoke to the fans about a variety of topics and answered questions. Everything was game, including the upcoming season, rules changes and favorite players.

Fans can expect to learn some interesting tidbits about the players during the sessions. And in a humorous way.

Photo Gallery: Menomonie tailgate party

For instance, when players were asked about when they started playing football, Gilbert Brown had a lighthearted way of saying he had to wait until high school to begin.

“I was too fat for little league,” he said, to the laughter of the audience. “Something about being safe for the other players. They wouldn’t let me play. I played in high school.”

Micah Hyde spoke about his disappointment in how rules changes seem to benefit the offense.

“You can’t even touch the receivers,” he said.

In addition to the money raised, the awareness garnered for the hosting nonprofits by the Tailgate Tour parties in the local community is as valuable. That was certainly the case for Bridge to Hope as well.

“It was awesome to put the word out in the community about what we do,” said Cummings.

Day 2 of the tour awaits!

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This is Andrew Quarless with your morning announcements

Posted by Aaron Popkey on April 14, 2015 – 11:01 am

quarless-announce-300Instead of regular morning announcements by a member of the staff, more than 760 students at Shawano Community High School heard tight end Andrew Quarless read through the day’s important notes. Most importantly, he revealed this year’s prom court.

“It was cool,” remarked Quarless. “Some of those names were hard, though.”

Quarless then invited the students to the gymnasium where they spoke about the importance of respect – for fellow students, staff and community.

Later, during a question-and-answer session, Micah Hyde received an invitation from a student to the aforementioned prom.

“I’ll get back to you,” Hyde said with a laugh.

Across the commons, Mark Murphy, Dave Robinson and Jerry Kramer, spoke with about 30 members of the local Rotary and Optimist Clubs.

Photo gallery: Tailgate Tour opens at Shawano High School

The Tour continues west toward Menomonie.

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