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.

Posted in Blog, Tailgate Tour

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.

Posted in Blog, Tailgate Tour

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.”

Posted in Blog, Tailgate Tour

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.

Posted in Blog, Tailgate Tour

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

Posted in Blog, Tailgate Tour

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.”

Posted in Blog, Tailgate Tour

Second day is on the tee

Posted by Aaron Popkey on June 18, 2016 – 9:31 am

160618-TT-golf-950The tour members are on the bus traveling to the day’s first stop. Golf is in the conversation as the TVs on the motor coach are tuned in to the U.S. Open.

Reflecting on the first day, Jared Abbrederis is pleased thus far on his first tour experience.

“Good first day,” he said. “Crazy, excited fans. It’s different when you get away from Green Bay. They don’t have the opportunity to see players that much. Lot of people saying they’ve watched me since high school and college.

“Great to hear the support. Something special. I didn’t expect to see that many people. With the band entering the party last night, that was pretty cool.

“Ripon Athletics was cool, to hear about how many teams they do.”

The bus rolls south, with Fort Atkinson the day’s ultimate destination.

Posted in Blog, Tailgate Tour

No fire here, just on our way to a tailgate party

Posted by Aaron Popkey on June 17, 2016 – 10:02 pm

160617-fire-950The Tailgate Tour’s first day ended in celebratory fashion with a tailgate party to benefit the Traded Treasures and Community Food Pantry.

From a fire truck-ride entrance that included a marching band welcome to a boisterous crowd of more than 800 in Royal Ridges, the event brought fans together to hear from the players in support of a non-profit dedicated to feeding the hungry and helping those in need by providing groceries and collecting gently-used items from the community for its thrift boutique. Between 100 and 200 households are assisted with groceries each month, in addition to the many other services that are provided to those needing assistance.

Photos: Fire truck transports Packers to Ripon tailgate

During the event’s question-and-answer session, fans heard about the origins of the Lambeau Leap. While it was the second time LeRoy Butler and Robert Brooks discussed their contributions to the fan phenomena, it was the first time for these appreciative fans. They especially liked Brooks’ recital of the first verse of his Lambeau Leap song, Jump in the Stands.

As the subject turned to the Super Bowl, attendees heard Sean Jones relay what he felt like after winning the NFL’s championship.

“It’s like Christmas morning and every present under the tree is yours,” he said.

Amy Pollesch, the organization’s director, was thrilled with the outcome of the evening.

“It was a blessing to be a part of it,” she said. “It was a treat for me to watch the community come together for the event. And we have a heightened awareness for what we do. Many people thought we were only a food pantry, but now they know we have many more programs because of the need.”

The players, all of whom are experiencing their first tour, also felt the event and the day overall were a success.

“It was cool,” said Jones. “Well done, well organized.”

And did he have to prepare to reacquaint himself with Packers fans?

“It’s like riding a bike,” he said, shaking his head. “It’s so easy to immerse yourself. Even though the fan experience is the same, it’s different with the Packers fans.”

Posted in Blog, Tailgate Tour

Where’s my jersey?

Posted by Aaron Popkey on June 17, 2016 – 4:17 pm

160617-TT-Ripon-Athletic-950After an enjoyable lunch on the Fox River in downtown Oshkosh at the Fox River Brewing Company, the Packers Tailgate Tour made a surprise stop at a Berlin, Wis., manufacturing company with ties to the Packers: Ripon Athletic.

It won’t be too long before the staff at uniform manufacturer can see the fruits of their labor in action at Lambeau Field for the 2016 season, but the Ripon team got a sneak peek at their models when the tour paid them a visit during the workday. The visit offered the players and alumni an interesting opportunity to see how their uniforms are made.

After a walk through the offices, the group sat in a conference room adorned with a variety of Packers uniforms. Hank Derleth, the company’s chairman of the board, described a bit of the company’s scope, which includes manufacturing jerseys for high school, college and pro teams, across many sports, around the country. They also contract manufacture for apparel companies, including Nike and 23 of its NFL teams such as the Packers.

A trip to the manufacturing floor was next and the tour members enjoyed seeing each step of the process that creates their jerseys, from cutting the materials to stitching on the numbers and names.

Photos: Packers see where their jerseys are made

Surprised workers approached the players for pictures and conversation, and proudly invited the players over to their stations to observe their skills.

“It was pretty sweet,” said Jayrone Elliott. “I never really thought about how they were made all these years. Seeing the ladies and the hard work they put into them was really intriguing. I told them we really appreciate their work as athletes.”

After some downtime in the afternoon, the players will be set for the evening’s tailgate party that will benefit the Ripon Community Thrift Store and Food Pantry.

Posted in Blog, Tailgate Tour

Fire drill at the Y

Posted by Aaron Popkey on June 17, 2016 – 12:14 pm

160617-TT-YMCA-950What the kids at the Oshkosh YMCA thought was just a run-of-the-mill fire drill quickly turned into something much more exciting when they spotted the Packers Tailgate Tour bus. The tour participants had an early opportunity to stretch their legs and lead the children through various activities.

Sam Barrington led Simon Says, LeRoy Butler gave some pointers on soccer goalkeeping and Jared Abbrederis and Robert Brooks led some kids in an old-fashioned game of Duck, Duck, Goose.

“That was a giant circle,” observed Brooks. “I picked the wrong circle. I think that was Jared’s offseason workout.”

After a group picture, the tour participants boarded the bus for a trip to their lunch destination.

Posted in Blog