An airplane hangar in Iron Mountain, Mich., was a fitting location for the Packers Tailgate Tour's final tailgate party Saturday afternoon as it supported Northwoods Airlifeline, a nonprofit organization of volunteer pilots from Michigan's Upper Peninsula and northeast Wisconsin who donate their time and aircraft to help patients and their families with urgent medical needs for services not found locally.
Since 1989, over 2,000 missions have been flown to destinations in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, Connecticut and Texas, all at no cost to the individual. Northwoods Airlifeline helps meet the needs of individuals who are financially distressed, unable to travel by other means, or under severe time constraints.
More than 600 fans provided one of the more lively settings on this year's tour, as the U.P. again demonstrated their support of the pro football team that makes its home south of the border, so much so that Mark Murphy called the area "Upper Wisconsin," much to the delight of the fans.
The 2017 Tailgate Tour finished the ride around Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula with a Tailgate Party in Iron Mountain, Michigan to benefit Northwoods Airlifeline. Photos by Matt Haberkamp and Aaron Popkey, packers.com.
That unique support was formally recognized during the event by Beau Matthew LaFave, a state representative for Michigan's 108th district. He presented Airlifeline with a special tribute thanking them for the work they provide. And to the Packers, he saluted the organization for their community work, specifically the Tailgate Tour. Murphy and each player received an individual tribute.
Murphy thanked the fans, as well as the players and alumni, for making the tour a success. He also thanked the members of the Packers staff that coordinated and provided support for the tour. A special callout went to Terry Suttner, the driver of the motor coach for the tour.
"I also have to thank our great driver, Terry. He can parallel park a bus in downtown Crandon," Murphy said with a laugh.
As the tour wound down the final miles of its 800-plus mile journey through Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the players and Murphy had the opportunity to reflect on their experience, and finish their final game of poker (Brett Hundley seemed to have the upper hand).
Mark Murphy: "It was another successful tour, really a great trip. The support we had at the two stops in the U.P. demonstrates the support we get is pretty incredible. Houghton was impressive.
"We've done tours with schools in and out of session, and in session works out well. I think the interaction with students is good. With many of the students, athletes are looked up to and the message can be more meaningful.
"I always enjoy seeing interaction between current and former players. It was a little different this year because our alumni group is younger. I think they established a bond more quickly."
Ryan Longwell: "It was just great to get to the smaller towns of Wisconsin and Michigan and interact with the fan base there. Many of them won't be able to get to Lambeau.
The Packers Tailgate Tour spent some time Saturday afternoon talking to the those at the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center in Iron Mountain, MI. Photos by Matt Haberkamp and Aaron Popkey, packers.com.
"I understand the Packers thing is big, but it was amazing to see how many fans we have in the many small towns, all the way up to Houghton. But they're just as passionate as they are in Green Bay, Milwaukee and the bigger cities. It shows how powerful Packers nation is. It was crazy to see how the parents loved us (the alumni players) and the kids loved them (the current players).
"It also was great to get to know the current guys, and it was fun to re-engage with my former teammates.
"Shelley from Butternut stole the show, of course."
Ahman Green: "It was a great experience. Can't wait to do it again. Being able to reconnect with the guys and connect with the younger guys was fun. I enjoyed hanging out and hearing their stories and comparing them to our stories. They know now they have someone they can ask questions of. How did we get through situations, those kinds of things. We have bonded now.
"Fans were awesome. They are definitely engaged in our seasons. They asked solid questions and are informed and passionate.
"Shelley from Butternut was fun."
Brett Hundley: "It was a good experience, really fun. I can't name every place I've been to, but it was cool to see the effect the Packers have on fans around the state and the U.P. It was interesting to stop at the all the businesses; I would never see them otherwise. It was a fun opportunity.
"The card game…Jake is doing well. Five days of poker fun. Everyone was up at one point big."
The Packers bus stopped at Ministry Saint Mary's Hospital Saturday morning to surprise patients and staff. Photos by Matt Haberkamp and Aaron Popkey, packers.com.
Jake Ryan: "I especially enjoyed going to Michigan. Never thought I'd get to the U.P.; didn't know we had that many fans up there. Thought maybe they'd be Detroit or Minnesota fans. It's cool to see the following we have in other places and other states. Great to see the impact on the small towns.
"I had fun going to the little restaurants and meeting people like Shelley from Butternut. People like that are a treat, the ones that you'll never forget."
Aaron Ripkowski: "Seeing the countryside was my favorite part. Being able to relate to fans on a more personal note was rewarding. It was fun to experience the mom-and-pop restaurants and authentic food.
"I was surprised to see how many people came out to the events. It was impressive to see how enthusiastic they were, even at the back of the autograph lines, when they got to the front and were excited to see us."
As the motor coach pulled into Lambeau Field Saturday night, planning was already underway for next year's tour. More communities will be visited and the tour will build on the success that has seen nearly $2.3 million raised for charity during 12 tours.
As of Sunday morning, no updates have been received from Robert Ferguson on the pending birth of his child. Ferguson left the tour Friday morning as his wife was in labor, but the process had slowed down and the couple is now waiting for the pace to pick up again. All members wish him well.