9:52 p.m., May 14, 2009
After traveling nearly 1,000 miles across the state of Wisconsin, the fourth Green Bay Packers Tailgate Tour returned to Lambeau Field after the tailgate party at Beaver Dam High School to benefit the Beaver Dam Scholarship Foundation.
Tonight's party featured perfect weather and drew more than 350 people to the football stadium where the players were introduced with the help of the high school's pep band, the only such introduction on this year's tour.
As was the program at the other parties, the fans in attendance heard from Mark Murphy, Nick Collins, Jordy Nelson and Brady Poppinga.
Poppinga saluted the fans for their support of their communities.
"It's really impressive, the way you fans here in Beaver Dam, and all around the state, get out to support your communities," he explained. "That is something I learned on this trip, and I'm really impressed with it."
The question-and-answer session covered topics that were of interest at other parties, including the 3-4 defense, draft picks and the thoughts on the upcoming season.
This party, however, did feature a unique question. It was more of a challenge, really. Ethan Coleman, a 17-year-old offensive lineman for the Beaver Dam football team, wanted to race Collins. As the crowd laughed, the young man continued to look at Collins to see if he'd accept the challenge. Collins waived him down to the track and the race was on.
"Nick, please don't pull a hamstring," Murphy said in a half-joking, half-serious tone as the two prepared to sprint.
Coleman put up a good race, even after slipping at the start, but it really wasn't a contest as it was obvious that Collins hadn't opened up full throttle. After about 30 yards, Collins cruised to a victory to the delight of the crowd.
When asked why he would issue such a challenge, Coleman said, "I think I'm pretty fast. I wanted to show that a lineman could keep up with the little guys."
Earlier in the evening, one woman, in a joking manner, asked Jordy Nelson if she could hear her husband when he yelled at the TV while the games are being played.
"Of course," Nelson deadpanned.
"Great," said the woman, with a laugh. "I thought so. I'll make sure I tell him so he can keep yelling."
Mark Killingsworth, president of the Beaver Dam Scholarship Foundation, was impressed with the Packers' message.
"It was great hearing the players talk about how strong they feel about the fans across the state," he said. "It was generous of them to give their time to our event. The publicity of the event will be great in the long run, too."
The foundation was created in August of 1991 by 18 local citizens concerned with the rising costs of education and was organized as a tax-exempt public charity. From its inception, the mission of the foundation has been to provide talented local students with funds to attend either a 4-year college or a technical college of their choice.
More information on the foundation is available online at www.beaverdamscholarships.org.
As the tour made its way north through the Fox Valley, Collins reflected on the past four days.
"It was awesome," he said. "It was a great time to get out and appreciate the fans across the state. I thought it was nice to spend a little time with them not in our uniforms and helmets, to show them we're real people, not just football players."
10:37 a.m., May 14, 2009
The Packers Tailgate Tour rolls on after a stop at UW-Platteville, a four-year university of about 7,000 students known for its engineering programs.
The Packers' rival to the south, the Chicago Bears, utilized the beautiful campus for training camp from 1984 to 2000. The Packers were assured that even though the Bears used to train there, plenty of Packers fans made sure that area of Wisconsin supported the Green and Gold.
"It was actually kind of fun," said UW-Platteville athletic director Mark Molsworth of the rivalry between fans. "There was an ongoing battle, even with yard signs. One house would have Bears signs in the yard and then the next door neighbor had Packers signs."
"The Packers fans worked to take back the town after the Bears left," he added with a laugh.
The group then met with more than 100 students, faculty and staff in the Williams Fieldhouse, the university's facility that hosts a number of sports, including the four-time NCAA Division III national championship basketball team (1991, 1995, 1998, 1999). Its then-head coach, Bo Ryan, is well-known to Wisconsin basketball fans as the Wisconsin Badgers head coach since 2001.
The guys answered football questions, but also advised the seniors in the group (it's finals week on campus) to make sure they were properly prepared for their careers and not to get too down with the inevitable bumps in the road. The players then spoke about their own post football plans, with Collins and Nelson indicating their desire to coach sports, and Poppinga talking about going into broadcasting or business. He managed to get a plug in for his radio show, Breakfast with the Boys, back in Green Bay.
Another questioner asked Nelson if he'd been working a lot with quarterback Aaron Rodgers this offseason because he was working on a trade in his fantasy football league to possibly acquire the second-year Packers wide receiver.
"We have been putting in a lot of time, and we expect to make an improvement," Nelson confirmed. "I don't know who you're getting rid of, but go ahead and make the trade."
Murphy and the players then signed autographs, and had a chance to talk with a few of the fans. They met an exchange student from Galway, Ireland, David King, who happens to be a Packers fan.
"I was looking at an exchange program in Spain, or in Wisconsin," King said. "When it came down to Wisconsin, I was pleased because I was a fan of the Packers since the '90s when I played the video game, Madden. So when I ended up here, that was great. I even made it up to Lambeau last season for the Packers-Falcons game.
"It was nice that it worked out to see the guys here today since I go back tomorrow."
The group is set to stop at the Great Dane Pub in suburban Madison for lunch before continuing on its way to Beaver Dam for the last Tailgate Tour party this evening.
8:39 p.m., May 13, 2009
Rainy weather did not dampen the spirits of the nearly 600 fans that attended the Green Bay Packers Tailgate Tour party in the Platteville area to benefit the Wisconsin Badger Camp, an organization that offers high-quality outdoor programming for individuals with developmental disabilities.
The party was held just outside town at The Barn. Its name accurately describes the facility, a barn that was converted into a banquet hall and bar.
With light rain falling and the threat of thunderstorms posing potential hazardous conditions, organizers moved the program from its planned outside location to inside the rustic facility.
The intimate setting ratcheted up the enthusiasm of the fans and a spirited question-and-answer session ensued.
As Mark Murphy introduced Jordy Nelson, a man in the audience shouted out, "I love you!"
Without missing a beat, Murphy responded, "I see Jordy's father is here tonight," to the laughter of the crowd. Murphy has become a very effective emcee for the Q&A sessions on the tour, easily fielding questions from the audience while interjecting his own questions to make sure a variety of topics are covered.
With the University of Wisconsin-Platteville just down the road, a questioner wondered if Murphy would have to impose a curfew on the guys, to make sure they didn't revert back to their college days. Murphy laughed and let the players answer as to whether that should be a concern.
"Well," Nelson began, "if it was a typical college night for me, I'd be in bed by 9 o'clock."
"You'd probably find me in the weight room," added Brady Poppinga.
"I'd be in early, too," said Nick Collins.
When asked about the origins of his first name, Nelson responded that it wasn't a nickname for Jordan, but a name his parents became fond of from a TV soap opera. He didn't know which particular daytime drama was the source, though. Murphy encouraged any soap opera fans who could identify the show to let Jordy know when they came through the autograph line.
The fans also learned what teams the players followed when they were young.
Nelson received some polite applause for his Kansas City Chiefs (he grew up two hours from the city), but Collins and Poppinga received hearty boos when revealing the Cowboys and Bears, respectively.
"I'm a Packer now, so doesn't that make it OK?" Collins protested.
"The Bears are now the team I hate the most, though," Poppinga said with his trademark enthusiasm to the delight of the faithful.
With Iowa just a short drive away, Murphy asked if any Iowa fans were in the house. A huge roar was the response, demonstrating the Green and Gold's reach into the state.
One of the Iowa fans, Sarah Zenner, from Dubuque, didn't hesitate to buy a ticket when she heard on the radio the Packers planned a visit.
"I got one right after they went on sale," she confirmed. "I wouldn't have missed it. It's been a lot of fun to see the players. It's a big deal, especially for Iowans because we don't have a team of our own. It's cool."
After the Q&A and autograph session, the players had a chance to mingle and take pictures, capping a perfect evening with the fans in the southwestern part of the state.
"A lot of people have been saying this is the way a tailgate party should be," said Betsy Ralph, the Wisconsin Badger Camp's coordinator of the event. "The fans were so appreciative and very impressed with how personable and talkative the guys were. They really appreciated them sticking around afterward.
"For our organization, it's been awesome. Obviously the money raised will be very helpful, but we've had a lot of people ask about the camp, too, so the awareness is a great plus, as well."
The organization's history dates back to 1966, when parents, teachers, and concerned citizens decided it was time to give individuals with developmental disabilities the same summer camp opportunities other children received. That summer, Southwest Badger Camp gave 48 individuals with developmental disabilities an opportunity to camp, fish, and simply enjoy themselves in the outdoors. As more families heard of the quality experience of other individuals with disabilities, Southwest Badger Camp grew. It grew so much, and attracted individuals from other parts of the state so fast, that Southwest Badger Camp quickly became Wisconsin Badger Camp. To date, Wisconsin Badger Camp has provided camp experiences to over 21,000 individuals with developmental disabilities.
More information on Wisconsin Badger Camp can be found online at www.badgercamp.org.
On the ride back to the hotel, Nelson, who grew up on a farm in Kansas, spoke of how impressed he was with the facility. He was thinking he may want to do the same thing with a barn someday.
"That's might type of crowd," he added. "That's a regular weekend for me back home."
Overall, the group was very pleased with the party and its energy.
They also reflected back to the visit to Fort McCoy.
"I thought visiting with the troops was great experience," Murphy said.
"I was really impressed with the cadets at the Challenge Academy," Poppinga added. "To make that decision on their own to join and try and make a huge change in their life is awesome."
The final day of the 2009 Tailgate Tour awaits.
4:52 p.m., May 13, 2009
The Tailgate Tour is on its way to The Barn in Platteville for tonight's tailgate party to benefit the Wisconsin Badger Camp. Earlier this afternoon, the group made a surprise stop at Royall High School in Elroy.
Mark Murphy, Nick Collins, Jordy Nelson and Brady Poppinga each took a moment to speak to the more than 300 middle and high school students, delivering messages similar to those delivered at previous stops on the tour.
Poppinga again was passionate with his message about having a positive attitude.
"You have a choice how you can proceed in life, so why not be positive?" he said. "That doesn't mean you ignore the negative. You have to deal with those things, but you might as well be positive and use that great energy that it brings."
The players and Murphy tossed some footballs to the students and then shook hands as the students returned to class.
12:50 p.m., May 13, 2009
Fort McCoy proved to be a very meaningful visit, for both the cadets and soldiers on the base, as well as the members of the Tailgate Tour.
The group first visited with cadets at the Wisconsin National Guard's ChalleNGe Academy. The program's mission is to offer its cadets the opportunity to develop the strength of character and life skills necessary to become successful, responsible citizens. Traditionally, cadets are high school drop-outs, habitual truants, expelled students, or students critically deficient in credits. They are offered an opportunity to obtain an HSED (High School Equivalency Diploma) and to change their lives in a positive manner.
Mark Murphy, Nick Collins, Jordy Nelson and Brady Poppinga sat in front of the room full of assembled cadets and answered their questions.
When asked about what the players' sacrificed to get ahead, Poppinga spoke of how in high school he sometimes sacrificed Friday night time with his friends to spend more time in the weight room.
"I liked being in the weight room by myself," he recalled. "I got in my own little world.
"Sometimes I still find myself in the weight room alone, in my own little world," he continued, to laughs from the cadets.
Nelson added that sacrificing something now is often for something more significant in the future.
One cadet asked the players what advice they would have for the group. Poppinga told them that they should know success is within themselves, they just need to believe it. Nelson told them to learn from their mistakes. Football players often do make mistakes, but they learn from them and hopefully not repeat them.
After the session, the players congratulated the cadets and wished them well when they complete the program in a couple weeks.
Alexa Jolin from Tomah appreciated the words of wisdom from the guys.
"I liked how they told us to learn from our mistakes, that we can do better," she said. "Having them here will help us push forward to graduation. It was really cool."
Peter Blum, the director of the Academy, thought it was important for the cadets to hear about how they need to continue their efforts even after they graduate.
"It's great to remind them that you have to work hard," he explained. "To have them hear from the Packers that it's not easy is important. They need to realize you have to work hard to stay successful."
More information on the Challenge Academy can be found online at www.challengeacademy.org.
The group then boarded humvees and headed out to the range to see the 447th Military Police unit out of Ohio perform urban warfare training. The group is due to deploy to Afghanistan in a couple months.
Poppinga unsuccessfully tried to get his driver, Sgt. Matt Holschbach, a Two Rivers native, to take a side trip off the road.
Sgt. Anthony Vandergrinten then led the group into the training area where the troops were conducting exercises, simulating going from building to building in search of persons of interest. Explosions and smoke were all around to simulate live conditions as the players observed nearby.
After the exercise was over, Ssg. Shane Hinton, a Ripon native, gave a basic lecture on some of the weapons the troops will use. They players had an opportunity to fire an M-249 SAW rifle, with blanks, of course.
"That's pretty cool," said Collins after handing the weapon back to Hinton.
Murphy and the players then had an opportunity to speak to the soldiers before departing the base. All members of the group gave sincere thanks to the soldiers for the sacrifices they were making on behalf of our country.
Nelson, who was present at a National Guard unit sendoff recently at the Lambeau Field Atrium, told the soldiers of his respect.
"A lot of fans put football players on a pedestal, but in my mind you all are the real heroes," he said.
Poppinga wished the group good luck, and if they had to engage the enemy, implored them, "to go get them."
Sgt. Kyle Jenkins, a Madison native and Packers season ticket holder who now lives in the Chicago area, thanked the guys for their time.
"This is awesome, a great ending to our training here," he explained. "About 70 percent of my soldiers have never been deployed before, so this is a real charge for them."
The players then distributed some footballs and each soldier received a special cap, the Packers' military support cap that was the focus of a fundraising program from a couple years ago. It's safe to say some new Packers fans were brought into the fold.
On the bus ride away from the base, each member of the tour commented on the respect they feel for the military, especially after seeing them prepare.
10:06 a.m., May 13, 2009
The Green Bay Packers Tailgate Tour is heading south on its way to Platteville, with a few surprise stops scheduled on the way.
Mark Murphy and Brady Poppinga were on the phone with radio stations conducting interviews about the Tailgate Tour.
Cathy Dworak, the Packers' manager of community outreach and coordinator of the tour, is talking to the players about the next stop, a surprise visit to Fort McCoy. The group will visit cadets at the Wisconsin National Guard's ChalleNGe Academy and then observe an Army Military Police unit conducting urban warfare training in advance of its deployment to Afghanistan. The soldiers will share MREs with the Packers for lunch.
8:40 p.m. May 12, 2009
The Green Bay Packers Tailgate Tour's second day has come to an end in grand fashion as more than 1,500 fans came out to see the group at Hudson's Lakefront Park.
The city on the western border of Wisconsin may be just across the river from Vikings territory, but one never would have guessed it by the turnout of fans for the guys in green and gold at the tailgate party to support the Hudson Boosters, an organization that supports youth athletics.
"What a great night," exclaimed Nelson. "They really came out."
It should be noted that Mother Nature must be a Packers fan, as rain that was forecasted for afternoon arrival did not commence until the end of the party, and even then it was just a few light sprinkles.
The Hudson Boosters sold 700 tickets for the Tailgate Party in a matter of two days, but the momentum simply continued to grow as the event approached and an additional 800 people came to the park to see and hear from Mark Murphy, Nick Collins, Jordy Nelson and Brady Poppinga.
The group made their way from the bus through an appreciative crowd to the park's band shell. After some introductions and greetings from Murphy and the players, the fans had an opportunity to ask questions.
A wide range of topics was covered, including predictions on the new draft class, the 3-4 defense and Salary Cap.
Poppinga's excitement about the new defense was very evident as he described the potential for creating havoc for opposing offenses.
"We're going to get after them," he assured. "You guys will enjoy it."
Being so close to Minnesota, it was not a surprise the group also was asked for their thoughts about a former Packers quarterback that is reportedly considering coming out of retirement to play for the Vikings. Murphy and the players spoke admiringly of Brett Favre's contributions to the Packers, but also made it clear they were focused on the upcoming season.
Murphy congratulated the crowd for supporting the party, and for what the Boosters stand for.
"When people say youth athletics is just kids playing games, they're not accounting for the life lessons they learn. Teamwork, dedication and discipline are all great lessons our kids take from sports," he said, gaining an enthusiastic response.
Armed with a new slingshot (Poppinga snapped one at Monday night's party in Marshfield), the group took full advantage of the park's expanse when distributing t-shirts and footballs. The guys then moved into position for signing autographs.
Hudson resident Monte Eggers and his son, Kolton, 8, marveled at the scene as they waiting in line for some prized signatures.
"We're fortunate to have the Packers here," Monte Eggers said. "I said it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I think it was neat that being so close to Minnesota we were able to show the guys that we've got a lot of pride in the Packers. The people across the river need to see that, too. We can't let our guard down."
Earlier in the afternoon, party attendees were able to get other flavors of Green Bay as the Greater Green Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau had a booth with information on the Green Bay area, and the Oneida Nation Dancers also came along to perform.
Elsewhere on the grounds, younger party attendees were able to take part in a football obstacle course manned by members of the Hudson High School football team. Other inflatable games proved popular, too.
Besides the obligatory Vikings fan in the dunk tank (that's two nights in a row, now), only a couple other Vikings jerseys were seen among the people in attendance.
Earlier in the evening at a dinner for the group with sponsors and supporters of the Hudson event, Hudson's mayor, Dean Knudson, presented the guys with plaques proclaiming them honorary citizens.
"We had to show our appreciation for the guys to come here," he said. "We're on the farthest western frontier here in Hudson. It's a symbol of our continued affection for them."
Jim Londo, the Hudson Boosters' president, was extremely pleased with party.
"Everyone had a great time," he confirmed. "Just having the Packers come to town with the community able to come and see them was awesome. They're starved for the Packers.
"For the Boosters, it's a big shot in the arm. The money raised tonight, along with the increased awareness and other donations that will come in, will help us pay for our new fields we're working on, as well as our other projects."
The Hudson Boosters are a non-profit, volunteer and civic organization that provides athletic and non-athletic activities for youth and citizens of the Hudson School District. The organization has supported and administered youth baseball and softball programs since 1952. Programs range from T-ball to the American Legion baseball team. The Hudson Boosters provide coaches' clinics as well as children clinics on the fundamentals of the sport and good sportsmanship. More than 60 dedicated active members run the Hudson Booster organization.
More information on the Hudson Boosters can be found online at www.hudsonboosters.net.
4:50 p.m., May 12, 2009
The Tailgate Tour is on its way to dinner after a brief stop at Hudson's Grandview Park where they visited with members of Hudson's and Rice Lake's baseball teams prior to a game and the Hudson High School's JV soccer team.
The players signed autographs and posed for pictures with the baseball players.
As with some of the Tour's other stops, the bus drew some other fans to the park to meet the players.
After a visit at the ball diamond, the group made way to the soccer field to try their hand at the other football.
Players took a few penalty kicks before switching sides and becoming goalies as the young ladies took their own penalty kicks.
Nick Collins was the only member of the group to not allow a goal, as both Jordy Nelson and Brady Poppinga suffered scores to the lower left corner of the net.
"I wasn't even close on the one shot," admitted Nelson. "She placed that ball pretty well."
How would the soccer team rate the football players as goalies?
"Maybe three out of five…"
Consensus was the players shouldn't quit their day jobs.
1:26 p.m., May 12, 2009
The Tailgate Tour is on the road again on its way toward Hudson after stopping for lunch at the Fill In Station in Chippewa Falls.
The group sampled some of the restaurant's signature appetizers, deep fried battered cheese curds. Make that some members of the group, as Brady Poppinga, the healthy food guru, did take a pass.
"Your body is a temple," Mark Murphy said, slightly teasing Poppinga.
Nelson asked Poppinga if he ever samples some less-healthy foods.
"One day a week, I do let loose the hounds a bit," Poppinga admitted.
"One day a week, I eat healthy," Nelson countered.
A number of fans dropped by the restaurant to say hello, drawn by the bus. Duffy Post, a gold-package season ticket holder from Chippewa Falls, was among them.
"I've had season tickets for six years now," he told the Packers' group. "My brother drives from Bay City, Mich., to meet me twice a year. We're all set for the Bengals and Cowboys games this year."
On the bus, Mark Murphy catches up on some work, Nelson is relaxing by watching TV, Poppinga is working through flashcards of new defensive terminology and Collins is studying his defensive playbook.
11:46 a.m., May 12, 2009
Another surprise stop at a school was just completed, this time at Thorp Public School. A total of 300 students were on hand, from Kindergarten through high school.
The Mark Murphy, Nick Collins, Jordy Nelson and Brady Poppinga joined the teacher team in a game of kickball against a group of elementary school students. The group did pretty well, except for Nelson, who fouled a pitch over the fence and then, after reaching second, got caught on the tail end of a double play when he left second on a fly ball, but did not get back in time after the catch.
Later, the students and the Packers went into the gym where the players talked about the importance of practicing good sportsmanship while competing.
Poppinga took the opportunity to chide Nelson for his base-running error, too.
The players then headed to the adjacent high school gym and joined a teacher team that was taking on a group of senior football players in dodgeball.
The competitiveness of the players was clearly evident as they got serious pretty quickly. They ended up splitting the two games they played, with Nelson and Poppinga securing the win.
After a quick message of good sportsmanship during competition to the assembled high school students, the group got back on the bus to head for lunch in Chippewa Falls.
10:23 a.m., May 12, 2009
Day 2 of the Packers Tailgate Tour is underway, and the group just finished another surprise school visit, this one at Spencer Public School with students from Kindergartners through High School.
The visit started off with a little touch of excitement as the Spencer Police and Fire Departments gave the Tailgate Tour bus a formal escort. More than 700 students and staff were on the sidewalk outside the school for what they thought was a fire drill. The surprise was very evident on all the faces as the green and gold Tailgate Tour bus pulled up.
The players proceeded to the LuCille Tack Center, the performing arts center on the school's campus, and first spoke to a very boisterous group comprised of preschool through fifth graders. The players spoke about respect and bullying, with Brady Poppinga speaking very passionately about the latter topic.
Recipients of Bystander Awards, given to good citizens at the school, were then recognized by going on stage and receiving congratulatory 'high fives' from the group.
Middle school and high school groups of students then came through the auditorium. Messages to the students in these groups included having a plan, and a backup plan, for life. They also were told to pursue a variety of passions, and to never stop learning, even after schooling is done.
Junior Josh Weier especially liked the players' mention of respect. "Respect is a key thing in life," he said. "You can mention that enough…what you give out is what you get in return."
Jerry Zanotelli, the middle and high school principal, appreciated how the players took seriously their positions as role models.
"Their messages definitely hit home," he said. "The kids do listen to them. It does make a difference and it does matter. I really liked how they told the kids to dream big…that one is important, especially with the middle school kids. They have so much ahead of them."
Another Brady Poppinga notable quote was produced, this one on describing a favorite football moment when he was blitzing the quarterback and a running back, a smaller one, tried to block him: "I ran through him like a piece of paper."
The bus rolls on to the next surprise stop.
8:45 p.m., May 11, 2009
Day 1 of the 2009 Packers Tailgate Tour is in the books. The group enjoyed a great time at Norwood Industrial Park in Marshfield.
A crowd of about 300 people took in the pleasant evening, with spring weather cooperating and grills cooking to produce a genuine tailgate atmosphere. The party benefitted the Personal Development Center Inc. (PDC), a community-supported organization dedicated to creating a community free from the threat of violence. In this mission, the organization assists those in distress by identifying options and resources, promoting safety, building hope and strengthening individuals, families and the community through case management, advocacy and education.
The organization has served the community since 1977 and has a history of identifying and addressing needs within an atmosphere of confidentiality and concern. More information about the Personal Development Center can be found online at www.pdcmarshfield.com.
After being introduced, the group spoke a little bit about themselves and then answered questions from the fans, covering a variety of topics.
It is apparent that Mark Murphy, the Packers' president and CEO, will never be able to forget his one trip to Lambeau Field when he was a player with the Redskins. He inevitably meets a fan who fondly recalls the epic Monday Night Football battle from the 1982 season, one that saw the Packers and Redskins combine for 95 points. The game, which was won by the Packers, remains the highest-scoring contest in 'MNF' history.
The tailgate party was no different, as a woman told Mark she still remembers that game.
"So do I," said Murphy. "There are pictures of it all over Lambeau Field. I need to take them down."
The players were asked about whether it was difficult to adjust to small-city life in Green Bay, by far the smallest metro area in the NFL. Jordy Nelson, who grew up in Riley, Kan., a town of 500 people, begged to differ.
"I'm still getting used to life in a big city," he said.
In response to a question about cutting down on penalties in 2009, Brady Poppinga took mock offense, much to the delight of the fans.
"If you're talking about the Tennessee game last year, yes, I made a mistake," Poppinga said. "I lost my cool, and I owned up to it. But, this big dude just kept hitting me in the face and I couldn't take it anymore. I did learn, though, that sometimes you have to just let a big dude hit you in the face."
Minyon Page, Marshfield resident and member of the Packers Partners Club of Champions, was thrilled to see the Packers in her hometown.
"It's exciting. I'm on 'Cloud Nine,' " she explained. "People at work today knew why. These players are great. They show such enthusiasm."
After signing autographs and mingling with the fans, the players took turns throwing balls at a dunk tank with a person dressed up as a Vikings fan as the 'dunkee.'
"This was a great night," said Renee Shulz-Stangl, executive director for the PDC. "It was an incredible opportunity for the community and the PDC for the Packers to come and spend some time with us. The awareness for our efforts in the community has been increased, and the revenue from the event will definitely be put to good use."
The group reflected about Day 1 of the tour on the ride to the hotel.
Nelson and Murphy both spoke of how the surprise school visits were fun.
"The schools were great," Nelson confirmed. "To be able to surprise the kids and hang out with them was pretty cool."
One aspect of the day Poppinga enjoyed was launching t-shirts and footballs into the crowds with the big slingshot. He did, however, break the device at the tailgate party when he pulled back too far. The band snapped and struck Nelson in the chest.
"Sorry about that, guys," he said. "I got a little too excited about that one."
Day 2, and a big tailgate party in Hudson, awaits.
3:52 p.m., May 11, 2009
The tour just departed from Saint Joseph's Children's Hospital in Marshfield where the group spent time painting picture frames with patients in a common area and then made bedside stops with other patients who were unable to leave their rooms.
Mark Murphy, Nick Collins, Jordy Nelson and Brady Poppinga took photos, signed autographs and even tried to employ a bit of their own artistic talents to the frame projects. The results were mixed.
Michelle Lansing enjoyed the experience with her 10-year-old son, Ben, who makes regular visits to the hospital from Almond for treatment of his kidney cancer.
"Seeing and visiting the players definitely boosts their spirits," she said.
Ben had fun with the guys after getting over his initial anxiousness. "They were maybe a little bigger in person than I thought they would be," he said of meeting the players.
Up on the hospital's second floor, the players and Murphy went room to room, delivering Packers teddy bears, learning about patients and pausing for pictures with newborns in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
The players stopped to admire the delicate size of Mackenzie Rodriguez, a two-pound, four-ounce girl born May 1 to parents Kelly and Eric.
"Wow, is she small," said Nelson with wonder.
Another patient, 18-year-old Grant Haas, described his creatively decorated I.V. stand, named 'Gertrude.'
"With all the I.V. bags, I thought of old bags and Gertrude is kind of name for old ladies," he explained to laughter from the group.
The Colby High School senior, who has been receiving treatment for leukemia at the hospital for seven months, changes the stand's "clothing" for the seasons and holidays.
Haas, who will attend UWGB in the fall, was appreciative for the players' time. "It was nice of them to stop by for something different," he said.
There was one patient, however, who did not want to see the players. Seth Duell, a 3-year-old boy from Loyal, had to be coaxed by a game of peekaboo to come out from under his covers. If laughter is indeed the best medicine, Duell's room provided a sizeable dose to the players and family members.
Seth eventually was all smiles as the guys left.
The players posed for pictures with members of the NICU staff, with Collins receiving a little playful grief from a slightly taller Kim Kalepp.
"They're going to look at that picture and say, 'look at that little guy,' " said Kalepp, who stood a couple inches taller than the 5-foot, 11-inch Collins.
Ribbing aside, Collins thoroughly enjoyed the visit.
"People take their life and health for granted sometimes," he observed. "Most kids can go outside and play and lead a normal life, but these kids here aren't able to do that. I'm glad we were able to visit them and have some laughs. It's definitely a reality check and helps us all appreciate the blessings we have."
"You have no idea what this visit means for the kids," said Patti Carlson, of Saint Joseph's Children's Hospital. "They'll be talking about this for a long time. These are great experiences and memories for these kids and their families."
The Tour is due to check in at the Holiday Inn before heading off to the evening's tailgate party.
1:35 p.m., May 11, 2009
The tour is on the road again after its first lunch stop, at The Stage Stop in Mosinee.
Members of the group visited with other patrons while they ordered lunch and took several pictures and signed a slew of autographs.
One of the more impressive pieces requested to be autographed was a cheesehead, a prized possession of Barb Shidell. The Schofield resident has several autographs on it dating back to 1997, including Mike Holmgren and Fritz Shurmur. The cheesehead had seen its better days, as it seemed to be disintegrating in a few spots.
"I have to keep this thing in a case. It's falling apart," Shidell confirmed.
Brady Poppinga, a noted healthy eater, spent a few moments clarifying with the waitress some of the menu items. He eventually settled on some fish, which he did like.
After a tasty lunch, a few in the group tried some dessert. Gaining a hearty approval was the berry cobbler, warmed up with a side of ice cream.
Jordy Nelson enjoyed it, but was respectful to his grandmother's ability as a dessert master. Betty Wohler's pies were so good at the family restaurant in Leonardville, Kansas, Nelson's Landing, that patrons would actually order them before their meals. That way, they were assured of getting a piece before they were eaten up and erased from the board.
Next up is a visit to Saint Joseph's Children's Hospital in Marshfield. The players are looking forward to it.
11:49 a.m., May 11, 2009
The bus just left Wittenburg-Birnamwood High School after a surprise stop.
More than 400 students and staff packed the school's auditorium for the visit from the team.
During this stop, the players' messages focused on maintaining a positive attitude in all the daily activities people go through, in addition to focusing on getting the most out of school.
Brady Poppinga particularly was enthusiastic about the topic and spoke at length about how positive energy can really affect how you go through the day. Being positive can keep you and others up, while being negative can bring you down, as well as those around you.
Poppinga, who is known for being a fairly intense individual, drew some laughs when he answered a question about how he got started in football. As the story goes, he was 3 or 4 years old when his father, Dennis, a recreation director in the community, brought home some old football equipment from the rec center. He and his older brother, Casey, were tackling each other in the backyard. After a few hits, Brady knew football was his game.
"It was like eating a piece of chocolate," he recalled. "I thought, 'This is great!' "
When asked about what perks they had as players, each of the players spoke about playing in Lambeau and for great fans.
Specifically, Nick Collins said, "Running out of the tunnel into Lambeau Field is the best."
Another questioner asked the players what their favorite classes were in high school.
When Jordy Nelson responded with math, a shout came from the back of the room: "What!"
Murphy told the seniors to be ready for the next stage of their lives and prepare for the change that is coming. Many students experience some difficulty with the adjustment to college and the independence that comes with it.
After distributing Tailgate Tour footballs and signing some autographs, the players boarded the bus for a lunch stop at the aptly named Stage Stop, in Mosinee.
9:22 a.m., May 11, 2009
The tour is back on the road after surprise tour stop at Edison Middle School on Green Bay's east side. The stop was noteworthy in that it was the first in the city of Green Bay in the history of the tour.
"Even though the tour is about getting out across the state, to areas we don't normally see, we thought it would be nice to make a surprise stop right here in Green Bay ," said Packers President/CEO Mark Murphy.
About 1,200 students were awaiting the group in the school's gymnasium, having found out about the special visitors just this morning.
The players entered to a huge roar from the cheering students. Murphy greeted the students and then asked the players to introduce themselves and say hello.
"It's awesome for the guys to come here," said Lisa Schweiner, a seventh-grade science teacher. "It's a great way to motivate the kids toward the end of the year. Not many of them get to meet a professional athlete."
Each of the players spoke of how important it was for the students to take advantage of their educational opportunities.
Murphy pointed out that the chances of becoming a professional athlete are rather remote, with just 1 in 10,000 reaching the professional ranks, so student-athletes should maintain a realistic approach in planning their futures.
The message hit home with the students and certainly was appreciated by the teachers.
"To have the students hear it from these guys is a great way to reinforce it," Schweiner said. "They hear it all the time from us, so this helps it hit home."
Nick Collins appeared to have been the most popular athlete at the stop, at least with the girls. Many of them cheered loudly when he was introduced, which of course drew some ribbing from the Jordy Nelson and Brady Poppinga.
Collins claimed he's never had that happen to him, saying, ""It's the first time…It's good, though.
"Hopefully they'll know how to vote for the Pro Bowl this season," he added with a laugh, referencing a desire to return to the league's annual All-Star game.
The players answered a variety of questions, both about football and what they do away from it. They even got a hello from Cameron Batty, a student at the school and son of Packers equipment manager Red Batty. Each of the players spoke of the great job Batty and his staff do with the players' equipment and around the locker room.
The visit ended with the players throwing and launching footballs to the students.
8:17 a.m., May 11, 2009
The fourth 'Green Bay Packers Tailgate Tour' is underway after pulling out of Lambeau Field. A surprise stop at a Green Bay-area school is on the docket for the first visit of the 2009 tour.
On board the bus are President/CEO Mark Murphy, safety Nick Collins, wide receiver Jordy Nelson and linebacker Brady Poppinga.
It's Mark Murphy's second go-around on the tour, and the first tour for each of the players.
"I'm looking forward to it," said Murphy. "It was a great experience last year. I'm sure the players will have fun."
The players admired the customized motor coach accommodations, including the multiple televisions on board to help pass the time between stops. One of the players already was exerting some influence on what would be viewed.
"Where's the clicker?" Poppinga asked, not five minutes into the ride.
Tickets for the tour's evening tailgate parties are still available in Marshfield (May 11), Platteville (May 13) and Beaver Dam (May 14). Tickets are sold out for Hudson (May 12), but interested fans are encouraged to go to Lakefront Park as other activities will be taking place. Organizers have told the tour that more than 1,000 people are expected at the park. It may be the largest crowd ever for a tailgate party in the four years of tours.
The players are encouraging fans in the areas of the visits to get out and see the Packers representatives and help raise money for local non-profits. Last year's tailgate parties raised more than $80,000 for the hosting organizations.