Blog: 'Green Bay Packers Tailgate Tour' Rolls On

9:33 p.m., July 11, 2008: The motor coach carrying the members of the third Green Bay Packers Tailgate Tour pulled into the parking lot at Lambeau Field, finishing off a successful tour around the state, traveling roughly 600 miles while making numerous stops around Fond du Lac, Janesville, Stevens Point and Marinette.

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9:33 p.m., July 11, 2008

The motor coach carrying the members of the third Green Bay Packers Tailgate Tour pulled into the parking lot at Lambeau Field, finishing off a successful tour around the state, traveling roughly 600 miles while making numerous stops around Fond du Lac, Janesville, Stevens Point and Marinette.

Tonight's tailgate party took place at Marinette High School's Higley Stadium. About 350 people purchased tickets to support the Marinette-Menominee (Mich.) office of the American Red Cross Lakeland Chapter. Every day the organization assists in a number of ways, including disaster assistance, getting an emergency message to a loved one in the military and helping senior members with transportation.

The group was introduced via a game-day ritual, running through a line of people and bursting through a 6-foot high poster welcoming the players and Murphy. Adding to the flavor of the evening was a pep band consisting of alumni from Marinette and Menominee, as well as a local drum and bugle corps.

The group, minus Harlan, who returned to Green Bay in the morning for a family engagement, greeted the fans and thanked them for their support of team, as they had done throughout the tour around the state.

If the players weren't aware that last season's losses to the Bears were a sore point with their fans a week ago, they should have the sentiment now. Repeating a common theme from previous tailgate parties, one of the first questioners of the evening asked the players if they were planning on getting some payback with the Bears this year.

"You can count on it, especially me," said James Jones, alluding to a couple of fumbles he had in the first matchup against the Bears.

After more questions about Aaron Rodgers, the CBA and Brett Favre, the group sat down to sign autographs.

"We're tickled pink with how everything went tonight," said Debbie Haduch, office manager of the Red Cross location in the area. "It means a lot to everyone here, the fans, our organizers and sponsors, to have the Packers make a visit to our community.

"It was exciting for everyone," agreed Joe Kasbaum, a Packers fan who made the short drive from neighboring Menominee, Mich. "It's nice they do these things, a once in a lifetime experience for us, really. I've lived here for more than 30 years, and I haven't had a Packers visit like this.

"Not only did we hear them talk and answer questions, but I was really impressed with the way they just mingled and spoke with everyone. It's nice to know we're backing such a great team."

In the mingling after the autograph session, the players had a chance to talk football with members of the Marinette Marines high school football team, with the prep players asking questions ranging from offense and defense, to offseason workouts and nutrition.

After some final pictures, the players and Murphy boarded the bus for the trip home.

On the bus ride back to Lambeau, the players and Murphy reflected on the past four days, along with Cathy Dworak, Packers manager of community relations and organizer of the trip, and Justin Crabb, the Packers' building security supervisor who assisted on the trip.

The trip received high marks from everyone, with many members of the group particularly enjoying visits to KANDU in Janesville and the Veterans Home in King.

Other random thoughts were shared, too.

"I enjoyed the free t-shirts and pie," said Spitz jokingly, or so the others thought.

"I liked converting the Bears fan at the Veterans home," recalled Brandon Jackson. "I worked on him for 10 minutes, but I think he's a Packers fan now."

James Jones liked playing with the kids, or really anything that involved playing.

"I love being active," he admitted.

For Murphy, the range of the ages and variety of fans was fulfilling.

"I liked being able to see young kids, and our more senior fans, particularly the older vets," he said.

In addition to Jones' recurring bemoaning of not seeing enough No. 89 jerseys, another repeated situation involved Spitz.

"You would not believe how many people called me 'Mark,' " he revealed, referring to former Olympic superstar swimmer Mark Spitz, not fellow offensive lineman Mark Tauscher.

"They didn't ask about your gold medals, did they?" chimed in another member of the group.

In addition to the visits with fans, Murphy enjoyed getting to know the players on a more personal level, too.

"Many times as an administrator, you don't get much interaction with the players unless there's some sort of problem or issue," he explained about his former role as a college athletics director, and to some extent as President of the Packers. "I really enjoyed just visiting with the guys, just talking about their families, their days growing up and in college, those kinds of things. It's good to hear about their experience as a Packers player, too."

Overall, the group enjoyed being able to reach so many people, give thanks, create smiles and memories, and experience first-hand the emotional bond Packers fans share with their beloved team.

*

12:06 p.m., July 11, 2008

The Tailgate Tour is on the road again after a stop at the Wisconsin Veterans Home in King, where the troupe visited with a gathering of members and staff.

The Veterans Home, a state-operated complex for veterans, their spouses, and in some cases their parents, is a pleasant retirement community where aging or disabled Wisconsin veterans and their spouses can spend their retirement years in comfort and dignity. Founded in 1887, the Home is operated by the Wisconsin Department of Veteran Affairs and serves 560 veterans and 140 spouses of veterans, with ages ranging from 29 to 102

The visit took place, appropriately enough, in a large room in the facility's recreation building, Marden Memorial Center, where members can watch Packers games. It's equipped with a 60-inch plasma TV donated by the local American Legion Auxiliary.

Mark Murphy opened the comments by thanking the members for their support of the Packers over the years, but more importantly their service to the country.

The two losses to the Chicago Bears last season were on the mind of one resident who asked whether fans can expect "payback" this season.

James Jones laughed a bit at the question and then declared the Packers plan to beat the Bears.

The group cheered and then told the tour group that Bears fans were members of the home, unfortunately. That elicited a "Go Bears!" from one such member.

Everyone laughed, and then laughed harder when another member shouted, "Don't worry, he won't get any lunch now."

A member presented Murphy a hand-crafted wooden cane as a memento from the visit. The canes are crafted by members in the recreation center's woodshop and given to veterans who need them for assistance.

The veterans then enjoyed visiting with the players and Murphy while the group posed for many pictures.

It was a moment that Dale Stelson, an 81-year-old WWII Air Force veteran, appreciated seeing.

"It's fantastic," he exclaimed. "How often do we get to see guys like this up close? In fact, I couldn't believe it when they posted it on the board. I had to look two or three times."

Bill Crowley, the commandant of the home, shared the members' excitement of the Tour's visit.

"He's right. I posted it and it's all I've been hearing about," he said. "It's great though. In my five years here, it is definitely the highlight of my career. The visit from the Packers and their recognition of the veterans is tremendous. It speaks wonders about the organization. These people will be talking about this visit for weeks to come, and into the season."

The group continues to head north to Marinette for the tour's final stop.

*

10:40 a.m., July 11, 2008

The tour just completed a visit to Boys' & Girls' Brigade's Camp Onaway on an island in Sunset Lake in the Chain O' Lakes near Waupaca.

The Boys' & Girls' Brigade is a 106-year-old youth organization serving 800 boys and girls in grades 6-12. The Brigade's primary purpose is to provide wholesome activities where over 350 volunteer adults interact with the members. Positive values and good character traits are reinforced in a healthy and fun setting, and the organization emphasizes the "Four-Fold" balanced way of life: good physical, social, mental and spiritual development.

More than 100 staff and campers greeted the tour upon boat arrival to the island, and with the organization celebrating International Week with visitors from Denmark and Scotland, the group was treated to bagpipe music from a Scottish band, complete with kilts.

"Where can I get a kilt?" asked Jason Spitz. "I need a 44, or so."

Mark Murphy and the players spoke to the campers and related the camp's goals to what football players must also strive for: teamwork and relationships.

The campers also shared a bit of what their week is like, including 7:15 wake-up calls, no TVs, no phones and no cell phones.

"Oh, man, I wouldn't make it," responded Brandon Jackson to the laughs of the gathered group.

The campers asked a variety of questions, including the chance for more international games, perhaps with the Packers appearing in Scotland. Murphy said that could happen some day, as the NFL continues to explore its future overseas.

The campers were curious about when each of the Tailgate Tour group knew they had made it in the NFL.

"Opening day my rookie year," recalled Spitz. "I'm standing on Lambeau Field and the anthem is playing and I thought, 'Wow, I'm in the NFL.' "

Jones said when he saw the Packers locker room he knew he had made it. The grand room in Lambeau Field dwarfs the one he had in college.

When the campers asked how the players deal with nerves, Murphy recalled a moment prior to a Super Bowl when his Redskins teammate, running back John Riggins, tried to calm the team by saying, "Hey, don't be nervous. There's only 100,000 people here in the stadium and 100 million watching around the world, but there's twice as many people in China who don't give a damn."

Murphy also presented the organization with a $4,000 check from the Packers Foundation along with the Teammates for Kids Foundation.

"What a great visit," said the organization's executive director, John Dery. "The money will help fund our scholarships for kids who can't afford to come. That will help so much.

"Our group is all about leadership and development, so what the players were talking about is great reinforcement."

After signing some autographs and playing some games with the campers, the group was back to the boat for a quick trip to the bus, and on to the next stop at the Wisconsin Veteran's Home in nearby King.

*

8:33 p.m., July 10, 2008

The rainy weather that began the evening at the Stevens Point Country Club didn't dampen the spirits of the 450 fans gathered for the benefit of the Epilepsy Foundation of Central & Northeast Wisconsin.

And their enthusiasm was rewarded as the inclement weather passed through and gave way to beautiful skies for the majority of the event.

The Epilepsy Foundation is a vigorous advocate for people with epilepsy. It has been active in Congress, the executive branch, and the courts, focusing attention on the needs of those with epilepsy. Priorities for the Foundation include: the availability of affordable quality health care, the search for the cure and the protection of civil rights for people with epilepsy.

Epilepsy, also called a seizure disorder, is a medical condition that produces seizures affecting a variety of mental and physical functions. When a person has two or more seizures, they are considered to have epilepsy. A seizure happens when a brief, strong surge of electrical activity affects part or all of the brain. One in 10 adults will have a seizure sometime during their life, and they can last from a few seconds to a few minutes. They can have many symptoms, from convulsions and loss of consciousness to some that are not always recognized as seizures by the person experiencing them or by health care professionals: blank staring, lip smacking, or jerking movements of arms and legs.

With the Tailgate Tour now in day three, it is apparent the group has developed chemistry and is comfortable on stage as some of tonight's program had the making of a stand-up routine. It was much to the delight of the fans, of course, who come, in addition to supporting a good cause, to see players in a different light off the field.

WAOW TV's Bryon Graff introduced the group and Jason Spitz began his remarks by urging the crowd to listen to their parents and stay in school.

"Oh, sorry, wrong crowd," he joked to the laughs of all those in attendance.

His tour mates weren't as accommodating with his attempt at humor as evidenced by several eye rolls.

The entertainment continued into the question-and-answer session as the players had fun with many of the questions and did their best to one-up each other about who was the best athlete, or had the most success on the field.

Will Blackmon, who joined the group for an appearance at tonight's party, got no respect from James Jones who said he'd beat him 10 out of 10 times in response to a question about who would win a one-on-one contest.

Jones, who continued to remark that he hasn't seen enough No. 89 jerseys on tour, even received some ribbing from Harlan.

"While on this tour, we've had the privilege of meeting the president and one member of the James Jones fan club, it's James Jones," Harlan said to the pleasure of the players and the crowd.

Cindy Piotrowski, the executive director of the Epilepsy Foundation, enjoyed the "show" along with the fans.

"They've been awesome," she said. "Everything went phenomenally well tonight, even with the weather. This is Packers territory and the response by the community has been wonderful. Everyone had a great time, and this has been a nice fundraiser at a great time for our organization."

The autograph session was again a big hit, especially for fans Shelly Krause and Jenny Peterson, who drove all the way from La Crosse to see their favorite player, Spitz, along with a homemade sign with the words, 'Got Spitz?'

When asked why Jason is their favorite player, they each had a fun take.

"He's such a big boy," said Krause.

"He's so cute," added Petersen. "I met him at Fan Fest and I was hooked."

The party even drew an international fan base with the attendance of Francis Koehler, 17, from Hohendodeleben, Germany.

A former exchange student who got hooked on the Packers while going to school a year ago in nearby Marshfield, she was visiting her host family this summer and had to take the opportunity to see her team.

"It's definitely a fun event, to come see these guys in person" she said. "I saw (former Packers defensive lineman) Gilbert Brown last year, too. He's really big."

When asked about how the Packers compare to her favorite soccer teams in Germany, she said the stadium really stands out.

"I've been to Lambeau Field. It was awesome…better than any stadium in Germany."

On the bus ride back to the hotel, Blackmon, the newcomer, was impressed with the mobile accommodations, but gave pause when he saw some of the food.

"You guys are meatheads. You've got Myoplex bars on this thing?" he incredulously.

"Yeah, we do push up and crunches on the bus, too," answered Jackson with a laugh.

The group is headed to the Holiday Inn for a night of rest before beginning the fourth and final day of the tour on Friday.

*

3:35 p.m., July 10, 2008

The Tailgate Tour is headed to the hotel after finishing back-to-back surprise visits on the UW-Stevens Point campus, first with a volleyball camp for area girls in grades 7-12.

Mark Murphy and the players interrupted the camp and had a moment to visit with the young ladies.

After being introduced, Murphy gave a hard time to the camp's coordinator, UW-Stevens Point volleyball coach Stacey White, who is a Vikings fan and coincidentally had a Vikings t-shirt on today.

"We're sorry about your coach here," he said. "We're going to have to try to convert her."

"No, no, no" responded White to a chorus of boos. "I'm not changing."

The group then spoke and congratulated the campers for participating in the session and encouraged them to continue their work and learn all they could from sports, including concepts such as teamwork, hard work and motivation.

Murphy took the opportunity to encourage the girls to maintain good nutritional and health-related habits and not get caught up in body image concerns. It's a subject he dealt with often as a college athletics director for 16 years.

"It's an issue we saw at the university level, definitely," he explained. "All these athletes are pushing themselves physically for their sports, and then they're not following good habits and properly taking care of themselves due to desires to look a certain way. It's a negative combination the young athletes need to be reminded and warned about."

He also encouraged the girls to engage in weight training, something he also learned in his role they often avoid, again due to concerns about how it may alter their appearance.

"Weight training can help you in so many ways," he told the campers. "You don't need to worry about how it will affect your appearance. The benefits are something to take advantage of. As you strengthen yourselves, you lessen the chance for injury. You also increase your explosiveness and effectiveness on the field or on the court."

The group then answered questions from the girls, with an enlightening answer coming from Jason Spitz to a question about what they wanted to be when they were younger.

"I actually wanted to be a chef for awhile," he said. "I eat a lot now, so go figure."

Brandon Jackson, when asked about how he has avoided negative teammates bringing him down, said he had to work hard when he was younger to distance himself from those people. Some of those influences came from friends, and they no longer were his friends. To this day, he said some of those people still try to stay connected with him now that he is a professional athlete.

The players ended the visit by playing volleyball with the campers.

James Jones was particularly active, hustling all over the court for digs, blocks and spikes.

"This is great," he said. "I'm getting a good cardio workout going."

After some hustling in the gym, the players visited an Upward Bound program run by the university that assists low income and first generation students in achieving their goal of obtaining a college education through school year and summer academic programming.

During participation in the summer session, 50-60 students attend classes, go on field trips, play sports and engage in other educational activities. Students stay on campus for six weeks during the summer each year, with the sessions operating seven days per week.

The players addressed the group on some familiar topics, including making the right choices, and also took questions on such topics as inspiring figure in their lives, balancing studies and extracurricular activities such as sports, and nutrition.

"I can't say I always each healthy. I just had four pies at lunch," said Spitz to the laughter of the group.

When asked about what they liked and didn't like about playing professional football for the Packers, the group looked over to the side where Bob Harlan was standing.

"I better hear no negatives," warned a smiling Harlan.

Harlan then took a turn talking to the group and implored them to take advantage of their God-given gifts, use them to their full potential and become what they're meant to be. He also encouraged them to be persistent as they strive in life and don't get down by inevitable setbacks that will come.

"I always loved a line that Penn State football coach Joe Paterno used, from his father: 'Don't get mad. Don't get even…Get better.' "

The group was then off to the hotel for a brief stop before heading to the tailgate party.

*

12:52 p.m., July 10, 2008

The group is back on the road after stopping for lunch at the Pioneer Restaurant in Westfield, just off Interstate 39.

Jason Spitz continues to be the most impressive eater of the group, ordering a hearty lunch of roast beef and mashed potatoes…and then pieces of chocolate cream and raspberry pie.

"You ordered two pieces of pie?" asked an impressed member of the group.

"He's on a diet," said Harlan with a laugh.

Two others who couldn't finish their pies passed them down to Spitz, who gladly sampled them all.

"My favorite is the coconut, then peanut butter, then raspberry and then chocolate," he said.

Before getting on the bus, the grouped strolled across the parking lot and paid a visit to an outlet store for Brakebush Chicken, the official chicken of Lambeau Field, to pose for pictures with some of the staff.

*

10:36 a.m., July 10, 2008

The Tailgate Tour continues north to the Stevens Point area after completing a stop at Manchester Park in Madison to visit with 50 children from Camp Capitoland, a Christian-based child care center, and other day care children who were present. The children were ages 9 months to 12 years.

The group interacted with the kids, including a comical moment when Bob Harlan led a group of toddlers in the traditional Packers cheer, "Go Pack Go." Brandon Jackson and James Jones enjoyed a moment on the swings. Jason Spitz avoided the swings, but did push a young girl.

Autographs were signed and pictures were taken as well.

Mark Murphy, a former Pro Bowl player with the Washington Redskins, has been showing his championship rings (one Super Bowl, one NFC Championship) to fans during the visits, and a younger fan mistook his sharing of them for something else.

"Are you trying to give your rings away?" the young fan asked.

"Ah…no. I think I'll keep them," Murphy responded, smiling.

Jones tried to hold some of the younger campers for pictures, but seemed puzzled when a few started crying. The second-year wide receiver, who gets married in a week and plans to start a family some day, wouldn't quite call it a bad sign.

"I love kids. I'm not sure what the story was today."

Murphy enjoyed the easygoing visit with the potential future fans.

"They're never too young to bring into the fold as Packers fans," he observed with a laugh.

*

8:40 p.m., July 9, 2008

The second day of the Tailgate Tour has wrapped up with another successful tailgate party as more than 500 fans turned out to support ECHO (Everyone Cooperating to Help Others), a Janesville food pantry and clothing depot.

The non-profit charity, created in late 1969, is sponsored by numerous Rock County church and faith communities. It also receives support from area businesses, individuals, school and community groups, foundations and social service agencies. The organization also meets other emergency needs such as temporary housing, health and transportation for low-income individuals and families in the North Rock County area.

Al Fagerli, from Packers Radio Network affiliate WCLO, introduced the group and brought them on a stage with the Tailgate Tour bus serving as a backdrop. After some general comments from Mark Murphy, Bob Harlan and the players, the event turned to the question-and-answer session and the group answered questions about a variety of topics, just as they had done the night before in Fond du Lac.

After a young fan asked about the players' respective paths to the NFL, James Jones told a story about being drafted by the Packers in 2007. He was a third-round pick of the team, the 78th player selected overall, but going into the weekend, didn't think he'd be selected until the second day.

"So I get this call, and it's from the 920 area code," explained Jones, "and I'm thinking, 'No way, this has to be one of my friends playing a joke.' And I answer and the voice on the other line says, 'James, it's Ted Thompson from the Packers calling.' I said, 'Come on, really, who is this.' Well, I finally realized it wasn't a joke and Ted was calling to say I had just become a Green Bay Packer. So how's that to get your NFL career started."

The crowd shared in laughter with Jones.

Fans young and old enjoyed hearing from the players at the party which took place at the Janesville Gazette's sparkling new printing plant on the south side of town.

Karen Lisser, the executive director of ECHO, was excited about the buzz from all the attendees.

"This area has a lot of support for the Packers," she said. "It's a fun event for everyone in the community. We've had some tough times recently, with the announcement of the GM plant closing and the struggle with flooding, so this is the most fun we've had in a couple months.

"Tonight is huge, too, because at this time of year, money is short. The money raised tonight will benefit a lot of people. People are hungry, need a roof over their heads, those kinds of things, so this really gives our organization a boost."

During the autograph session, the tour had the pleasure of a repeat visit from the Fosketts as the Edgerton family made it to a tailgate party for the third consecutive year. Sarah and Brad attended the first year's tour stop in Stoughton, added newborn son Nash for the second year's stop in McFarland, and then added son Linc, just 18 days old, for this year's edition.

"Today was his due date, so we're lucky he came early so we could make it here to see you," Sarah said to Harlan as she presented the youngster to him for a signature on his Packers outfit. "We won't be having any new ones to bring next year, though."

"That's what you said last year," Harlan said with a laugh to the young couple.

The event even drew some Packers fans from Illinois, with the Mitchell family (mom Kristine, husband J.T., and daughter Kayla), along with friend Cody Neckvatal, making the two-hour drive from Cary.

"Friends of ours thought we were crazy to drive up here with the price of gas," said Kristine. "But we had to take the opportunity to see the guys. Plus, it's for a great cause."

"I had to come," added young Kayla. "I'm the No. 1 Packers fan in the world."

The group will stay at the Holiday Inn Express before heading north on Thursday.

*

3:03 p.m., July 9, 2008

With smiles on their faces, the tour group loaded onto the bus after a surprise visit to the Boys and Girls Club of Janesville.

The setting was appropriate as the 100 kids at the club were celebrating a Packers-themed day, and when James Jones, Brandon Jackson and Jason Spitz walked in wearing their jerseys, the celebration all came together.

A contest was held to see who had the best attire, with the winners getting a group photo with the players.

The players briefly addressed the group and stressed some of the core values the Boys and Girls Club promotes, including respecting others and making the right choices.

During the questions and answers that followed, it became apparent a few Bears fans were in attendance as the players were asked about two of the team's three regular-season losses in 2007.

"No more Bears questions," Spitz commanded.

Later, the group participated in a variety of activities with the kids, including foosball, pool, video games, football and basketball.

Mark Murphy enjoyed several games of pool with some of the kids, and later assured the other tour members that he was not overmatched.

Spitz, not a self-proclaimed Bobby Fischer, took on 6-year-old Darren Lambert in a game of chess. It ended in a draw.

"I was good at first," said Lambert, "but then I forgot how to move the pieces."

The Club's executive director, Heather Walz, enjoyed watching the visit and appreciated the players' reinforcement of positive messages.

"It means a lot for these kids to hear those things from their heroes, people they look up to," she said. "I think it great for them to hear about the hard work it takes to reach your goals, too.

"It was neat to see how excited they all were, too. Many of them won't have the opportunity to see a game, so this is a great opportunity to see the Packers in person."

The Tailgate Tour then was headed to the hotel to check in and prepare for the tailgate party.

*

1:00 p.m., July 9, 2008

The group made an unscheduled stop for a treat. Bob Harlan had an ice cream sundae.

*

12:40 p.m., July 9, 2008

The group just loaded on the bus after an enjoyable surprise visit at KANDU Industries, Inc., in Janesville.

KANDU Industries is a 501(c) 3 organization that provides work opportunities for disabled adults through production services for companies. Their program services provide client workers with the health and human services they need for a rewarding work experience, while also providing guided certified training so their clients can pursue additional opportunities in the community.

The organization was in the midst of an outdoor cookout and sports-themed party when the Tailgate Tour bus pulled up to surprise the approximately 150 staff and client employees.

The cheering group gave enthusiastic high-fives and many hugs to the tour group as the stepped off the bus to a background of music and Packers audio highlights.

After posing for a group picture, the members of the tour visited with employees and staff, took pictures and signed autographs.

One client, Sue Creek, was presented with a VIP ticket for the evening tailgate party after she was picked in a random drawing.

Gary Bersell, the executive director of KANDU, then took the group on a tour of the facilities which included a visit with some clients who were unable to join the larger group outside due to their physical condition.

During lunch, Bersell thanked the Packers for making the stop and presented Mark Murphy a customized birdhouse adorned with Packers images. Birdhouses are one of the products crafted at the organization.

"This has been an awesome day," exclaimed Bersell. "It's a highlight of my 45 years at KANDU. This means so much to the clients here. They are Packers backers. It's going to be their best day for the whole year. It's been wonderful."

*

10:42 a.m., July 9, 2008

The group just finished a surprise visit with more than 200 kids at Prairie View Middle School in Sun Prairie. The school offers a wide range of activities for students throughout the district during the summer months and these middle and elementary school students are in the middle of a six-week summer program.

Mark Murphy and the players spoke to them about the importance of being connected to their school, community and each other. In addition to those themes, each of the speakers saluted the students for taking advantage of the summer program and encouraged them to continue such activities in the future.

The students then had an opportunity to ask questions. Many of the students asked about how the players reached the professional ranks.

James Jones shared a part of his own story, overcoming a significant obstacle to reaching the NFL. From the age of 1 to 15, Jones and his family, due to various circumstances, lived in homeless shelters. He and his family were able to keep focused on making the best of their situation and eventually overcame the obstacles. It is something that Jones remembers every day.

The story had an impact on 11-year-old Christopher Smith.

"I realized it would be very sad to not have all your family with you and not be able to live in a nice home," he said. "I know I should appreciate what I have and make sure I take advantage of the good things I do have."

Earlier, when the players entered, Smith was surprised at their size in person.

"It was scary," he recalled, "because they're so much bigger in real life. They seem so much smaller on TV."

Jason Widiker, the middle school/summer school principal, was pleased with the visit.

"It's a nice reward for them," he said. "They are working hard in our summer program and it was great how the players were able to draw them in with their message about making good choices and being good leaders.

"This is a great memory these kids will be able to share with their friends who are not in school. It will be neat for them."

The Tailgate Tour is off to its next stop.

*

8:33 a.m., July 9, 2008

Day Two of the Tailgate Tour begins after a restful night at the Fond du Lac Holiday Inn.

On the bus, James Jones is working a day ahead by helping publicize Thursday night's tailgate party in Stevens Point by conducting a live interview with WBCV Radio.

"Come on out to the party," he says. "I'd love to see you."

Cathy Dworak, Packers manager of community outreach, tells the players about the next stop: Prairie View Middle School in Sun Prairie.

*

8:33 p.m., July 8, 2008

Day One of the 2008 Packers Tailgate Tour is in the books as the group heads back to the hotel after an enthusiastic tailgate party at Fond du Lac high school to support The Salvation Army.

The mission of the Salvation Army is an international movement and an evangelical part of the universal Christian Church. Its message is based on the Bible. Its mission is to meet human needs without discrimination. Services provided include emergency services, disaster services, community, youth and senior programs and special holiday assistance.

Approximately 350 turned out for the event and all enjoyed hearing from the players, receiving autographs and taking pictures.

The event started with some general comments from each of the Packers participants and then transitioned into a question-and-answer session.

The group heard questions from more than 20 fans, and nearly every topic a Packers fan could want was covered.

Mark Murphy was asked about his role as the organization's new president and the CBA, Bob Harlan was asked about how he's enjoying retirement, and the players were asked about last season, the upcoming season, their teammates, Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre.

Many laughs and cheers occurred throughout the session as players made predictions for the upcoming season and shared stories about their experiences as Green Bay Packers players.

At one point during the Q&A, James Jones dropped the microphone that was being passed around.

"And he's a receiver," quipped Murphy, to the enjoyment of the crowd.

Dave Wiza Jr., a fan and season ticket holder from Fond du Lac, was ecstatic with the evening.

"To meet these guys, up close and personal, is great," he said as he waiting to get a picture with Murphy. "It's huge that they came to Fond du Lac. We're not a major city, and sometimes it may seem we get skipped over on some things, so this was fun.

"It's great to see their personalities off the field. They really interact well with both kids and adults."

According to Jamie Winkler, a captain with The Salvation Army in Fond du Lac, the event was a welcomed opportunity for fans to come out and, for awhile, set aside their trying times with recovering from the devastating floods that recently hit the area.'

"It was successful because the community was able to come together and have fun after the struggles of dealing with the flood," he explained. "It was a wonderful evening and our thanks goes out to our friends at the Packers to help raise money that will help countless families. This will provide a nice lift for the rest of the summer."

On the way back to the hotel, the group reflected on the tour's initial day, a new experience for everyone except for Harlan.

"I really enjoyed it," said Murphy, "particularly seeing the joy on the kids faces at the park earlier in the day. You also saw that at the rehab center and tonight at the tailgate party, too. You can tell they really enjoy seeing the players up close. We have some very supportive fans."

"It was a great day," said Jones. "It has been fun to mingle with the fans outside of Green Bay."

Jackson and Spitz also enjoyed seeing all the smiles on the kids' faces.

Day Two begins with a drive south to the Janesville area. It's anyone's guess as to where the tour will stop on the way.

*

3:40 p.m., July 8, 2008

The Tailgate Tour was sidetracked on its way to the hotel. The reason: a stop for frozen custard at Gilles, a Fond du Lac icon for nearly 60 years.

When pressed, no one in the group could remember who suggested making a stop, but the suspicion arose that it was Bob Harlan, a big fan of ice cream/dessert stops on the Tailgate Tour's first two editions.

After orders were placed for sundaes, freezes and chicken sandwiches (yes, Jason Spitz ordered chicken sandwiches), the group mingled with other patrons. The players even moonlighted as staff and took orders from patrons who pulled up to the old-fashioned, drive-in frozen confectionery. The professional staff got a kick out of the visit.

"Just an average day at Gilles," deadpanned waitress Lauren Wochos, as she watched James Jones take an order. "Actually, it's been one of the best experiences a Packers fan could ask for."

The group was then back on track to the hotel, with satisfied sweet cravings.

"Oooh…A hot fudge sundae. That was great," observed Harlan.

*

3:15 p.m., July 8, 2008

The tour just departed from the All About Life Rehabilitation Center. The facility, which has been serving Fond du Lac and Winnebago Counties since 1969, is a leading provider of long-term skilled nursing care and short-term rehabilitation solutions for clients ages 40 to 100. The 125-bed facility offers a full continuum of services and care focused around each individual in today's ever-changing healthcare environment.

The group spent just over an hour at the facility and visited with about 60 residents in one of the activity rooms where football-themed banners and green and gold balloons decorated the walls.

Murphy, Harlan and the players each greeted the residents and then signed autographs and took pictures with the appreciative fans in attendance.

The group particularly enjoyed saying hello to Jerry, a 102-year-old resident.

A large cake with a message of thanks to the group was then cut up and shared with all the residents.

Greg Hansen, a "graduate" of the center, was on hand to share the experience with his friends.

"This is a real plus," he said with a grin as he observed the many smiling faces. "The residents here are certainly enjoying it. It is certainly out of the ordinary."

Kimberly Lane, the facility's administrator, enjoyed seeing the reaction of both the residents and the staff.

"It's great to have this opportunity," she said. "We definitely don't have many things like this. It really gives everyone a sense of community, to have a feeling that they are part of what's going on. It really creates some great memories for all these people."

The players enjoyed the impact they were able to make on the group, and one player even received a special thanks.

"One of the old ladies kissed me," said Spitz. "She gave me a hug and then planted a big kiss on my cheek."

With the heartfelt thanks of the residents and staff, the group was off to the evening's accommodations at the Holiday Inn before heading to the tailgate party at Fond du Lac High School to benefit The Salvation Army.

*

12:40 p.m., July 8, 2008

The bus is on Highway 41 again the road again after lunch at Tanner's.

The group had the opportunity to visit with a handful of unsuspecting fans at the popular Fox Valley restaurant.

The next stop is in Fond du Lac at the All About Life Rehabilitation Center.

*

11:33 a.m., July 8, 2008

The tour just left a stop at Kimberly High School where they spent the past 90 minutes visiting with more than 100 basketball campers.

The Tailgate Tour group, Murphy, Harlan, Jackson, Jones and Spitz, enjoyed the surprise arrival, one of many scheduled for the four-day tour.

"I loved the look on their faces when we walked in," said Jackson. "Priceless."

After the group entered the gym, Jackson and Jones grabbed basketballs from the unsuspecting youngsters and started firing 3-pointers. It was unclear as to who would win a hypothetical shooting match between the two.

"I'm not sure about that," quipped Jones. "I would definitely win that duel."

The campers – boys in fourth, fifth, eighth and ninth grades – then gathered around the players and Lucky Wurtz, the camp director and boys basketball coach at Kimberly High School, introduced the Packers.

Each took turns speaking to the group about the school's core values which include respect, honesty, responsibility, kindness and teamwork. The players used stories from their own paths to success to relate to the values and also advised the young players to be careful of the negative peer pressures that exist.

Several questions were answered as well, one of which dealt with the people who were inspirations to the players. Jones referred to his father and Spitz spoke of his older brother. Jackson shared a bit of an emotional story about his late father, Charles, who passed away when Jackson was 10 from the result of a car accident that had paralyzed him four years earlier. Charles had been the first African-American basketball player at a small Arkansas college and faced some discrimination along the way.

"He taught me and my family about how to handle adversity," Jackson said. "Even though I was young at the time, he made a real impression on me before he passed away. He really set a good example for all of us, just how to handle tough situations and overcome obstacles."

After the on-court visit, the players again engaged in some shooting displays with the campers, with Jackson and Jones hitting several long-distance shots, including a few from half-court range.

Jones then tied his shoes a little tighter and engaged in some high-flying attempts at dunks. After a few early misses, he managed to put a few down.

"Hey, I was just getting warmed up," explained Jones as to why he didn't have more success.

The players then left the gym and had the opportunity to visit some more with the older campers in the school's auditorium. The session allowed the guys to cover some topics a bit more in depth.

"It was nice to have the opportunity to visit some more with the older kids," said Jones. "Eighth- and ninth-graders are in the midst of dealing with those things. Many of them have goals already set. They're at a point where they can go up, or go down, and hopefully we can reinforce some things that keep them on the path to take themselves up."

The camp is one of many programs the school district operates through the summer for its students, and for Wurtz, the visit had great timing.

"We're three weeks in, and this is a great, motivating surprise for them," the coach explained. "For the Packers to take time and come in is great. They were able to reinforce the messages that we keep talking about, and it's good for the kids to hear that from someone else, too. It was a great visit."

Sean Vanhelden, an 11-year-old camper from Kimberly, was indeed impressed with the players.

"The visit was great," said Vanhelden. "I liked what they said about teamwork. They all stressed that it is important to know that you can't do it alone. You need work together, that sort of thing.

"It was fun. I was really surprised."

The group was then off to lunch at nearby Tanner's Grill & Bar.

*

{sportsad300}9:50 a.m., July 8, 2008

The rain did hold off for the first stop of the day at Legion Park in Little Chute, where the tour visited with 125 kids taking part in the Tot Lot program of the city's park department.

After introductions, the players participated in a short question and answer session. Among the questions asked by a younger fan was who is going to score the most touchdowns.

Jason Spitz, one of the team's offensive guards, offered a quick answer: "I know it won't be me."

After the questions and thoughtful answers, Brandon Jackson and James Jones joined the group in a game of dodgeball. Spitz decided to sit this one out.

"Too humid for a big guy like me," Spitz said as he began to sign autographs.

Jackson and Jones immediately got their game faces on as they both sprinted to the balls at the beginning of the contest. Each furiously threw balls at the other team, especially at each other.

Jones soft hands were in action early, as he caught several balls thrown at him. He did drop a few as the game went on, though.

"Nothing to worry about," said Jones with a laugh. "This is dodgeball."

For the kids and families who participate in the program, a visit from the Packers made for a summer highlight.

"For a small community like Little Chute, we're excited and proud the Packers would visit," said Tom Flick, Little Chute's director of parks, recreation and forestry. "It's great they would take the time to be involved with a small community. These kids will be telling their schoolmates, family and friends about this day."

Reid Heiptas, a 3-year-old from Little Chute, received autographs on his Packers Crocs. His mother, Heather, said he and his siblings were excited to head to the park today.

"They were up and ready to go," she explained. "I didn't even have to take their pajamas off this morning. This was a fun visit."

The tour moves on to Kimberly High School to make a surprise visit a boys' basketball camp.

*

8:16 a.m., July 8, 2008

The third 'Green Bay Packers Tailgate Tour' pulled out of Lambeau Field, on its way through the Fox Valley to its first stop in Fond du Lac.

Boarding the bus prior to departure was Packers President/CEO Mark Murphy and Chairman Emeritus Bob Harlan, as well as players Brandon Jackson, James Jones and Jason Spitz.

"We're very excited," said Murphy. "I'm really looking forward to meeting Packers fans around the state. The crew has already been talking about the previous tours. I know we've got a lot of great visits ahead."

The troupe is on its way to Little Chute's Legion Park to visit with Tot Lot Kids, a group of children that gathers through the summer months for various activities that include games, crafts, field trips, and cookouts. Players will play games with the kids in Legion Park. It looks like the rain should hold off.

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