The kids that cheered him weren't old enough to have seen him play, but they knew the name. The veterans whose hearts were warmed by his surprise appearance on Wednesday knew the name and the memory of the Super Bowl title to which Antonio Freeman helped lead the Packers a decade-and-a-half ago.
It never gets old for Freeman. Who wouldn't like coming back to the scene of the best days of your life and to the smiles and cheers of people that make you feel as though yesterday is today and time changes nothing?
"It's always awesome. When you step off the plane, it's awesome. The people that work (at the airport) still acknowledge us. It's over the top. There can't be another place in the world of sports that supports and acknowledges its football team the way Packers fans do," said Freeman, the star wide receiver of the Packers' glory years of the 1990s under then-coach Mike Holmgren.
Freeman led a "Tailgate Tour" contingent of current Packers players and Packers alumni on the second leg of a five-day tour of the region on Wednesday. The "Tailgate Tour," a team charity event, made surprise stops at the D.J. Jacobetti Veterans' Home in Marquette, Mich., and at Negaunee Middle School in Negaunee, Mich.
"It definitely does make you feel good," Freeman said of the warm reception he and his "Tour" mates received in Marquette and Negaunee on Wednesday. "The history awareness about the Green Bay Packers is definitely evident. The players on our roster won't change. It was especially touching for me to see some of these older generations acknowledge us."
Freeman is joined on the "Tour" by Dorsey Levens and Gilbert Brown from the '90s era of Packers football. Also on tour are Jim Taylor and Forrest Gregg from the '60s Packers, and current Packers players Desmond Bishop, Matt Flynn and Josh Sitton. Packers President and CEO Mark Murphy is also on the "Tour," which was to make stops in Ewen, Mich., and Ashland, Wis., later on Wednesday. Ashland would be the site of an evening "Tailgate Party."
"A lot of us from those teams were seven-, eight-year Packers. We spent a lot of time together," Freeman said of the '90s gang, winners of Super Bowl XXXI.
Freeman received a huge ovation at the D.J. Jacobetti Veterans' Home, where he was asked to describe his famous falling-down pass reception against the Vikings on Monday Night Football. The main message at the Negaunee Middle School was about the dangers of bullying. The players then conducted a question-and-answer session.
"We did win one. There will always be disappointment we didn't win that second one. You can always look back and say we left some food on the table, but it's a great feeling to know we will always be Super Bowl champions," Freeman said. "We did get one, but you always look back and think this could've been one of those special franchises that got three in a row."
These days, Freeman splits time between Fort Lauderdale and Baltimore, his hometown. The focus of his professional life nowadays is his charitable foundation, "B'More Free Programs," which aids deprived youth in Baltimore. He is especially proud of his foundation's free-meals-to-children-during-the-summer initiative.
"It means a lot to me personally to be a partner in helping to prevent hunger and provide children with free meals in my hometown," Freeman said in kicking off the program. It's estimated that about 485,000 lunches and 370,000 breakfasts will be served this summer.
Freeman's initiative is, yet, another distinction by a Packers great. He's proud to represent the team and cheer the team wherever he is. Last season, of course, he cheered the Packers to a win in Super Bowl XLV.
"I think they're in a great position," he said of the current Packers team. "They're young and they have a ton of talent. Last year they proved what a true team is. Their backups stepped up. They didn't just step in, they stepped up."
Freeman is still doing the same.