10:39 p.m., May 14, 2010
The 2010 Green Bay Packers Tailgate Tour wrapped up its four-day, 800-mile odyssey across Wisconsin as the group pulled into the Lambeau Field parking lot.
Over the course of the past week, thousands of fans had the opportunity to meet and hear from the Packers, take pictures and grab an autograph. In the process, the team was able to share positive messages, raise thousands of dollars for four very worthwhile charities and simply say thanks for all the passionate fan support.
As the crew rode back to Green Bay, they had a chance to reflect on the four successful days.
"We had fun with the fans, that's for sure," said James Jones. "I liked that they got to know me a bit more without my helmet on.
"I really loved talking to the high schools, too. They were ready to listen, and some of them have been though the situations we were talking about.
"Having four players on the trip was cool. It was a chance to really get to know another player, because we spend so much time in our position group at work. I was able to better develop other relationships."
Chad Clifton's random reflections: "I enjoyed the Humvee ride in Reedsburg and the fire truck in Rhinelander. At the V.A. hospital I really enjoyed talking to the veterans and hearing some of their stories. You could tell it was uplifting for them.
"The Leinenkugel's tour was great, too, of course."
John Kuhn: "It was fantastic. To get out and see people around the state was great. It was an honor to meet them. Many of them wouldn't get the chance to come to Green Bay, so we were able to go and meet them.
"I liked visiting with veterans today. All the schools were fun. Reedsburg was cool because the fans were so fanatical."
Nick Collins: "I had a great time. It's been fun. Just to be with these three guys and see a different side of them out of the locker room was fun.
"The different cities were cool. The fans can't see us in Green Bay, so to brighten up their day is fun. They let us into their neighborhood and mingle with them. We are blessed to be here and have the opportunity. I really believe we're all on this earth for a purpose and ours is to reach out to our fans.
"I liked spreading a message to the schools, too. There are different ways you can have success in life. Stay firm in your belief, go out and take it, and have fun doing it."
Mark Murphy: "It was a really enjoyable week. I thought the players were outstanding. It was fun for me to see the players and how well they got along. I like the reception they got at the schools, too. To see the players walk into the gym with their jersey on was fun.
"I enjoyed all the cities. They were different in their own ways and the people were great, and to be able to raise money for charities was very helpful.
"I particularly liked the Reedsburg stop with the party to raise funds for the VFW and the memorial they're working on. The money we helped raise is going to put them over the top. They'll be able to start construction, so that was very meaningful.
"The Tailgate Tour is a great part of our community outreach program. We help out around the state in a lot of ways, but this is a nice, very directed effort, by being able to go to a city and help with a specific cause.
"We're such a unique team with our community support, and this is a great way to say thanks to the fans."
And, the group couldn't forget the shorts Clifton wore on Day Two. There was some debate about the color, with Clifton insisting they were red, but others saying they were more on the pink side.
"They may have been red at one point," Murphy said wryly.
8:35 p.m., May 14, 2010
The motor coach is headed north on Interstate 43 after the evening tailgate party to benefit the Hunger Task Force at the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee.
Hunger Task Force is a Milwaukee-area anti-hunger organization which believes that every person has a right to adequate food obtained with dignity. Hunger Task Force works to prevent hunger and malnutrition by providing food to people in need today and by promoting social policies to achieve food security tomorrow.
Approximately 400 people turned out on a comfortable evening for autographs, pictures and some interesting facts about their favorite Packers.
During the Q&A session, fans were interested to hear that Chad Clifton's idol growing up was Hershel Walker.
James Jones had some fun with his answer.
"Growing up, I really admired a safety that played for the Washington Redskins...Mark Murphy," he said in reference to the Packers' CEO who was standing beside him.
As the fans laughed, Murphy said, "James, you've just lost all your credibility."
One young fan asked the players about their most prolific days on the field. Nick Collins spoke of interceptions and return yards, Jones talked about reception yards and touchdowns, and John Kuhn, while he didn't have many receptions (13), did point out that a fair amount of those were for touchdowns (4).
"We need to throw to you more," observed Murphy, to laughter of the crowd.
The group on stage nearly skipped over hearing about Clifton's big day on the football field. After all, he is a tackle. But, he didn't always play tackle.
"I played fullback in eighth grade at Martin Junior High School," he proudly said. "I rushed for more than 100 yards in the Charger Bowl against Union City, with an 89-yard touchdown run."
The crowd, including his teammates, was duly impressed.
With no high school stops today, James Jones was forced to go the day without being able to dunk a basketball.
"I made it through," he said, with a hint of disappointment.
After the autograph session, the group mingled and posed for pictures with the fans.
Collins, Jones and Kuhn had some fun with the younger fans on an inflatable game, racing with fans and each other while harnessed to a bungee rope that held back their effort. Kuhn suffered a minor injury when the bungee to which he was attached broke free of its connection and snapped his leg and left a bruise.
C.J. Murray, a Milwaukee resident who attended with his 3-year-old son Luke, was happy to see the Tailgate Tour back in Milwaukee. The last such appearance was in 2006 at Bradley Tech High School.
"It was a great event," he said. "It's great they go all around the state, to the smaller cities, but it was nice to get back to Milwaukee. We like to see them, too."
12:23 p.m., May 14, 2010
The Tailgate Tour just finished a surprise visit at the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center, where Mark Murphy and the players had the opportunity to visit veterans and staff members.
Outside under beautiful, sunny skies at a lakeside pavilion on campus, the group thanked the veterans for their service to the country and wished them well as some recovered from injuries and others continue to receive long-term treatment at the center.
Nick Collins stressed the importance of a positive outlook and support from friends and family when dealing with challenging situations by talking about the struggles he faced when his father passed away last year.
"My friends in the locker room helped me move on from his death," he said of teammates' support. "It was a wonderful feeling when a group of guys want to be there for you, and you for them."
During the Q&A, Chad Clifton was asked by one of the vets if he was big when he was born.
"Not really. I was average size," he said. "I just started eating a lot right away."
"Right now I'm about 310"let's just say that. At least as far as Mark Lovat knows," he said, referring to the Packers strength and conditioning coordinator.
Ryan Hennen, an Iraq War veteran who is receiving treatment at the VA for post-traumatic stress disorder, enjoyed hearing from the players and getting a chance to meet them. He had a gray Packers Military Appreciation Cap with him and got the players to sign it. The hat was with him during his second and third tours in Iraq.
"I wore this hat every day when I'd get back from a day tour," he said. "It meant a lot to stay connected to the team. They mean so much. A lot of us would stay up until 4 a.m. to watch the games."
Hennen, who is from the Milwaukee area, agreed strongly with Collins' message.
"He was so right," he said. "It's important to push forward and surround yourself with good people. The teammate thing is so important, too. Even here during treatments, we're like a tight-knit team. It's like teamwork"it goes such a long way."
The group is now off to lunch at Mo's Irish Pub.
8:40 p.m., May 13, 2010
Day Three of the Packers Tailgate Tour is in the books as a crowd of nearly 700 fans enjoyed the evening at Nishan Park to benefit the Reedsburg Area Veterans Memorial.
The members of the Tour arrived in a style fitting of the event's cause in two military Humvees, followed by the Tailgate Tour motor coach. A raucous welcome greeted the players as they entered the ice rink pavilion at the park.
Once on stage, a special presentation was made to the group by Army SFC Paul Metz, a veteran of the Iraq War. On behalf of veterans in the area, and the community as a whole, Metz gave Mark Murphy a United States flag that had been flown over Baghdad and a Challenge Coin as a show of appreciation for the Tailgate Tour's visit.
"Our presentation was about today and the support for the Memorial, but it goes beyond that, too," Metz further explained. "A group of us soldiers from Wisconsin in Iraq really appreciated what it meant to root for the Packers and look forward to watching the games.
"We'd be out on a 12-hour patrol and to be able to come back to base and watch a game, it brought you back home, in a way, just to sit and cheer on the Packers. It was a great morale builder.
"It was an unexpected pleasure to hear they were going to be here. We knew we'd be back and wanted to be here to experience it. It means a lot to the area, not just the vets, to support the Memorial, because it's something the whole community is going to be proud of."
Also in honor of the Tailgate Tour's support of the Memorial, Reedsburg Mayor David Estes declared today "Green Bay Packer Day." The proclamation in part reads "Whereas the Green Bay Packer Tailgate Tour has graciously chosen the Reedsburg Veteran's Memorial as the beneficiary of the event, helping to bring the Memorial to completion which will become a great asset to the community as a whole."
The Packers also recognized Reedsburg High School football coach Brian Pottinger, who was the 2009 Green Bay Packers High School Coach of the Year. He and his team posed for pictures with the Packers contingent.
During the Q&A, the fans learned that baseball was Nick Collins' first sports love. Thankfully for Packers fans, he ended up playing football.
Music kept the autograph session lively, and Murphy was pleased some music was featured from his era.
"That was nice to hear some of my songs," he agreed.
Kate Welter, an organizer of the event, was nearly overwhelmed with the evening.
"It was beyond my expectations," she said. "I normally am not one who cries, but when I looked around and saw how much fun everyone was having, and how well everything went, I nearly lost it."
The players were in agreement about the atmosphere.
"That was a great party," said John Kuhn. "The fans were outstanding."
3:07 p.m., May 13, 2010
The group enjoyed its last surprise school stop of the trip, this one at Reedsburg Area High School.
James Jones interrupted the school day with an announcement over the school's public address system, just as he did in Rhinelander.
The guys shared a message about embracing diversity with John Kuhn giving the example of the Packers' locker room.
"We come from all over the country, so we've got different backgrounds, different upbringings, those kinds of things," he said. "But we need to work together as a team to succeed. That's the same situation we have in our everyday lives, even here at school. Work with each other's strengths to achieve success."
The students learned a number of things about the players during the Q&A session, including that Chad Clifton didn't think the NFC Championship Game at Lambeau Field following the 2007 season was that cold. It was below zero.
"You're crazy," observed Nick Collins. "That game was freezing."
Mark Murphy also gave thanks to the school for providing one of its graduates, Mark Schiefelbein, to the Packers. Schiefelbein was a longtime employee for the Packers who recently went to work for the Cleveland Browns. He was not present, but the student body gave him a nice round of applause upon the mention.
The group will enjoy some downtime prior to heading out to the evening's activities.
2:12 p.m., May 13, 2010
The Packers Tailgate Tour just finished a stop at VARC Inc., a Reedsburg company that employs people with developmental disabilities and those recovering from injuries.
It was founded in 1975 with a purpose to administer comprehensive and cooperative services for the general well-being and advancement of persons with barriers to employment.
VARC is passionate about its purpose, ensuring that people with barriers to employment have the same opportunities for enjoyment, fulfillment, and richness of life that others experience. They take pride in building environments, providing choices, and offering options for its clientele.
The group toured the facilities and visited with the employees, even taking some time to pitch in with the work.
VARC's largest partner, accounting for about 85 percent of its current work, is Mueller Sports Medicine products, located in nearby Prairie du Sac. The players took interest in the athletic tape and pre-wrap products that were being packaged.
Tony Ugo, VARC's president and CEO, said the visit was very rewarding for everyone.
"It's a privilege for our employees, because they don't necessarily have the same access in the sense that they can't go see the players due to their situation," he explained. "It might be tough for them to get to a game, or to where the players might be making an appearance.
"They'll be talking about this day for the next year," he added with a smile.
12:40 p.m., May 13, 2010
The Tailgate Tour moves on after a tasty lunch at Cracker Barrel in Wisconsin Dells.
As the motor coach exited Interstate 94, Nick Collins and James Jones saw the Nike outlet store in the retail center and insisted on making a stop.
With a schedule to keep, the Tour couldn't make the detour, but the players hustled over on their own to pick up a few items.
"It was a little longer walk than I thought," said Collins. "I think it was a mile. We made it there in about six minutes by running, but we walked back. We even thought about asking someone for a ride."
10:05 a.m., May 13, 2010
The Packers Tailgate Tour is continuing south after a stop at Osseo-Fairchild Schools, south of Chippewa Falls.
The guys talked to more than 500 students from the middle and high schools about making positive choices, with Nick Collins providing a real-life example of getting arrested in high school when he and some friends were engaged in some "foolishness."
John Kuhn added to that by letting students know that sometimes they'll have to make hard decisions regarding friends who aren't the best influences.
"I know it will be tough, but you've got to recognize those situations and make the right decision," he said.
During the Q&A session, the students learned about the group's favorite pies and movies. The rundown: Kuhn - apple, Old School, respectively; Collins - apple, Meaning of Life; Chad Clifton - chocolate chip pecan, Caddyshack; James Jones - key lime, All About the Benjamins.
The students also learned that Kuhn, who earned a degree in chemistry at Shippensburg, wanted to pursue dentistry before his football career, but now will probably get into coaching when he's done.
On who was most inspiring to the players, three of the four said their mothers, with Collins giving credit to his father.
When talking about what was the most rewarding aspect of playing for the Packers, each of the players spoke of the unique nature of the Green Bay Packers and Lambeau Field.
"There's nothing like running out to a packed Lambeau Field," confirmed Collins.
Todd Fischer, the school's assistant principal and activities director, laughed about how the visit wasn't so secret by today.
"We did try to keep it under wraps," he said, "but I guess it got out around school the last couple of days with many of the guys wearing their Packers jerseys."
8:40 p.m., May 12, 2010
The second day of the Packers Tailgate Tour has finished up as the group heads back to its Chippewa Falls hotel for the night after the successful tailgate party at the Northern Wisconsin State Fair Grounds to benefit the Chippewa Youth Baseball Association.
More than 350 people took in the event at a facility on the grounds, with offerings of tailgate food (of course) along with silent auction items, and a play area with inflatable for younger fans.
The visit to the Fair Grounds wasn't the first for members of the organization. The Packers played a local semi-pro team, the Marines, 75 years ago in an exhibition game, Sept. 2, 1935. Green Bay won the contest, 22-0.
Among the fans at Wednesday night's event was Les Madson, a 95-year-old Chippewa Falls resident who attended that game long ago. The longtime fan posed for pictures with attendees and also had the Packers autograph a copy of the game program from the 1935 contest. Madson recently was the subject of feature story about the game in a local newspaper. You can read it here.
The evening's Q&A session hit on many familiar topics, such as playing the Vikings and Bears, but it also afforded fans the opportunity to learn more non-football tidbits about the group.
Favorite ice cream: John Kuhn likes birthday cake; Nick Collins, butter pecan; Chad Clifton, cookies and cream; James Jones, pralines and cream; Mark Murphy, mint chocolate chip.
Favorite candy: Kuhn, Peanut M&Ms; Collins, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups; Jones, Twix; Murphy, Snickers.
Clifton expounded a bit on the topic: "I like 'em all, but my strength coach hates that. If I had to say one, I'd go with Milky Way."
And, with the Leinenkugel's stop having just taken place, the fans wanted to know which Leinie's was their favorite. Two of the players avoided answering.
"I liked the pink lemonade," responded Collins.
"Root beer was my favorite," said Jones.
More standard answers came from the others: Kuhn, Honey Weiss; Clifton, a combo; Murphy, Summer Shandy.
The pictures and autographs were the highlights for most who attended, including 8-year-old Connor Clark who came from nearby Lake Wissota donning an A.J. Hawk jersey.
"Probably getting the autographs," confirmed Connor when asked about his favorite part of the evening.
His second favorite? "Probably those things outside," he said, referring to the inflatables play area.
He did come away impressed with the players, saying Nick Collins was now his favorite Packers player.
For Matt Blodgett, from nearby Eau Claire, the chance to see the group in his backyard was the draw.
"I had to come see my heroes," he exclaimed. "I got my tickets months ago, right after I heard about the event. It was a great cause, too. Everyone should come to one of these if it's in their area."
Jordan Ladwig, also from Eau Claire, had the chance to get Clifton's autograph under his G-Force tattoo.
"I fell in love with the logo when I saw it on Packers.com," he said of the green-and-gold tattoo on the inside of his right forearm. "I went out the next day and got it done. And, just the other day I was at the drive-through at McDonalds and as I was handing over my money, the woman grabbed my arm and said, 'I'm getting that exact tattoo.' "
Wayne Franz of the Chippewa Youth Baseball Association was excited about the evening.
"Tonight went really, really well," he said. "We're very happy with the turnout, and for the Packers being able to make a stop. This event will help us out with what we've got planned for baseball here. We're working on new lighting, new scoreboards...major renovations. This will be a boost."
Murphy contributed to the silent auction himself with a purchase of a framed print of the Ice Bowl.
"I've always wanted this picture," he said of the famous picture showing Bart Starr's famous quarterback sneak to win the NFL Championship over the Dallas Cowboys. "This will be a centerpiece for my office at Lambeau."
Day Three of the Tour awaits.
6:02 p.m., May 12, 2010
Members of the Tailgate Tour were treated to a tour of the Leinenkugel's Brewery with Jake Leinenkugel, the brewery's president and fifth-generation family member to head the company. The players intently listened as the tour went through various levels of the brew house, learning about the brewing process.
Leinenkugel's brews Curly's Ale, the beer that is featured at Curly's Pub in the Lambeau Field Atrium.
After the tour, the group was treated to a VIP dinner at the Leinie Lodge on the brewery campus with supporters of Chippewa Youth Baseball Association. Most of the food was prepared with Leinenkugel's beer.
"This food is great," said Nick Collins, as he headed to the buffet line for the third time.
The lodge's sprawling space and d"cor was impressive to the group.
With James Jones within ear shot, Mark Murphy asked Jake Leinenkugel if there was a basketball hoop inside somewhere, a reference to Jones attempting to dunk at practically every stop.
And, what would a trip to the Leinenkugel's Brewery be without a bit of sampling. The group had the opportunity to taste a few of the several beers on tap at the Leinie Lodge. Jake Leinenkugel even sent a few 12-packs home with the Tailgate Tour.
2:05 p.m., May 12, 2010
The Tour just finished another surprise school stop, this time at Abbotsford, with the players taking a lap through the elementary school hallways before moving on to the adjacent high school gymnasium.
The excitement was infectious as the approximately 350 young fans chanted "Go Green Bay" while the players bent down to slap high fives on their walk through the corridors.
"It was pretty cool," said John Kuhn. "It was neat as we went through the hall. You could tell we were getting to the older grades as the kids got taller."
The guys then made their way into the high school to talk to 350 middle and high school students about the importance of academics and making good decisions.
Kuhn told the students to take full advantage of their education and it will benefit them as they go on in life.
Mark Murphy and the players had a good time with the handful of Vikings fans in the crowd, with Nick Collins threatening to body slam one of them.
The players again were asked about their bench-lift maxes, and this time the query included their 40-yard dash times. Collins was the fastest at 4.3 seconds, the fastest on the team. Jones followed at 4.5, Clifton at 4.7 and Kuhn 4.8.
"Yes," Clifton insisted. "I did run a 4.7 at my Pro Day workout at Tennessee."
The others weren't so sure.
An interesting question came from a student, on whether any of the players got upset after a loss and blamed a coach. Collins did feel that way after a game once, and even got into it with his coach about it. It didn't really end well and Collins vowed to change his mindset in those situations.
"It really was a life lesson for me," he said. "I realized that in the end we are a team and we need to take responsibility for our own actions and not point fingers."
For seventh-grader Emma Seefluth, the chance to see the players and hear their message made for a fun day.
"It was cool to have them here at the school," she said. "I liked what they said about focusing on school, and for them to take the time to be here."
Like many of the students at the school, Seefluth was wearing some Packers attire, including a Greg Jennings jersey, but she really stood out with a green and gold sombrero that had a color scheme as if it were official Packers attire.
"Some friends of mine were in Mexico and saw the sombrero and said they knew they had to get it for me," she explained, confirming she was a fairly devoted fan. "So they brought it back and I wear it often."
Jones again put on a dunk show...and again took a few attempts to actually get one down.
After leaving the school, the group is off to Chippewa Falls for some down time and then a tour of the Leinenkugel's Brewery, the place where Curly's Ale, featured at Curly's Pub in the Lambeau Field Atrium, is brewed.
12:25 p.m., May 12, 2010
The Tailgate Tour is steaming toward Chippewa Falls with another surprise stop on tap.
The group enjoyed lunch at 2510 Restaurant in Wausau, with James Jones and Nick Collins playing a quick game of checkers prior to sitting down to eat. The two are competitive.
10:15 a.m., May 12, 2010
The Packers Tailgate Tour's second day is underway as the group just left a surprise visit at Lakeland Union High School, in Minocqua where 800 students packed the gym to hear from the guys.
A special introduction was made before the program started, as Mark Murphy asked Betsy Mitchell, the Packers' vice president of organizational/staff development, to step forward to be acknowledged. Mitchell, who received a nice ovation, is a graduate of Lakeland, and drove over from Green Bay to see the Tailgate Tour make an appearance at her alma mater.
During the discussion, the group stressed the importance of handling oneself online appropriately, in terms of how you present yourself and how you treat others. Online bullying has increased along with the explosion in the use of social media sites like MySpace and Facebook.
Murphy stressed the importance of being respectful of others, both online and at school, but also made sure the students knew that college admissions offices and employers were looking at prospective students' and employees' online pages and using them in their vetting process.
James Jones had an effective way for students to filter their use of the social media sites.
"Act like your Mom and Dad are reading your sites every day," he said. "You're not going to want to post certain things with that in mind. Let that be a guide. Be smart."
Matt Iverson, a 15-year-old sophomore, thought the message was very appropriate.
"It was good to hear them say it," he said. "I don't think people are aware of it enough. I've seen some questionable things, so I think this will help."
During the Q&A, some regular topics came up, such as the Bears and Vikings, and the players' weightlifting ability, but instead of how much weight, the request was for Chad Clifton to lift the actual questioner.
"I'll bench press him if John Kuhn will squat him," responded Clifton.
The demonstration didn't actually take place, but it was a new version of the discussion nonetheless.
In another Tailgate Tour first, the players were asked if any practiced ballet. Murphy volunteered Clifton for an answer.
"Do I look like I do ballet?" he said. "I do yoga. Does that count?"
And, in what is quickly becoming a school-visit ritual, Jones was enticed into a dunking display. Murphy, in perhaps setting him up for difficulty, told the crowd that he was one-for-five in a session yesterday. Jones warmed up, but again struggled as he went two-for-11.
Clifton asked if any students in the crowd could show how it's done.
Iverson, the sophomore, who stands 6-5 and participates in AAU basketball in the summer, was up to the challenge and came out. After a few failed attempts, he managed to put one down, much to the delight of his schoolmates.
Overall, the school's principal, Jim Bouche, enjoyed the visit for his students.
"It was a great opportunity to hear the Packers talk," said Bouche. "All of our high school is dealing with the online situation. It was beneficial for our students to hear the players talk about respect. It was a very nice demonstration of what professionalism is all about.
"We're on the cutting edge with the technology, and we're trying to be proactive with what's appropriate and inappropriate."
On the bus riding south, Murphy felt positive about visit.
"I thought we had a good session," he said. "They had told us about some problems with cyber-bullying, so we wanted to give some good advice on those topics and how it could impact their future.
"I really liked having the pep band there, too. I thought they really added a lot of energy."
8:40 p.m., May 11, 2010
More than 250 fans turned out for the event, and the Tailgate Tour members arrived in fine fashion aboard a fire truck and ambulance from Pelican Fire & Rescue.
Inside the ice arena, which did not have an ice sheet for the offseason, fans were treated to brats and burgers, a Q&A session and autographs and pictures.
The fans' appreciation of Packers football was apparent with the first question during the Q&A session when Mark Murphy was asked about how negotiations were going with the players for a new work agreement. Murphy expressed his confidence that a new agreement would be in place before the 2011 season.
The players received very warm applause when each spoke of their charity work, particularly James Jones' efforts with helping out families, a passion that goes back to his own upbringing, which had some very trying years while he and his mother moved around to different homeless shelters at times.
In response to a question about Lambeau Leaps, Jones gave some great insight into the need to be able to make it into the stands.
"You need some hops, because it's a little higher than you first expect," he said. "And you need to make it in, because if you don't, you're going to be made fun of by your teammates on Monday, that's for sure."
Rhinelander fans at the party also wanted to know if the group had found out what a Hodag is. They all proudly answered in the affirmative, with Jones even displaying a new Hodag sweatshirt he picked up in the afternoon.
As if on cue, the arena's fire-breathing Hodag roared into action in the corner of the building.
Alan Ruetten, a Rhinelander resident and self-described casual fan, enjoyed the evening and particularly liked hearing about the players' charity efforts.
"It was good to hear about their charity work," he said. "It's not something you hear a lot about, but the truth is a lot of them do give back.
"Visiting here was great for them to show respect for the small towns in Wisconsin. We have a lot of great fans here, too. It's a big part of a lot of our lives and it was cool for the team to recognize that by coming here."
Kindness for Kids co-founder Bob Dionne appreciated the support the team provided.
"It"s two-fold, really," he explained. "Financially, it really supports our efforts, of course, but it also is very good in the sense that it helps us connect further with the community and gives people more awareness to what we do."
Dionne and a friend formed the non-profit Kindness For Kids in 1994. The organization began with the thought of helping Rhinelander-area children who found themselves in less-than-fortunate circumstances during the Christmas season. It was decided that their needs could best be served by getting the community involved. Kindness for Kids coordinated the placement of camouflage collection boxes at area merchants and businesses, which has become a visual connection for the community during the Christmas holiday season. The toys are collected, sorted, and distributed right back to children and families in need.
Almost 40 families were served the first year, and it now has grown to help 500 in the area. Beyond Christmas, families are now supported through tragedies and other trying circumstances.
The other recipient of the night's support, the Town of Pelican Fire Department, is located east of Rhinelander in Oneida County. It operates out of one centrally located station and 30 members maintain and operate five pieces of apparatus. The organization provides fire suppression and first-responder emergency medical services to the towns in the 54 square-mile area, along with providing mutual aid through countywide agreements.
Capt. Jim Wehrman thanked the fans for coming out and observed that everyone had a great time. The support from the event will help the department, an all-volunteer force, augment its equipment.
The players particularly enjoyed the mingling after the autographs, a time that allowed them to hear about being a Packers fan in Wisconsin's north woods.
Jones participated in a friendly game of catch with the younger fans, and Nick Collins even got a session in the bounce house with the very young fans. He was a little worried about getting hurt, though.
"I think a brother and sister were ganging up on me," he explained to his disbelieving tour mates.
Speaking of potential injuries, Jones was rubbing his arm which was sore from numerous arm wrestling matches that spontaneously began, a first in the five years of the Tailgate Tour.
"Clifton totally set me up," said Jones. "It was fun though."
Highlights of the day were many, but some of the small things stood out as well.
"Don't forget the brownies on the bus," Collins said, referring to the delicious treats Jones' wife, Tamika, prepared for the group.
"They are very good," agreed Murphy.
3:30 p.m., May 11, 2010
The Tour is on its way to the hotel for a brief break after finishing up a surprise stop at Rhinelander High School, where Jones used the school's public address system to alert the school to their visit.
"This is James Jones, wide receiver the Green Bay Packers," he began. "Teachers, please release your students now. Everyone needs to go to the auditorium."
While the group waited for the students to assemble, the players had their try on a few instruments in the music classroom. They didn"t sound horrible"
Once in the auditorium, the 900-plus group of students and faculty heard from Murphy and the players about the importance of staying in school and obtaining their diplomas. Without at least finishing your high school education, it is much harder to get ahead in a career.
After a few requests for hugs, and the obligatory what-do-you-think-about-the-Minnesota Vikings-and-Brett-Favre-question, the students learned about a few of the players' hobbies, including their love of bowling. Bowling?
"Oh yeah, I can bowl," said Jones to a disbelieving questioner. "Just try me."
They also learned that Chad Clifton is a skier.
"A lake skier," he clarified, to laughs. "Doesn't jet skiing count?"
The players also revealed that the defensive line is the group on the team that would best qualify as comedians.
As for what the players were most proud of, other than their professional football success, Jones spoke of being the first from his family to graduate from college, Kuhn spoke of his college degree, and Clifton and Collins both spoke of their families.
After his football career, Jones mentioned that he'd like to coach, and after the strong reception, he said he'd coach in Rhinelander. The students seemed to like that idea.
Clifton spoke of his plans to get into franchising back in Tennessee, perhaps by opening up some Culver's restaurants. He thinks there's a need there, for Tennesseans love custard, and, apparently, they have nothing like the Culver's restaurants there.
"I work at Culver's!" responded an excited student to the laughs of the crowd.
On the subject of hobbies, Jones mentioned his love for basketball. Murphy made sure to get in an observation.
"He was one-for-five on dunks at our last stop," Murphy quipped.
Also on the visit, the players finally discovered the story of the Hodag, after being asked about it all day.
From the City of Rhinelander's website: Rhinelander is the Home of the Hodag, a mythical creature created by Rhinelander pioneer and timber cruiser Gene Shepard in 1896. Although it originated as a hoax, the Hodag became a local legend and the symbol of the City. Many local businesses, as well as the Rhinelander High School sports teams, are named for the Hodag.
"The visit was a great boost to our morale here in mid-May, and will give us some energy down the stretch," said Terry Fondeau, the school's principal. "Their message was consistent and clear, and they were entertaining, informative and exciting. I thought the students responded well, particularly to James Jones being proud to be the first from his family to graduate from college. That was great."
Members of the group also got a chance to look at the school's trophy case, which had a section reserved for Mike Webster, the Rhinelander High School alum who went on to at Hall of Fame career as a center for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and late in his career, the Kansas City Chiefs. The school's football field is named Mike Webster Stadium in his honor.
Before leaving, Jones and Collins managed to get in some more basketball, playing a bit of three-on-three with some students in the gym.
"I could play with those kids all day," he said with a grin.
1:30 p.m., May 11, 2010
The Tailgate Tour is continuing after a stop in Crandon for lunch, at a quaint restaurant and shop, Tricia's Bistro.
The lunch stop started off in very impressive fashion as motor coach driver Dave Miller, an 18-year Lamers Bus Lines veteran, deftly parallel parked the 45-foot bus in front of the restaurant.
"Is he really going to parallel park this thing?" said John Kuhn in amazement.
On this blustery, chilly day, the soup special, tomato with smoked gouda, hit the spot for many of the tour group. Lunch overall was fantastic, according to the group.
"Wow, was that soup good," affirmed Kuhn.
Jones and a couple of the others enjoyed a caramel-topped shake for a treat.
Collins picked up a few items at the adjoining gift store for his kids.
A few residents stopped to ask for autographs and pose for a picture.
And, speaking of pictures, a few Crandon folks might have been tempted to get a shot of Clifton strolling down main street.
12:10 p.m., May 11, 2010
The Tailgate Tour is on its way north again after stops at Wabeno's Elementary and High Schools. The schools serve an area of roughly 2,000 people, including the towns of Lakewood, Townsend, Carter, Blackwell, and Freedom.
The first stop saw the players and Murphy receive a rousing introduction to a gym packed with about 250 students. The group circled the gym to high-fives from students wearing all sorts of Packers attire.
The group spoke briefly about treating each other well and with mutual respect, utilizing the golden rule as an example.
Jones playfully warned the students to follow his advice.
"If I hear that you're not, I'll be back with a knuckle sandwich for each of you," he said to a hearty round of young laughs.
The players then distributed footballs and T-shirts to the kids, with many kids opting to receive the gifts via passes from the players. Some of them displayed decent receiving skills fitting of future Packers, while others were not quite as smooth, prompting some concern from a few observers.
"Hey, I handed some footballs, too," said Clifton, as an attempt to clarify any fear that his throws were potentially dangerous to the young fans.
After a quick trip across Highway 32, the group was introduced to about 260 students in the gym at the high school and spoke about character, integrity and success.
"Do what you say, and say what you do," said Kuhn, as a reminder to the students.
The Tour fielded questions about football and how much hard work is involved in making it to the professional level.
As is the case at many of the question-and-answer sessions, a few questions could be considered from the unexpected category, including one from a student that queried the players about their favorite Chicago Bears players.
Murphy had some fun with that and answered on behalf of the players: "I'll take that one"they don't have any."
Jones had some fun with another question, one that asked about the value of Collins" very sparkly watch.
"Well, you see that 'G,' that is for Gucci. That means it's pretty pricey," said Jones to laughs from Collins and the crowd. "Throw in all those diamonds on there, and that adds a lot more."
Jones then had his basketball interest stoked " he was a 22-points-per-game point guard as a high school senior " as he got a question inquiring about whether he could dunk. After a basketball was provided, and a brief warm-up, he did manage to put one down"on his fifth attempt.
"Five tries, hey James?" observed Murphy on the bus later.
"Come on, I needed to warm up," answered Jones.
All fun aside, the school appreciated the stop, according to principal Tim Brauer.
"Their talk about the principles of character and integrity was great," he said. "It solidifies so much of what we teach the kids.
"We appreciated they would give back to the community in this way and come to the school."
10:15 a.m., May 11, 2010
The Tour is on the road again after a 45-minute stop at Menominee Indian High School in Keshena, just north of Shawano. A fire drill was scheduled as a way to surprise the students while the bus was to pull up, but with the rain falling in the area, the students simply were told special guests were arriving.
The surprise was still evident as the students cheered when the green-and-gold-clad bus pulled up to the school.
The students and players went into the gym where approximately 350 students took their seats for a brief visit.
Murphy introduced the group and let the assembly know that their school was the first official stop of this year's tour, which was of course welcomed with hearty applause.
Each member of the group took turns at the microphone to deliver messages about the importance of setting and obtaining goals, and the importance of staying active. As an example, Murphy referenced the NFL"s Play 60 Program, a league-wide effort to get kids out and active for 60 minutes a day.
Collins warned about the dangers of playing too many video games, drawing on his own experience.
"Call of Duty"that was me, 24-7," he said, referring to the popular game. "Don"t play too much. You should be outside getting exercise."
Kuhn echoed the sentiment and warned about the dangers of obesity. He has two family members who are dealing with the condition.
Clifton added the importance of nutrition to the message, to the laughter of his teammates.
"I guess me saying this is funny, because I"m a bigger guy," he explained. "But it is important."
The students then had the opportunity to ask the group some questions, with one of the initial topics about sacrifices the players had to endure to reach professional football.
"You really have to sacrifice a lot of free time to work on it," said Kuhn. "There are some hard decisions, but it's worth it to achieve your goals."
Hobbies were another topic, with answers ranging from fishing and family, to water polo. Jones really did say water polo. Was he serious?
After questions, the Tour group had a special treat as the school performed a traveling dance, a traditional Menominee Nation dance that is bestowed upon a group that is going on a journey. The school's Menominee Language and Culture teacher, Ron Corn, introduced the dance speaking the Menominee language.
"Usually an honor song is performed for a group," Corn said, "but since you are traveling, we thought the traveling dance would be more appropriate, to help you have a safe journey north and in life."
A dozen members of the tribe pounded on a drum as the procession was led around the school's gymnasium.
Leslie Shawanokasic, the school's principal, was very excited about the visit by the Packers.
"It's been an awesome visit for our school," she said. "We really appreciate the Packers giving back to the community this way. Our students will remember the visit, and the message they shared about sacrifices and working hard. It helps our students put the proper perspective on career goals; we've been working with them on that."
After a few photos and autographs, the Tour group headed back to the bus for the continued trip north. As another illustration of their thanks, the Menominee Indian Nation provided a police escort out of town.
8:25 a.m., May 11, 2010
The fifth 'Green Bay Packers Tailgate Tour' has officially begun with the departure of the motor coach from the Lambeau Field parking lot.
Rainy skies couldn't dampen the spirits of the crew as Packers President/CEO Mark Murphy, tackle Chad Clifton, safety Nick Collins, wide receiver James Jones and fullback John Kuhn embarked for four days across the state of Wisconsin.
Collins and Jones, veterans of previous tours, had a few words of advice for "rookies" Clifton and Kuhn.
"It'll be a lot of fun, guys," said Jones, to the others. "A walk in the park."
"They're professionals," added Collins. "They'll be good with the kids. They're going to love busting on Cliffy. 'Pick me up,' they'll say."
"Nah, I'm not worried about that," Clifton declared.
"I am looking forward to getting to the small towns we don't normally see," added Clifton.
A surprise stop is scheduled en route to Rhinlander, the site of the evening's first party. Tickets are still available for Rhinelander, as well as Chippewa Falls and Milwaukee. Reedsburg is sold out. Fans in those areas are encouraged to support the tour. More information is available here: http://www.packers.com/news/releases/2010/05/10/1/.
On the bus, the guys were enjoying some laughs while watching "Martin."