11:04 p.m., May 4
After nearly 1,200 miles, the second "Green Bay Packers Tailgate Tour" pulled into Lambeau Field, its mission of reaching out and saying thanks to the fans fully fulfilled.
The group was happy to have visited some new areas of the state, including Superior, Rice Lake, Eau Claire, Black River Falls, McFarland and Racine.
In addition to the organization being able to express its appreciation to the fans in person, the Tailgate Tour helped to raise more than $80,000 for the non-profit organizations involved.
"I thought it was a huge success," said Bob Harlan. "It was a great opportunity to reach out to fans in a different setting. They are so appreciative and loyal, and to be able to say thanks face-to-face adds immeasurably to the importance of it.
"The schools, the Boys & Girls Club, the hospital, they were all appreciative at each stop. It was important the players were able to relay some great messages, too. They are role models."
Added Nick Barnett: "It was a great opportunity to show our appreciation to fans who don't get the chance to come and see us at Lambeau Field. It was good to see the fans statewide, the Packers-Backers out there.
"Children's Hospital meant a lot to me. I lost my grandmother and my father to cancer, so if you can put a smile on a face and help make a kid happier, even for a little while, that's worth it."
The players, each new to the tour this year, didn't quite know what to expect. To a person though, they all reported great fulfillment in participating.
"It was a lot of fun," confirmed Tauscher. "I figured it would be a neat experience, but it was more than what I expected. Packers fans are special."
8:43 p.m. May 4
The Tailgate Tour departed the final tailgate party, a benefit for the Volunteer Center of Racine, an organization that mobilizes people of all ages and backgrounds to volunteer by investing their resources of time and talent to make a difference in their own lives as well as the lives of those served. Among the organization's programs are the Retired & Senior Volunteer Program, Youth With a Mission, and Volunteer Recruitment, along with other special projects.
More than 400 people turned out and enjoyed the visit from the Packers, as well as good food and entertainment from "Afterglow," a barbershop quartet from Racine. The crooners performed a particularly impressive rendition of the national anthem to begin the evening's festivities, a first in the two years of the tour.
"That was pretty slick," admired Barnett, a music aficionado himself. "Great harmonies."
After signing autographs, the players addressed the fans and then took several questions. Fans in Racine, just like everywhere else on the tour, wanted to know which player is the biggest prankster in the locker room.
Aaron Rodgers told a story about how he was getting ready to head to practice and was looking to grab his helmet and couldn't find it. After figuring it was having some radio work done (coach-to-QB transmission system), he left for practice and assumed it would be delivered there. On the way out of the locker room, he stopped to sign a helmet on the table in the middle of the locker room. It had signatures already from most of his teammates. Other players often leave helmets on this particular table to get signed.
Once getting to the practice field, he noticed the other QBs had their helmets and quickly made a call back to the equipment room to have someone locate his helmet and deliver it to practice.
The helmet arrived...and yes, it was the one with all the signatures. It turns out that Brett Favre took his helmet out of Rodgers' locker, signed it and placed it on the table for others to sign. Soon it was covered with signatures. Rodgers went through the entire practice with a helmet full of signatures. The story drew some hearty laughs from the crowd.
For Dan Chernowski, the question-and-answer session was very interesting, and a great way to see the players and get to know them in a different way than watching them play or see regular interviews on TV.
"It's almost like a town hall meeting," he explained. "Everyone gets a chance to get a feel for what they're like as people.
Chernowski was with his 4-year-old son, Logan, who has a brain development disorder. The two came to the party to see the players and also Bob Harlan, with the hope of getting a picture signed. It was an enlarged shot of Harlan visiting with the two at Lambeau Field two years ago. After taking a stadium tour that day, the father and son stopped by an exit to one of the parking lots at Lambeau and met Harlan as he was leaving the stadium.
"It was so nice of him to visit then, and I thought it'd be pretty cool for Logan and I to come out and meet him here and get a signature," he said. "The fans tonight are pretty enthusiastic. They really enjoy the players being here."
According to Marilynn Pelky, executive director of the center, the event was very beneficial for the organization.
"This is a boost for the organization, no doubt," she said. "Not only will this raise some money for our efforts, but it's also providing some great exposure for our programs and awareness for the ways we're working in this community.
"The evening went really well. The families were so excited to be here and get so close to the players. To talk to them and shake their hands was very neat. I think everyone here felt they were so nice, like a member of the family."
In addition to the money raised and exposure for the organization, the evening had a direct, immediate benefit for one of its programs, the SafeAssured ID, a comprehensive, technologically advanced youth identification program that provides families with the power to deliver media and law enforcement with immediate, holistic, and ready-to-broadcast information unique to the missing youth. About 30 children were entered into the program at the tailgate party.
Kevin Barry continued to be a popular person in his hometown, as several members of his family came to the tailgate party.
"I'm glad they came out to support a good cause," he said. "It was great to have this stop in my hometown and to be able to see a lot of friends and family."
4:09 p.m., May 4
The players took a short break from the tour to enjoy a quick nine holes at Racine's Johnson Park Golf Course. A scorecard wasn't available, but it's probably safe to say that Aaron Rodgers had the best game of the three players.
Club Pro Charlie Brown even played a couple holes with the players, offering a few pointers to the players.
"He tried to help K-B," said Rogers of the assistance to Barry. "You notice though, he didn't play long with us. I think he figured it was a lost cause."
The group had a bit more down time before heading to the Racine County Fairgrounds for the tour's final tailgate stop. The idea for the next stop didn't take long to surface.
"We could do an ice cream run," suggested Harlan.
After a brief stop at Culver's, the bus headed toward the fairgrounds.
1:12 p.m., May 4
The group enjoyed lunch at the Chancery, a restaurant on the shores of Lake Michigan in downtown Racine. While driving through town, Kevin Barry treated the group with a detailed tour, pointing out his grade school and some of the other notable landmarks.
"Man, that was a great tour," Nick Barnett said with a smile, giving Barry a bit of a hard time.
11:32 a.m., May 4
The group finished a successful visit to Starbuck Middle School and spoke to 775 students, in sixth through eighth grade, through the course of two assemblies.
Nick Barnett warned the students about "haters," negative people who criticize and belittle their peers who want to do well and make good choices. The students responded very positively to his message and often cheered at his comments.
Aaron Rodgers repeated his message about making good choices and avoiding bad consequences.
The most popular presenter was the proud alumnus, Kevin Barry. The Racine native attended the school as a youth. He still has some ties of the school, in a matter of speaking, with two nieces in attendance. One of them, Rachel Ramsey, 12, shared a laugh with Barry after the assembly when a teacher presented enlarged photocopies of Barry's yearbook pictures from when he was at the school. (Barry later reluctantly allowed a photograph, including one of the photocopies, to be used with the Tailgate Tour blog.)
Barry's message implored students to not let others bully them, or put them down. He told students to not let negative situations fester, and go to parents or teachers with something that needs to be addressed.
"It was a lot of fun to visit my old school," said Barry. "It's been a long time since I've been here, but it means a lot to be able to stop by today and hopefully give the kids a good message."
Assistant principal Enrico Perkins knew the students would take some of the messages to heart.
"Much of it is the same thing they hear from their parents and counselors," he said, "but when you hear it from people outside your daily routine, it helps a lot.
"We hope the students look forward to the future and prepare to work on their dreams. We're a dream factory here; when the students are here, they use the time to work on dreams."
8:37 a.m., May 4
The Tailgate Tour departs the Concourse Hotel and says goodbye to Mark Tauscher, who is staying in Madison for a previous commitment.
On the bus, the group enjoyed watching a little bit of one of the great sports movies, "Hoosiers."
Community relations manager Cathy Dworak, Kevin Barry, Nick Barnett and Aaron Rodgers took some extra time on the bus to discuss one of the messages for today's visit to Starbuck Middle School in Racine, violence. Recently, a 12-year-old boy was shot there and the players wanted to make sure what they said was appropriate.
9:27 p.m. May 3
The Tailgate Tour finished a successful third day with a 722-person party, the best attended so far. The enthusiasm of the group was apparent.
Keith Green, the director of Friends of McFarland Playgrounds was more than ecstatic with the results.
"It went excellently," he confirmed. "For so many of these fans, it's the first time they've ever met any of the Packers players. What a thrill for them, and what a way for the Packer to get involved with a community like ours.
"The way the community came out was great. It was a 100-percent community effort. They said we had a need and they all got behind it. The people and the businesses."
For McFarland resident Ann Nichols, with her children Ethan, 5, and Zach, 3, a frequent user of the parks, the event really struck close to home.
"We live a block away and come all the time," she explained. "This renewed my faith in the Packers. We like to watch them play the games and win, but they're about the people, the kids, the fans. This is great for the kids and teaches them about how to be great role models.
"The kids talked about it all day long. They couldn't wait to come over tonight."
The players got a chance to test one of the new playgrounds, one which features a surface that is made of shredded, used tires. According to Green, the relatively new process saved 9,000 tires from going into landfills.
Some members of the tour were a little concerned about Kevin Barry using the equipment, but the new gear stood up well to the big "kid."
Mark Tauscher enjoyed the day and was impressed with the support from the community.
"Seeing the fan support here and at the other stops has been impressive," he observed, "but how the community has gotten behind these events for the local cause has been great, too. It's good to see people support the important efforts in the community."
3:50 p.m., May 3
The Tailgate Tour finally made another stop for ice cream, this time at famous Babcock Hall on the UW campus. Last year's visit to Madison saw the group stop at the Memorial Union Terrace to enjoy some of the frozen stuff.
"That hit the spot," said Harlan, then adding with mock frustration, "I still don't know why we didn't get some yesterday. I can't get a straight answer from anyone. I have suspicions it had something to do with Tauscher."
The group was to check in at the Concourse Hotel before heading to McFarland for the party.
2 p.m., May 3
After a tasty lunch at Wando's in Madison, the Tailgate Tour made its way to University of Wisconsin Children's Hospital, where the players painted decorative tiles and plates with young patients in a common area of the clinic.
The players also had the opportunity to visit a few patients in their individual rooms, too.
Mary Kaminski, director of patient and family services, appreciated the tour stop from the group.
"For the hospital, patients and families, a chance like this to interact with the players is great," said Kaminski. "Sometimes an experience like this, a distraction, is good therapy and aids in the healing process."
Christian Sylvester, a 9-year-old patient in from Waunakee with some orthopedic work, got a kick out of the players signing his cast.
"This is so wonderful," he exclaimed.
His mother, Barb, extolled the visit, too, saying, "It's a huge moral boost for the kids and families."
The Sylvesters plan to visit training camp this summer when Christian has his cast removed.
For Aaron Rodgers, the visit was a highlight, but also the most difficult.
"We're fortunate to be healthy, and to do what we're doing," he reflected. "I was hoping to make their day a little bit better, but they were the ones who inspired us. Their attitudes through their battles are awesome."
10:30 a.m., May 3
The Tailgate Tour just finished the visit with 250 students, plus a number of parents, at Gebhardt. After a spirited reception, the players gave a familiar talk about making working hard in school and making good decisions.
Aaron Rodgers asked the players to remember the three 'Ps': Practice, Persistence and a Positive Attitude. He spoke of how each can help a person succeed. The group took to the theme well and readily recited the words upon request from Rodgers.
Mark Tauscher got the group energized by leading everyone in some jumping jacks.
"I loved the laid-back style," said Shelly Severson, the school's principle, donning a No. 66 Ray Nitschke jersey. "They spoke in a way the kids understand. It's casual, but very effective. We appreciate the team taking time to come here. They really care and want to be involved in the community. That's why they have such support around the state.
"This visit will be the highlight of the year. We had other schools in the district call when they found out the players were coming. They wanted to send their students."
Fourth-grader Gabby Servant took away something to remember.
"You need to believe in yourself and follow your dreams," she said.
8:43 a.m., May 3
The Tailgate Tour is on the road again after a quick stop at McDonalds to fuel up for the morning.
"Egg McMuffin. That'll help us this morning," said Nick Barnett.
Heading south on I-90 from Eau Claire, the group is headed to Black River Falls's Gebhardt Elementary School.
9:22 p.m., May 2
The Tailgate Tour is on the way back to the hotel after the second tailgate party, at Eau Claire Ford, to benefit the L.E. Phillips Career Development Center. The organization provides meaningful vocational services and employment for people who are disabled of disadvantaged.
More than 700 fans were on hand to greet the team when it arrived, the most attended party thus far. The players were treated to a great evening, with temperatures in the 60s.
"What great fans," said Nick Barnett. "Seeing all the support we get out here makes me appreciate being a Packers player even more."
Dustin Chitty, 12, of Turtle Lake, was more than happy to make the trip to Eau Claire with his family to obtain some autographs on his head.
"I've been waiting for a month. This is awesome," he said. "I would have walked here. It's great for them to make the stop here."
Todd Berger and his son Max, 9, made the trek in from Hudson, about 50 miles away on the boarder with Minnesota.
"We get to training camp, too," Todd Berger explained, "but to have them over here in our back yard to meet them and get some pictures and autographs has been fun."
Terry Peterson, the executive director of the Career Development Center, was ecstatic about the turnout and the evening.
"This helps us continue to create jobs for the disadvantage," he said. "The Packers help us get our name out. To be a part of this and work on it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I felt like a kid again, like my first visit to Lambeau Field 30-some years ago."
2:20 p.m., May 2
The Tailgate Tour checks in at its Wednesday night accommodations, the Holiday Inn Eau Claire.
"Do I have time for a nap?" asked Mark Tauscher.
12:30 p.m., May 2
The group settled in for lunch at Adventures in Rice Lake and received a visit from some of the local chamber of commerce staff.
No dessert was ordered, and no stop was made for ice cream...or pie.
"I'm not sure what happened there," said Bob Harlan, with mock displeasure.
10:15 a.m., May 2
On the road again...The group just finished an assembly at Northwestern with 250 students. Each of the players spoke to the students again, with Aaron Rodgers leading off with a message about choices and consequences.
Mark Tauscher, in answering a question about what some challenges he had to overcome, relayed a story about his high school basketball career. As a sophomore, he was playing on the varsity team and enjoying contributing when a transfer student arrived and took Tauscher's place on the varsity squad that went on to a 26-0 record and a state championship. Back on the jayvee team, he didn't initially take it well and was spurred by a coach to stop wallowing and do his best in his new situation. Tauscher changed his attitude and went on to have a great career
"I felt the talk was very beneficial," said seventh- and eighth-grade math teacher Jill Strelcheck. "We all tell our students of the importance of making good decisions and being responsible and respectful, but I'm sure it has some additional impact coming from them."
"I was also happy to hear that math was among their favorite subjects," she added with a smile.
"The kids have been very attentive," said Rodgers. "I hope they're able to take something away from the talks."
Barnett, in response to a question about why he played football, said that with football, he could hit an opponent without someone saying, "foul."
Principal Ken Bartelt kept the student body, and the staff, in the dark about this visit. One teacher thought it might be to discuss some sort of reprimand for the students.
"Well, I did try to keep it quiet," he said with a chuckle. "I wanted to make it a special day, though. I think we did. The topic about making the right choices is so important at this age. Nick's mention of the new NFL policy was good, too."
8:33 a.m., May 2
The Tailgate Tour is on its way to Northwestern Middle School, about 10 miles outside Superior, for a surprise stop.
Mike Shepherd, the driver of the bus, advised the group not to drive a bus covered with Packers' logos in Duluth, Minn. Last night, he took the bus to get cleaned and gassed up, and got a few good-natured fist shakes from some residents, obviously Vikings fans.
9:22 p.m., May 1
The Tailgate Tour arrived back at the hotel after the successful first tailgate party.
More than 500 people descended upon Wessman Arena, with the event to support the Superior-Douglas County YMCA's Strong Kid's program.
The group signed autographs and took pictures for a short while then got a rousing welcome from the crowd when they headed to the stage.
Bob Harlan first addressed the crowd and thanked them for supporting the team through the years, especially since being so near to Vikings country. The players each took turns at the microphone, too, with some of their messages a little more direct to the Packers-Vikings rivalry, much to the crowd's delight.
Many of the fans pointed out because they live in a Vikings' TV market, they go the extra mile to support the team by listening on the radio and utilizing DirecTV's Sunday Ticket. Years ago, many fans would charter buses and make the 70-mile drive to Spooner so they could watch the games from the Eau Claire TV market.
Gary Duzell of Superior was especially excited to have his 11-month-old son, Joey, meet the Packers.
"I wanted to get him started young," Duzell said. "I make it down to training camp each summer and he'll get there, too, eventually, but to have the Packers here in Superior was a great opportunity. I was pleasantly surprised when I heard they were coming. It's awesome."
For Michael Kraft, executive director of the YMCA, the night was great for the YMCA and the area.
"Having the Packers up here has been absolutely wonderful," he said. "It's a great thing for the community. A lot of fans from here never make it to Lambeau Field, so this is the next best thing. We've got people here far away, even some folks from Minnesota."
Superior resident Lynne Gummon came to the party to get autographs for her son, John, a Marine serving his second deployment in Iraq.
"He saw about the party and said I had to come and get Nick Barnett's autograph. So I did," she said, proudly displaying the autographs. "His unit mates call him 'FAV-ray,' and he loves it. I'm a life-long fan, too, so this was a great time. This town is Packers, Packers, Packers!"
The tour members left the party impressed with the enthusiasm of the fans.
"We've got great fans up here," Harlan observed. "It's my first time in Superior, but I've heard from many of them over the years. They are supportive of the team, no doubt about that. This is great to have come and seen them in person."
5:01 p.m., May 1
The Tailgate Tour arrived at its first night's accommodations, the Barkers Island Inn, near the scenic shores of Lake Superior.
"That wind is a little chilly coming off the lake," observed Nick Barnett.
In reality, though, it was a very pleasant evening, about 55 degrees.
After a short stay to check in, the group headed to the first night's tailgate party.
2:40 p.m., May 1
The Tour stopped at the Norske Nook Restaurant and Bakery, a spot regionally famous for its homemade pies. The advance billing did not fail. More than 30 different pies choices were available.
"We just won six more 1st Place ribbons at the national pie championship a couple weeks ago," said a beaming Jane Ullrich when seating the group.
Aaron Rodgers spent a considerable amount of time explaining to everyone that if each person ordered four different types, with no repeats among the group, all flavors could then be sampled. Although the group admired his plan, they decided to stick with one piece each.
Mark Tauscher was pleased with his very berry selection.
"I'm not going to kid you, that's some good pie," he declared.
Bob Harlan, a big fan of the many ice cream stops on last year's tour, is considering making a change on this tour.
"If we can't find good ice cream, we'll go for pie," he decreed.
2:02 p.m., May 1.
The group enjoyed lunch at Dana's Bar and Grill in Chippewa Falls, Wis., and visited with many other customers, posing for a few pictures and signing a few autographs. The other patrons included a group of four Army recruiters from the area.
11:12 a.m., May 1.
The Tailgate Tour is on the road again after its first stop, a surprise visit to Hawthorn Hills Elementary School in Wausau, Wis.
Approximately 260 students, from kindergarten through fifth grade, were outside the school taking part in what they thought was a fire drill only to see the Tailgate Tour bus pull up in front of them.
"We had no idea," said Travis Knopf, a third-grade teacher at the school. "We went outside and were waiting for the bell to let us know to go back into school and then the bus rolls down the road."
After the initial surprise of the arrival, the tour members and the students filed into the school's gym for an impromptu assembly and heard from Harlan and the players.
After an introduction from Harlan, the players each delivered a message to the kids. Rodgers spoke of the importance of studying math and shared his experience of using math as a youth to follow football statistics. Barnett told the students how important it was to keep physical fitness a key part of their lives, and how it affected normal everyday things such as the body's ability to fight off sickness.
Tauscher spoke of the importance of reading and relayed his own early struggles with the subject. The eighth-year offensive tackle now uses his foundation, TRIFECTA (Tauscher's Reading Initiative For Every Child To Achieve), to benefit literacy and education in the state of Wisconsin.
"I think it's important to give kids that message all the time," said Tauscher. "Find a topic you enjoy and dive in. Read as much as you can."
The kids then had an opportunity to ask the players questions and get autographs.
"I got a thrill to see the looks on their faces when the bus pulled up," said Rodgers. "A couple times I got on a knee to be at their level. It was pretty special to connect with them in that setting."
The brief interruption of the kids' day was worth it.
"It's such a wonderful experience for the kids," said Bob Voelker, the school principal. "To have the Packers come and visit and give the students some inspirational messages is outstanding."
Third-grader Sammy Wanner was ecstatic with her autographs, and also shared the same enthusiasm with the players for studying.
"I like school," she confirmed. "Math is fun and so is gym. It was cool to see the players."
8:04 a.m., May 1.
The second 'Green Bay Packers Tailgate Tour' pulled out of Lambeau Field. Team Chairman Bob Harlan, players Nick Barnett, Aaron Rodgers and Mark Tauscher began the four-day, four city trip around the state of Wisconsin to say thanks to Packers fans for their ardent support over the years.
"I'm really looking forward to our second tour," said Harlan. "It was a great hit last year. We enjoyed seeing the fans and making the impromptu stops. I'm excited about heading up to Superior and the northwest part of the state and seeing our fans on the border with Minnesota."
The three players on the Tailgate Tour, each "rookies" to the caravan, expressed excitement in getting started and the opportunities ahead to connect with fans.
"I'm excited to meet fans across the state and getting to know them better, and having them get to know me a little better, too," said Rodgers. "I haven't been to Superior or Eau Claire, so it will be nice to see those parts of the state, too."