The Packers closed their sixth-annual Tailgate Tour at Green Bay's East High School Saturday evening, marking the first time the team held an event during the week-long caravan around the region in the club's hometown. Over 650 fans packed the school's gymnasium, and the finale benefited Green Bay Public Schools.
As with the previous stops, current players Desmond Bishop, Matt Flynn and Josh Sitton, along with a contingent of former standouts including Gilbert Brown, Antonio Freeman and Dorsey Levens, took questions from the crowd before tossing out t-shirts, balls and caps and signing autographs. All-time greats Forrest Gregg and Jim Taylor also signed for the fans. President/CEO Mark Murphy served as the moderator and also answered questions.
"The interaction with the fans has been special," Murphy said after the forum. "We've made other stops, to schools unannounced, and those have been great. You see how much our guys care, and you see the looks on the kids' faces and how special it is to them. It's also been good over the week to be able to spend some time with the players in a different setting. This has been a great trip."
The star of the question-and-answer period was Gilbert Brown, the former run-stuffing defensive tackle who was famous for his "Gravedigger" celebration. Though throughout the trip Brown has not been coaxed into bringing back the shoveling one last time – it retired with him in 2003 – he provided the most memorable answers to the questions from the fans.
Gilbert's proclamation that "real men should not wear purple" while referring to Vikings' fans got the biggest ovation. He drew cheers again after saying he was a "Reggie White groupie" during his playing days, and Brown also ambled into the crowd to hug a toddler.
During the session, Levens took a question from a fan on the 29-yard TD reception in the 1996 NFC Championship, a play he said Coach Mike Holmgren had drilled in practice for 10 weeks before debuting. But in a conversation later, Levens said the stop at Aspirus Hospital in Wausau, Wis., is what he will remember most from the "Tour."
"We went to the cancer ward, and during these visits to the hospitals all of us got emotional," Levens said. "There was a woman there that was on 'miracle watch,' and I think it's easy enough to figure out what that means, and when we walked in, her sister started crying. You don't always realize how important the Packers are to this area, and how important a trip like this can be and visits like that are."
When reflecting on the five-day bus trip, the players all mentioned the rollicking visit to the Superior Dome at Northern Michigan University, where approximately 4,000 people showed up. Fans at each stop wanted to see the team's four Super Bowl trophies, which came along for the ride and were available to take photos with.
"We don't get the opportunity to get around the state and see the passion," Sitton said. "We got to meet a lot of people, see new areas and in some places it was pretty crazy. It was pretty cool."
For Bishop, it was also a chance to soak in the tradition of the Packers by being around previous Super Bowl-winning players from the Packers, a fraternity he has now joined.
"I could feel that tradition on the bus," he said. "I'm elated to now be put in a category with guys like Dorsey Levens and Jim Taylor."