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By CHRIS HAVEL
President Mark Murphy, players from current, former teams come together
As the five-day bus trip was coming to a close the players – current and former – teased each other about everything from having sore elbows from signing autographs to hilariously mispronouncing Wisconsin cities along the way.
Voices were hoarse and eyes were a bit blurry but none of the Packers’ 2016 Tailgate Tour entourage was complaining.
“Oh, man, it’s a lot of fun,” said LeRoy Butler, one of three players from Green Bay’s Super Bowl XXXI team to make the trek. “It’s a great chance to spend time with some of the current players, but it’s also a lot of fun catching up with the fans.”
Butler, an All-Pro safety, was joined by receiver Robert Brooks and defensive end Sean Jones as representatives of the1996 team. Jones said he appreciated the opportunity to get to know Jayrone Elliott, Sam Barrington and Jared Abbrederis. In particular, Jones took note of Elliott’s interest in picking his brain.
“(Elliott) sat down by me and took the time to ask some really good questions,” Jones said. “Football questions … questions about pass-rush techniques … all kinds of things.”
Elliott’s respect for Jones’ knowledge was one thing. His desire to ask really good questions and demonstrate a genuine thirst for great information was quite another.
“He was really into it,” Jones said. “I always admired his game, but it’s a little different when you get to know players on a personal level. I’ll be watching him a lot closer this year.”
This was Packers president/CEO Mark Murphy’s ninth tour.
In the early years, the Packers would have an emcee to host the event at the various stops. Over time, Murphy gradually became the tour’s “unofficial” spokesperson and as such its emcee.
It’s especially fun to see Murphy interact with the players. He has no qualms about praising or teasing them, depending on what the situation calls for. Clearly, he is certain to get a reaction from the players and fans.
The Packers fans gathered at the Crawford Center in Shawano last Tuesday erupted when the contingent rolled in. They were especially raucous when Abbrederis – who starred at Wisconsin and is a Wautoma native – was introduced.
The fans surely were into it. One lady purchased a “Lambeau Leap” t-shirt online especially for the event. She wanted Butler – who received the lateral from Reggie White and raced into Packers folklore – to sign it.
“I told him, ‘I got this t-shirt just for you to sign,’ ” she said. “He was so sweet and I got a great hug, too.”
Elliott was enjoying the drip even before his beloved Cleveland Cavaliers eliminated the Golden State Warriors in Game 7 to capture the NBA Finals.
“They’ve been my favorite team for a long, long time,” Elliott said. “I was a fan even before LeBron (James) came to town.”
Elliott acknowledged seeing the Cavs win a title just makes him that much more anxious for the Packers’ season to kick off.
“It’s what we’re all working for,” he said.
Murphy said it was a pleasure to help raise money for worthy charities throughout the state. If he didn’t enjoy it, he wouldn’t be making his ninth straight tour. He had to laugh when he it was suggested that he’s by far the most-liked president in the state in this election year.
“It’s funny you should say that,” Murphy said. “It’s happened several times when parents introduce me to their younger children they’ll say, ‘This is the president.’ And they look at me all wide-eyed as if to say, “You’re not President Obama.”
“We’ve had a few good laughs over that.”
Along with engaging with the fans, Murphy said it is fun for him to see the players mingle with each other.
Murphy said it always strikes him how the retired players and current players will begin the tour on opposite ends of the bus. By the time the tour is concluded they are all one team.
“The interaction they have with each other is special,” he said. “It crosses eras and all of that but they’re all Green Bay Packers.”
Just ask Sean Jones.
Chris Havel is a national best-selling author and his latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio (www.thefan1075.com).
Havel also hosts Event USA’s MVP Parties the evening before home games. Also check out our new Podcast: Between the Lines for more Packers insights. New episodes every Wednesday.