"I stepped up in the bus and it's a little more luxurious than a high school bus," said kicker Mason Crosby, who was joined by receiver Jordy Nelson, safety Charlie Peprah, team President/CEO Mark Murphy and alumni William Henderson, Larry McCarren and Marco Rivera for the five-day circuit around Wisconsin.
For last year's tour, the Packers were reigning Super Bowl champions but the league was in the midst of a heated lockout with the players union. This year, the labor strife is a distant memory but the Packers suffered a disappointing end to a sensational season by losing at home to the Giants in the divisional playoffs.
From left: William Henderson, Charlie Peprah, Jordy Nelson, Mason Crosby, Marco Rivera, Larry McCarren and Mark Murphy. Bill Huber/Packer Report
The ending to the season isn't something that filled Nelson's thoughts over the last four months.
"When the season is over, I go back home and don't think about football for a while," he said. "As much as people talk about refreshing the body, I think you have to refresh the mind, as well. We do a lot of thinking, a lot of stress on the mind, so I kind of relax. But it was a fun year. We had obviously had a great year on the offensive side. We put up points and yards and everything. It's just amazing how quick it can end. You have to play your best ball at the right time and we played one of our worst games at the wrong time. That's just how the game it is."
While the offense was brilliant for most of the season, the defense struggled from the onset and never could get things turned around.
"I don't think we paid attention to the details like we did the year before," Peprah said. "Just got to stop giving up the big plays is really what it comes down to. Just playing our technique — really, our technique was sloppy last year. We've got to make the plays that we made the year before, that's all it comes down to."
Murphy, who is taking part in his fifth Tailgate Tour, called the road trip "the highlight" of his year.
"It shows the uniqueness of the Packers going across the state and thanking our fans," he said. "Other teams have tours but they're selling something. They're trying to sell season tickets or additional seats. For us, it's really just a chance to thank our fans and to give back. Kind of a side benefit for me, I'm kind of like the principal. I only talk to our players when there's a problem. To be able to spend time with the players and interact with them on a daily basis is great. For a couple years now, we've had alumni along, as well, and that's really a nice addition. What's really fun to see is as the week goes along how the current players and the alumni really build a strong bond."
Tailgate parties are scheduled each evening of the five-day tour — La Crosse tonight, Madison on Wednesday, Kenosha on Thursday, Cedarburg/Grafton on Friday and Sturgeon Bay on Saturday, with proceeds benefitting a charity in each of those cities. In between, the bus makes several stops per day, mostly at schools but with some surprise visits on the docket, as well.
"It's wonderful for me to hear the stories of how Packer experiences and being a part of the Packer Nation has changed their lives, shaped their lives, has impacted their kids, their kids' kids, the rivalries at home," Henderson said, thinking ahead to tonight's stop in the Wisconsin-Minnesota border city of La Crosse.
"Being on the western side of the state, the Minnesota vs. Green Bay rivalry (where) the wife's a Packer fan, because she's the smart one, and the husband's just a knucklehead and he wants to like that other team. We get great opportunities to hear those stories, to have their experiences and let us know how wonderful of an opportunity we had to be football players — not just football players but we got a chance to be Green Bay Packer football players."
For more on the Tailgate Tour and ticket information CLICK HERE.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.