The ride of their lives

The traditional Lambeau-to-practice bike ride forms a bond between rookie tight end Joey Haynos and a 12-year-old boy from Green Bay

Joey Haynos never had this much access when he was a kid.

Growing up in Washington, D.C., an invisible barricade separated him from his Redskins idols, following typical PR protocol.  

Now an undrafted tight end on the Green Bay Packers, Haynos is the idol. And he's experiencing the closest player-fan connection in the NFL.

"I never got to experience anything like this," Haynos said. "I think this would have been very cool (when I was a kid)."

At the second day of training camp, a 12-year-old tugged at Haynos and asked if the 6-foot-8 rookie would be his "permanent rider." Every day since, Haynos has hitched a ride to practice on Holden Enke's bike from the Lambeau Field player entrance, across Oneida Street to Clarke Hinkle Field.

A short, but oh-so-sweet trip.

"It's a good interaction between the young fans and the players, and for the kids to get to know the players on a different level than just watching them," said Haynos, who is battling for a roster spot behind starter Donald Lee.

Dating to the Vince Lombardi era in the 1960s, the tradition is an everlasting jewel of the league's only community-owned franchise. While a handful of veterans ride a van to practice, many make the short trip across the street on the bicycle of a young Packers fan. For many pairings like Haynos and Holden, a friendship develops that reaches far beyond the usual outstretched hand over a fence clinging to a Sharpie and a ray of hope.

For players like Haynos — whose NFL futures hinge on day-to-day performances — such a bond helps keep the mood positive. The post-practice talk back to Lambeau has been a refreshing ice-cold glass of water for the tight end.

"Holden's a great kid. If I make the squad, I definitely want to stay in contact with him," Haynos said. "Usually on the way back, we'll talk about how practice went for me and he usually tells me I did pretty well, even if I didn't."

Holden reels off Haynos' statistics from the Packers' loss at San Francisco like it's his Social Security Number: "Two catches, 16 yards." He looks up to Haynos as "his" player. It's a sense of gracious ownership – a best friend in the NFL that no other fan has. That's pretty special.

"It's really nice to get to have a Packer player ride my bike," Holden said. "It's nice that someone cares enough to ride your bike every day to practice."

Such narrowed, rock-star attention from a youngster is something new to Haynos.

"I've never really had a fan that I've interacted with like that, so it's cool coming up here and seeing how into the Packers the community is. I've never experienced anything like this."

Last year, Holden's rider was Noah Herron, but the seventh-grader wanted to shake it up this year, opting for the tallest player on the team. Holden has created Haynos on his "Madden" video game and naturally inflated the rookie's ratings to 99s across the board.

Holden told Haynos about his pixel creation, and the tight end loved it.

"I told him I made him on ‘Madden' and he's like ‘Cool!' and I told him I made him one of the best players and he said, ‘Yeah. I know,'" Holden said with a laugh.

As for the unpixelated Haynos, those attribute numbers aren't quite so high, but they're growing to a point that could land him a real-life spot on "Madden" games soon. He had a big last week at practice, especially in red-zone drills. His size is an asset, as evidenced by him hauling in a touchdown pass over standout corner Charles Woodson. On Friday, he made the key block on Kregg Lumpkin's go-ahead touchdown run at Denver.

With the athletic Evan Moore recently being placed on injured reserve, Haynos' chances to make the roster improved, but he'll need to unseat Tory Humphrey if the Packers are to keep three tight ends. There's also a possibility the Packers put Haynos on their practice squad to hang onto that 6-foot-8 potential.

"I'm feeling pretty good. I realize it's almost out of my hands," Haynos said before Friday's game. "We have two more games and about a week left. I feel confident in what I've done. It's not my decision to make, so we'll wait and see.

"Since OTAs, I've picked up the offense real well. I feel pretty confident every time I go in there that I know my assignment. I don't have to think about my assignment and what I have to do, I can just play."

But outside of the stock up/stock down, walking-on-thin-ice stress of two-a-days is Holden, patiently waiting for the hulking Haynos to hop on his bike and share a short convo, in which each word is immortalized in the boy's mind. The two vow to stay in touch. Camp is closing at Clarke Hinkle, but Haynos plans on continuing to visit Champions Sports Bar & Grill, which is owned by Holden's parents.

In a short time, the duo has become close.

Every once in awhile, Holden asked Haynos to strap on his shoulder pads and helmet for the bike ride after practice. Sweat ‘n all.

"I think he gets a big kick out of it," Haynos said. "I definitely let him do it every time he asks."

On Wednesday, Holden realized something inside that helmet, too.

"You have a really big head!" he told Haynos. "It doesn't look like it (on the field) but you have a big head."

"Yeah, I do. I have a big ‘ol melon!" Haynos responded.

This big-brother bond won't die as long as Haynos is around. Friday night at Mile High went beyond football for one 12-year-old in Green Bay, and one friendship was fortified through a tradition unlike any other.

Tyler Dunne is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at tydunne07@yahoo.com.


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