Green Bay Packers' visit stokes football fever in Superior
Superior veterans, students rubbed elbows with NFL greats during a series of Tailgate Tour events.
SUPERIOR — Ryan Peterson was living the dream Thursday, April 13.
Wearing a Green Bay Packers jersey he stood up to ask the NFL players themselves — current running back Aaron Jones and guard Elgton Jenkins and former players Eddie Lacy, Evan Smith, Davon House and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix — questions. His first: What, beside the fans, friends and family, keep them going when they put it on the line every Sunday? His second was mainly for Jones and Jenkins.
“Can you guys please just give me that fifth Lombardi so I can have that in my life?” asked Peterson, who lives in Blueberry, 25 miles east of Superior.
“I need that Super bowl just as much as you do, man,” Jones replied.
Peterson also asked them to beat the Minnesota Vikings twice this coming season.
The question and answer session took place at the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center, the first Superior stop for the Packers Tailgate Tour, which also included Packers President and CEO Mark Murphy.
The annual tour is the team’s way to thank what Murphy called “the best fans in the league.” Their itinerary included stops at Superior high and middle schools, lunch at Gronk's, and a visit to New Perspectives Senior Living. The last time the Packers rolled into town was in 2007. In between towns, Jones said, they've taken up playing the card game Booray.
“We’re so appreciative of the support we get, and so we go out every year across the state and thank our fans,” Murphy said.
The team discussed their favorite pre-game foods, the difficulty fans have watching Packers games in Douglas County and quarterback Jordan Love.
"We drafted Jordan Love three years ago and have a lot of confidence in him," Murphy said. "We do think he's ready. It's been impressive to watch him."
At this point, he said, the team doesn't have another veteran quarterback on the roster.
"But I think there's a good possibility that we will sign one before the start of training camp," the president said.
Pops of Packers green jerseys were scattered throughout the crowd. Among the veterans invited to the event was Joseph Scaccia of Brule, who served with the U.S. Army from 1964 to 1972.
“The moment that he got that letter, he called up me. I said I don’t care what day it is, how far away it is, if I get to talk to some Packers players, I’ll bring you with,” Peterson said.
“They did a great job,” Scaccia said of the players.
For Dave Severin, who served in the United States Navy on the USS Constellation from 1971-1975, it was a chance to spend time with fellow Vietnam veterans as well as the Packers.
“I bleed green and gold,” Severin said.
Stan Miller of Superior, who served in the Army from 1983-1988, was wearing a number 10 jersey. He’s not a huge Packers fan, but his plus one, nephew Chris Dugger from Siren, is.
“This was amazing. I did not expect it to be so personal. They greeted you at the door. Aaron Jones signed my jersey. It was incredible. Incredible experience. And very, very cool they did this for veterans,” Dugger said.
“It’s so nice to do it, especially for the veterans, but then to come up to a small town. This is probably the biggest thing that we've ever really had up here,” said Rhawnie Britton, a veteran who served with the Superior-based 724th Engineer Battalion of the Army National Guard from 2000-2009.
She volunteered at the event with her sister, Kimber Johnson of Duluth.
“Packer fan and obviously my sister’s a huge Packer fan. We love our veterans, so we like to try to volunteer and support them as much as we can,” said Britton. “It’s nice to see everybody’s faces light up, too.”
“I’m worse than the kids,” said Superior High School teacher Lori Danz as she watched the Tailgate Tour bus pull up.
Wearing a Green Bay Packers headband, she helped greet the players as they arrived for a surprise visit at the school. The Wisconsin Teacher of the Year received a hug from Jenkins before the Packers walked in.
The assembled students let out a roar as the players entered the gymnasium. Their question-and-answer session started with a burst of enthusiasm. Senior Isaiah Essien dashed out of the stands clutching a football for the players to sign.
“How does it feel to be on the Green Bay Packers?” Essien asked.
“You know, the Packers is a prestigious team. For me, being on the team, it’s like an honor,” Jenkins said.
The students lined up to ask questions, such as what was the best game they ever had. Jones pinpointed a game against the Dallas Cowboys where he scored four touchdowns. For Smith, it was a game involving “13 pancakes.”
Jones led an impromptu version of “Happy Birthday” for teammate Romeo Doubs, who had initially been slated to be on the tour. Smith handed his hat to freshman Braelyn Whitford when she asked for it, and House led the students through a chant of “One Team, One Fight” after seeing it on banners in the gym.
“Love Spartan pride. Wherever you go around campus, you know, wear it with pride, show up to the game with pride … support your team,” House told the students.
When asked about perseverance, Smith said you have to have a plan.
“If you want to get to the end, you have to set the goal to get there, because you’re going to hit road bumps, and if you don’t have a clear view of what you want to do at the end, you’ll let those road bumps become the wall, and the wall becomes a mountain that you can’t get over,” Smith said.
When asked what inspired them, Jones said his father, who coached him when he was young, was a huge inspiration.
“But then I fell in love with the game, the relationships you make in the game. You get brothers for life out of it and then just competing at the highest level and proving that you’re the best, day in and day out,” Jones said.
He said one of the big reasons the Packers like to get out in the community and give back is because of what they’ve received.
“Because without you guys, we’re nothing. We need you guys to support, you guys get us going on game days,” Jones said.
He encouraged students to give back as well.
“You don’t necessarily have to make money or any of that to give back to your community. You can simply volunteer, go out there and give back,” Jones said.
Dream come true
As the Packers boarded the bus to travel to Superior Middle School for another surprise visit, Jones made one more dream come true. Sophomore Natalie Schultz interviewed the NFL running back for the school’s Spartan Spin webcast.
“Just wow, I just have no words, like, honestly I’ve been a huge football fan my whole life and I found out he’s a Cowboys fan. And I’m a huge Cowboys fan, too. So it was really exciting to interview him,” said Schultz, who wants to pursue a career in sports journalism, specifically in the NFL.
Schultz has been following Spartan teams and interviewing players. This was her first pro football interview, however.
“It’s been like a dream of mine. I’ve been saying since I was little, I want to interview NFL players. I want to go be on the field with them, and the fact that I got to do it today was really special,” Schultz said.
Knowing pro players get asked a lot of questions by journalists, the sophomore threw in some unusual ones, such as his favorite song to get hyped up for the game.
“And then I asked him if he thought the Dez Bryant catch was a catch, which is a whole thing where the Cowboys could have went to the NFC Championship, but the Packers did instead. And he’s a huge Cowboys fan. So he was like, ‘At the time I thought it was a catch but now I definitely don’t because I play for the Packers,’” Schultz said.
The sophomore said she has worked hard to get to this point. If you put your heart to anything, Schultz said, you can do it, and if you love something, stick with it. Talking to Jones made her love sportscasting even more.
The interview was especially meaningful because one of the other big football fans in her life, her grandfather, died recently.
“I’m just hoping he’s watching from up there and just proud of me for what I’ve done. Because before he passed away, which was two weeks ago, he watched all my interviews for the Spartan Spin webcast and was like, ‘You’re gonna go somewhere. I’m really proud of you.’ So I’m sure he’s looking down, and he’s pretty proud of me right now,” Schultz said.
This story originally contained incorrect information about the jersey a fan was wearing to the event, and their relation to a veteran. It was updated at 8:35 a.m. April 24 with the proper information. It was originally posted on April 14 at 2:18 p.m. The Superior Telegram regrets the error.