Around Town: Packers greats surprise veterans, leap into their hearts

June 19, 2016

Alan Lundberg has been at Madison’s Veterans Hospital for 50 days recovering from a liver transplant and cancer of the mouth.

But he sported an enormous smile Sunday after a surprise hospital visit from some of the best-known Green Bay Packers players, past and present.

“It made all 50 days worth it,” said Lundberg, a Vietnam War veteran from Nekoosa in central Wisconsin. “What can I say? This is such a thrill.”

Lundberg’s wife, Peggy, said she didn’t know if her husband would be able to speak post-surgery, but was glad he was able to use his voice to greet current players Jared Abbrederis, Sam Barrington and Jayrone Elliott.

Former players LeRoy Butler, Robert Brooks and Sean Jones also made the rounds with Packers president Mark Murphy as part of the 11th annual Packers Tailgate Tour. After visiting with patients at their bedsides, the players held a meet-and-greet with veterans in a common area.

The tour raises money for local nonprofits such as the YMCA and Boys & Girls Club. This year’s bus tour began Friday with stops in Green Bay, De Pere, Oshkosh, Berlin and Ripon. Saturday’s schedule included a visit to the Fireside Theatre in Fort Atkinson, where the players surprised theater guests.

Butler said the group crashed a wedding reception outside Fort Atkinson Saturday night, thrilling the bride and groom, with photos going viral on social media.

“It proved the Green Bay Packers brand is as strong as ever,” Butler said.

The Packers’ Twitter feed has a photo of the surprised-looking bride with the message, “Thanks for letting us crash your wedding, Rachel & Andrew! Congrats!”

Sunday in the room of Wally Dugan, 85, of Madison, Butler, a former safety, explained that while he invented the Lambeau Leap, Brooks -- a fellow Hall of Famer -- was the one who “made it famous.” The leap is done by Packer players, who often make a celebratory jump into the stands after scoring a touchdown.

Butler then told Dugan’s family that Jones has the distinction of being the “best-looking Packer of all time.”

After Madison, the group traveled to Dodgeville, where they held a benefit for the Iowa County Humane Society. Other stops are planned for Monday and Tuesday, many of them surprise visits.

The tours speak to the culture of the Packers organization, said Muphy, the team’s president. “We’re community owned, so giving back to the community is a very top priority for us.”

In the past 11 years, Packers Tailgate Tours, which include fundraising events along the way, have raised about $2 million, Murphy said.

The tours are an opportunity for the players to thank fans, he said. Murphy and the players presented veterans with commemorative coins, which pay tribute to the five active-duty service branches.

They signed autographs, took photos, thanked the men for their service, and wished them a happy Father’s Day, often without knowing whether they had children or not.

Abbrederis, 25, a former UW Badgers wide receiver, has a 16-month-old daughter back in De Pere, who he wasn’t going to see until Wednesday.

“It’s important to be out in the community. We have plenty of time to enjoy each other,” he said.

Soldiers who fought in Vietnam didn’t receive a warm welcome when they returned from the war, Abbrederis pointed out. “So it’s important that they know how much we appreciate them,” he said.