BY JON YOUNG
For The Daily News
ESCANABA - The ground might still be white, but the U.P. Fairgrounds were a sea of Green and Gold as Packers fans packed the Ruth Butler Building for the Green Bay Packers Tailgate Tour on Tuesday.
Jon Young/Daily Press Photos
Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee and former Green Bay Packers receiver James Lofton greets fans at the Green Bay Packers Tailgate Tour at the U.P. State Fairgrounds in Escanaba on Tuesday.
Former Packers quarterback Lynn Dickey greets fans.
Nearly 1,000 fans filled the fairgrounds in an effort to raise money for Lakestate Industries, which helps residents with disabilities find employment. Lakestate director Cheryl Ohman said the program's wood-shop is in need of repair and the nearly $40,000 raised on Tuesday will help fund those costs.
"All of this money is going to go right back into the program to help the people get jobs either at Lakestate or out in the community," she said.
The Packers bus rolled into the Ruth Butler Building shortly after 6 p.m. much to the delight of the Packer faithful. Current players Jarrett Bush, Mason Crosby and Brad Jones greeted fans along with Packer greats Paul Coffman, Lynn Dickey, James Lofton and CEO Mark Murphy.
The crew took the stage as Murphy introduced the players and gave a background of Green Bay's history in the U.P., which included games in Ishpeming and Stambaugh.
"I really feel like we are the state's team or the region's team," Murphy said. "We've got roots going back. We have fans from all around the area. I know the U.P. is an area where we have great, great support, so having a chance to come up here and thank our fans is important to us."
After introductions, the players began fielding questions from fans on topics ranging from favorite playoff memories to retiring Brett Favre's number.
"We will retire his number," Murphy stated to the cheering crowd. "He's going to be a first ballot hall of famer. He'll be going in to the hall of fame in 2016, so we hope to retire his number prior to that."
After the question and answer session the tailgate members lined up to sign autographs for nearly two hours.
Packers' special team standout Jarrett Bush said the support the Michigan crowd showed was overwhelming.
"It's huge, the support we have," Bush noted. "Being in Michigan, they say it's 70/30 up here and usually in Michigan they're Lions fans so that was pretty cool to come here."
Following their stop in Escanaba, the Packers will go to Ironwood, Superior, Rice Lake and Merrill. They often make surprise visits at elementary schools along the way.
"That's probably one of the best moments for me, being able to see kids light up and be ecstatic," Bush said. "Some of them come up and hug you right away, some of them are kind of scared and timid. It's awesome to be able to come and share your stories, share your upbringing with them and try to help them with any problems they're going through or they might go through."
Along with the autograph session there was also an auction featuring signed Green Bay apparel. A ball-drop contest took place towards the end of the evening. Cindy Bintra took home the prize in that event as her ball landed closest to the marked spot in the middle of the field.
The tour will also make stops in Ironwood (April 16), Superior, Wis. (April 17), Rice Lake, Wis. (April 18) and Merrill, Wis. (April 19).