How many Green Bay Packers does it take to put a smile on a child's face? One. But the Packers took no chances and had six former players visit with young patients Tuesday at Marshfield Children's Hospital to maximize the smiles.
The team's annual Tailgate Tour made a stop at the children's hospital prior to a fundraiser that night to benefit Marshfield's PDC Orenda Center.
The children's hospital stop was a surprise visit for patients. And what a surprise it was when six, 6-foot tall former athletes wearing their former Packers jerseys came strolling down the hall. On the tour were Nick Barnett (linebacker, 2003-10 with the Packers), Earl Dotson (offensive tackle, 1993-02), Ryan Grant (running back, 2007-11), Bernardo Harris (linebacker, 1995-01), Aaron Kampman (defensive end, 2002-09) and Scott Wells (center, 2004-11).
"It fills my soul and my heart to be able to come to a place like this and make the kids or their parents' day for that little time," Dotson said. "We can learn from these kids. You know, they go through all this. IVs hooked up and they still can smile at you."
The players were barely inside Marshfield Medical Center (hospital) when Dotson already went off route to talk with a young girl standing near the entrance. Once at the Children's Hospital, players visited rooms armed with teddy bears, T-shirts and miniature footballs. The players spent as much time signing autographs, shaking hands and giving hugs as they did talking. In some cases, they put on hospital masks and gowns to give young patients a few minutes of attention.
Kampman was grinning ear-to-ear after a visiting with a 10-month-old girl and her mom.
"To see her smile and talk with her mom, that's neat stuff," he said.
Heidi Giese, Child Life and Expressive Therapies manager, who has coordinated Packers tour visits in past years, was surprised by the eagerness and gregarious nature of the players during the visit.
"We saw people who truly cared and wanted to be here for the patients," Giese said. "They were genuine and sincere and made sure that everyone – patients, parents and staff – had a good time."
The tour runs on a tight time schedule and when it was time to go, it took some corralling by Packers staff to get the players out of the patient rooms and back on the bus.
"We're blessed to come into this opportunity and be inspired, honestly," Barnett said. "You look at things a lot differently after visiting a place like this."