For the first time, members of the 1996 Packers team that won Super Bowl XXXI will get together for a reunion party, celebrating with each other and Green Bay fans at Great Lakes Dragaway on Sept. 2.
The championship team reunion will take place during the Time Machine Nationals, an annual Labor Day Weekend event at Great Lakes Dragaway for more than 20 years. The former players scheduled to appear are safety LeRoy Butler, defensive tackles Gilbert Brown and Santana Dotson, linebacker George Koonce, center Frank Winters and kicker Chris Jackie. The players will be available from 2 to 7 p.m. on Saturday for pictures and autographs, and there will also be merchandise for sale, as well.
According to Roy Henning, the owner of Mofoco Enterprises and director of marketing and promotions for Great Lakes Dragaway, the idea for the reunion party came from Butler, a friend of Henning’s who pitched him on utilizing the race track’s expansiveness and its already-popular weekend for the event.
Butler said he and other players had been trying to plan a reunion for two decades – Green Bay beat New England, 35-21, on Jan. 26, 1997 – and Packers fans have been approaching him for years wondering when the Super Bowl squad will get back together. This weekend’s party will be the first of multiple such events throughout Wisconsin this year.
"I’m so excited," Butler said on Wednesday. "We chose Great Lakes Dragaway because of the fan base there – Roy has a huge audience – and the kids love it. We love that atmosphere, there’s lots of space inside and outside and it’s just a great place to do it."
Butler said Great Lakes Dragaway "has been fantastic to us in the past," particularly in regard to the retired player’s anti-bullying efforts around the state, and he indicated there will be advocacy and contribution opportunities for fans at the event.
While it took some time and effort to get the reunion party idea off the ground – choosing a venue and date, advertising and finding sponsors, accommodating travel – both Henning and Butler believe the weekend will be a big success.
"It’s going to be a lot of fun," Henning said. "There’s never been an occasion that so many of these guys have all been in the same place at the same time. It’ll be a really rare appearance."
Said Butler, "I’ve kept in touch with most of these guys that are coming, but I don’t see them often enough. We always need to get together more. It’s going to be great; meet some kids, hang out and have fun."
Henning said he fondly recalls watching that Super Bowl – "one of the greatest games ever" – at a house party at UW-Eau Claire, and he especially enjoyed the displeasure of local Minnesota Vikings fans.
While Henning loves football, Butler doesn’t share a mutual interest in auto racing. Henning remembers the first time Butler came to Great Lakes Dragaway, Butler stood with him at the starting line and, when the cars zoomed by, it "scared the crap out of him."
Though he loves being around the track, Butler doesn’t dispute the story. He said Brown – who owns maybe as many as 20 cars – and Dotson might race on Saturday and would "take care of that speed stuff." As for Butler, "I’m the guy going slow in the left lane with my blinker on," he said laughing. "I’m too scared to race."
The annual Time Machine Nationals is, as Henning described it, a "crowd-pleasing, visually stimulating" end-of-summer "big blowout show" with different types of cars and fun, family-friendly activities. With jet cars, nitro cars, funny cars, door slammers, dragsters and motorcycles, the event features something for all auto-racing enthusiasts. Held over Labor Day Weekend, attendance is usually between 3,000 and 6,000 people, with food vendors, free parking, free pit passes and more. Children under 9 are free and kids between the ages of 10 and 15 are half price. Discounted tickets are available at greatlakesdragaway.com.
According to Butler, 10 to 20 percent of the profits from the players’ autograph, photo and merchandise sales will be donated to Hurricane Harvey relief. He also plans to personally pay for five local school visits around the Great Lakes Dragaway area, in order to send more of Saturday’s proceeds to the relief efforts.
Born in Milwaukee but a product of Shorewood High School (go ‘Hounds!) and Northwestern University (go ‘Cats!), Jimmy never knew the schoolboy bliss of cheering for a winning football, basketball or baseball team. So he ditched being a fan in order to cover sports professionally - occasionally objectively, always passionately. He's lived in Chicago, New York and Dallas, but now resides again in his beloved Brew City and is an ardent attacker of the notorious Milwaukee Inferiority Complex.
After interning at print publications like Birds and Blooms (official motto: "America's #1 backyard birding and gardening magazine!"), Sports Illustrated (unofficial motto: "Subscribe and save up to 90% off the cover price!") and The Dallas Morning News (a newspaper!), Jimmy worked for web outlets like CBSSports.com, where he was a Packers beat reporter, and FOX Sports Wisconsin, where he managed digital content. He's a proponent and frequent user of em dashes, parenthetical asides, descriptive appositives and, really, anything that makes his sentences longer and more needlessly complex.
Jimmy appreciates references to late '90s Brewers and Bucks players and is the curator of the unofficial John Jaha Hall of Fame. He also enjoys running, biking and soccer, but isn't too annoying about them. He writes about sports - both mainstream and unconventional - and non-sports, including history, music, food, art and even golf (just kidding!), and welcomes reader suggestions for off-the-beaten-path story ideas.