Milwaukee Bucks rookie John Henson's Lambeau leap
GREEN BAY – As his car pulled through Green Bay and turned off Lombardi Avenue into the parking lot at Lambeau Field, John Henson couldn't contain his surprise.
Nearly 3,000 people filled the parking lots just outside Lambeau to watch the Packers leave for practice, lined Packer Drive to take photos as they rode children's bicycles down the road, and ringed the fences and filled the seats at Ray Nitschke Field for an open practice.
Henson, the Milwaukee Bucks' first round draft pick out of the University of North Carolina this past June, has seen his fair share of devoted fan bases, from those in Chapel Hill, N.C., to Cameron Indoor Stadium at Duke University to the Carrier Dome at Syracuse University.
This was something different, though.
"When you think about practice in general you don't think about people out here in the sun for hours just watching, cheering – it's a sight to see," he said from the Packers sidelines during the Milwaukee Bucks Lambeau Experience on Aug. 27. "I didn't know it was like this."
Henson made his maiden voyage to Green Bay and brought along contest winner Cassidy McGowan and his wife Jamie and their 16-month-old son Jamie for the practice and a tour of the historic stadium.
"If there is one place you want to go to, to tour a facility and be there for the first time, I think this is the place to be," Henson said. "From walking through the tunnel and the concrete that was placed there way back when to seeing the old players, seeing new players – it's an experience I'll never forget."
McGowan, a Milwaukee native and lifelong Bucks fan, is now a Green Bay school teacher. He and his wife, a Green Bay native, met at Marquette University.
"This experience has been awesome," he said, wearing a Bucks hat and T-shirt while lounging with Henson under a tent. "A Bucks fan for sure – from the time I was old enough to realize the Bucks existed."
Henson hasn't been part of the Milwaukee sports scene long, but long enough to be recognized by Packers defensive lineman B.J. Raji as he watched drills, and long enough to know he had to get to Green Bay before his season started in the fall.
"It's funny because if you play a sport, you're a bigger fan of other sports," Henson said. "I watch a lot of football and I know all the guys and I'm sure they do the same. They play football and watch film every day so I'm sure they watch basketball for a little change up. It's kind of cool to see guys who know you because, of course, you know them."
Such recognition was a bonus for a football fan. Doing something with the Packers and visiting Lambeau Field was a "must do" for the rookie.
"At (North Carolina), every home game we were there," Henson said. "Even in high school I went to every game. I'm a football fan. I know a few of the guys on every team in the NFL and I watch a little bit. It's kind of fun seeing someone as a professional in another sport and how they do things."
McGowan felt the same way when he decided to visit the Bucks web site on a whim. At first he laughed when he saw the image of Henson in a cheesehead, but once he realized what it was he signed up.
"I was like 'I gotta go for this,'" McGowan said. "At first I didn't believe it. I didn't pick up the phone the first time they called because I didn't know the number."
Living in Green Bay, McGowan has been to Packers practice several times – but he was always fighting for space with the fans on the bleacher side of the field. This time, he walked and talked with Henson on the side reserved for media, VIPs and members of the Packers staff and front office.
"I've never been this close to the players," he said. "A guy down there in a suit and he had a Super Bowl ring and he just handed it to John and let him see it. It's pretty cool."
Throughout the tour and the practice, Henson and McGowan walked and talked, the sideline to get a view of the different team drills.
"The overall experience has been an A-plus. It's priceless," McGowan said. "I'll remember it forever. If somebody asks me when I'm 70, 80, 90 years old 'The summer after you turned 30 what did you do?' and I'll say I spent the day with John Henson at a Packers practice at Lambeau. It's a privilege to be here. I really appreciate it. John's been extremely humble the entire time. We're talking like we've known each other for a quite a few years and this is the first time I've met him. It's unfortunate that this area doesn't have more Bucks fans, but maybe I can talk a few more people into it and drum up some interest and sell out the Resch Center for their preseason game (on Oct. 26)."
McGowan looked out to the field as Packers ran some offense versus defense plays.
"It's been a great experience," he said "Awesome."
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