The Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers finally got back together on the field Sunday – to play a little softball.
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More than two dozen Packers gathered for wide receiver Donald Driver’s annual charity softball game at Fox Cities Stadium, about 30 minutes from Lambeau Field. It was the team’s first gathering since the ”Return to Titletown” welcome home event following their 31-25 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Feb. 6.
”You can tell how much we miss each other,” Driver said. ”We’re throwing the ball around out there like it’s a football. If I had a crystal ball, I could tell you what’s going to happen (with the lockout). No one knows. But we will play football. I know that.”
With the NFL lockout in its third month and wiping out teams’ offseason programs, organized team activities and minicamp, the Packers are among the teams whose players have not gotten together for player-organized workouts during the lockout.
”It was great seeing all the guys again. It’s been a weird offseason, not being around everybody, so it was good getting back out here and just having fun with guys on the team,” said kicker Mason Crosby, one of the Packers’ free agents stuck in limbo during the lockout.
”Seeing everyone out here, it felt like the chemistry is still there,” Crosby said. ”We’re still riding off of (last) season. It felt good to get around the guys.”
The event, which former Packers quarterback Brett Favre started before Driver took over as host, benefits the Donald Driver Foundation, Special Olympics, Goodwill, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin and other local charities.
Since Driver took over, the event has raised more than $450,000, and organizers were hoping to raise $200,000 Sunday, when the event’s first sellout crowd of 8,349 attended.
The Driver-led offense lost to the defense, 18-16, in the seven-inning game despite a pair of home runs by Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers.
”Guys are getting antsy, but I think they understand that we don’t have control over it,” running back Ryan Grant said of the lockout. ”What we do have control over is making sure we’re ready to go and working out so that whenever it does get settled, we’ll take care of our business. I know guys are doing their part.
”It’s a little different for us because nobody really lives around here and we’re all spread out,” Grant said. ”The guys that I’ve spoken to, I know they’re working.”
While a number of teams have gotten together for workouts, the Packers are not among them.
A group of offensive linemen, led by veteran center Scott Wells and left tackle Chad Clifton, got together in Nashville last week, and Crosby and punter Tim Masthay have been working out together at the Green Bay YMCA and a local Gold’s Gym while kicking at St. Norbert College, an NCAA Division III school in the Green Bay suburb of De Pere.
Masthay said that while having no OTAs or minicamp has not been ideal, the team should have enough time to prepare for the season as long as training camp opens July 30, as scheduled.
”If you lost part of training camp, you’d really start feeling like the preparation is less than what you need,” Masthay said. ”But at the same time, everyone would be in the same boat, so it’d be a level playing field in that regard.
”That’s what I think is the most difficult thing about it – getting prepared and feeling prepared. That’s why we’ve been working together. That’s why we’ve been trying to keep things fairly similar to what a normal offseason would be like.”
Rodgers said in a recent radio interview that the players might need to get together if the lockout isn’t resolved soon, and Grant and safety Nick Collins said it will be Rodgers’ call.
”I know a lot of guys are getting antsy, but we’re professionals. We know what we need to do to stay in shape,” Collins said. ”Once we get that call (we’ll) be ready for training camp.”