The day the fans made
“Are you okay?” The voice came from the passenger’s seat as we drove east on Highway 54. Hands on the wheel, I nodded and quietly replied, “Yeah, just processing it all…”
It was May 2012 and my mom and I were on our way home from Lambeau Field, where I had just presented Aaron Rodgers, quarterback of the Green Bay Packers, a state resolution declaring Dec. 12, 2012, “Aaron Rodgers Day” in the state of Wisconsin. It was something I started on my own but truly ended up being, “The Day The Fans Made.” After the whirlwind of that day and the last few months, a bit of reflection was needed.
It all started simply enough. It was Nov. 11, 2011, or 11/11/11. All across Facebook there was much silliness about the date. Many people of a certain age (mine) had proclaimed it Nigel Tufnel Day. Tufnel, a character from the movie “Spinal Tap,” claimed he had a superior amplifier because it “goes to 11,” which is louder than 10 and therefore, better.
Friends and I began joking that obviously 12 was a superior number since it belonged to Rodgers, and we should make 12/12/12 “Aaron Rodgers Day.” So for the heck of it, I started a Facebook page – called Let’s Make 12/12/12 “Aaron Rodgers Day.” I invited a few friends and expected to have some fun with them talking about Rodgers and the Packers, the greatness of 12s, and Discount Double Checks. For a couple of weeks, that’s all it was.
Then on Dec. 2, I received a phone call from a journalist who had heard about the page. We chatted briefly, he ran a story, and suddenly the page took on a life of its own. There were more calls, more questions, a frenzy of excitement over this new place for Packers fans. A few days later, Rodgers himself learned about the page during his weekly interview with Wayne Larrivee. The little joke was turning into something big, and I needed to decide what to do with it. Sure, it was an entertaining hobby, but as it began to demand more of my time and energy, I decided to use the opportunity to make a difference.
Since I do social media management for a living, I had no doubt I could run the Facebook page. And after some research and soul-searching, I decided to use the page for two things: first, I would maintain a different kind of sports fan page – one which would be wholly positive, supportive, and enjoyable. There would be no bashing, no ranting, and no trash talking about any team, player, coach or fan. I hold the page to this high standard to this day.
Second, after doing several fundraisers locally, I felt drawn to expand the lightheartedness of 12/12/12 into support for a worthy cause. I decided we would use the page to spread awareness for the MACC Fund, hopefully raising some money for them too. The MACC Fund – Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer, Inc., – is an organization Rodgers works closely with, which was why I first decided to check them out. After speaking with them and learning more about their work supporting research for the effective treatment and cure of childhood cancer and blood disorders, I knew it was a perfect fit. I set up the fundraising page and began devoting at least two hours a day to 12/12/12 and our cause.
Through the rest of the Packers’ season, we shared lots of stories and photos. Our community of fans kept growing. I expected an offseason lull, but on Feb. 21, 2012, my phone started ringing again. The Wisconsin State Assembly had unanimously passed a resolution to call Dec. 12, 2012, “Aaron Rodgers Day.” They sent the resolution on to the State Senate, where it also passed unanimously.
The question posed to me was, “How did you make this happen?” My response: “I have no idea.” I was completely dumbfounded by the turn of events. But, I was able to get word out that our page had been around for awhile and that it was a fan movement more than an idea created by lawmakers. Still, I was in the dark as to how it had happened until I received an email in early March. It read, in part:
Representative Bies was the author behind the 12-12-12 Resolution that recently passed both houses of the legislature. We are currently in the process of working with the Packers’ organization to set up a presentation of the resolution to Aaron Rodgers and, as the originator of the idea, we would like to invite Jennifer Brilowski to the event. Please let us know if you’re interested.”
Umm … Yeah, I was interested. Shocked, but interested. Over the next couple of months, I stayed in touch with the office, solidified plans, and soon a date was set for the presentation: May 9.
As things came together, I was thrilled to learn that it would take place at Lambeau Field – not in Madison as I assumed. A week before the presentation, I was asked to call Representative Bies’ office, thinking it was simply a formal invitation, or to cover last minute details. Instead, I was invited to actually read the resolution, then present it to Rodgers. That was one of the first moments when everything felt real – like my hard work had paid off. Also, I just really like to talk, so the invitation was a nice treat for me.
On the day of the presentation, my mom and I drove over to Lambeau Field. It’s a drive I always enjoy, but this Wisconsin day seemed especially lovely. I was excited, not nervous – I’m comfortable with public speaking, and this was my thing. This hobby was paying off in an unexpected and rewarding way.
We arrived at Lambeau a bit early. Once we figured out where to go – “Really? We go in through the loading dock? Okay…” – we milled about in the Atrium before it was time to head back for the presentation.
We were guided to the media room. It was mostly empty at the time. For my mom and me, simply being allowed in there was a highlight of the day. After introducing myself to some of the lawmakers in attendance, I approached the podium to preview the resolution I’d be reading. It was long, with a lot of “whereases” and other official-sounding words.
As I stood there, the full weight of what I’d done finally sank in: in a small way, I was now a part of Green Bay Packers history. I was standing in the very same spot so many coaches and players had stood. I could literally feel the energy of them around me. This is where postgame interviews happen. If I’d left at that moment, it would’ve been enough.
Gradually, the room filled up with lawmakers, reporters, and a few guests. Then the room started buzzing. Announcements were made and people were seated. I joined the lawmakers as we waited for Rodgers. When he entered, everyone greeted him with a handshake, but I was treated to a hug – I guess he was happy to meet me, too. More than about any other aspect of our meeting, people have asked how he smelled. So in case you’re wondering: yes, Rodgers smelled quite nice, and I thanked him for it.
After a brief introduction and statement by Rep. Bies, I approached the podium and read the resolution. All things considered, I did pretty well. There were a lot of impressive stats and numbers to recite, but I managed to have fun and joke around a little bit, because even if this was an official law-type thing, it was still mine; therefore, it had to be fun. As I reached the section about the MACC Fund I choked up a little. Along with the desire to start a Packers fan page, MACC is why I continued to work on this project.
Then I reached the end:
“Resolved by the assembly, the senate concurring, that in appreciation of Aaron Rodgers’ athletic accomplishments and humanitarian activities, the Wisconsin legislature hereby commends Aaron Rodgers on his accomplishments and declares that December 12, 2012, is proclaimed “Aaron Rodgers Day” in Wisconsin….”
I barely made it through that part. It was real. I presented Aaron with his plaque, and then as a wonderful surprise, I was given my own copy to bring home as well.
Afterwards came a whirlwind of photos and questions. Then, a few short minutes later, it was over. My mom and I headed to Curly’s Pub for lunch before our trip home. As we dined, photos from the presentation were already online, and I even did a phone interview from our table.
A funny thing happened when I glanced out the window overlooking the parking lot: I saw Rodgers walking to his truck. Despite how calm I had felt during the presentation, I fumbled for my camera to try to get pictures of him before he got in. I had just been in the same room with him, talking with him, but that was different! Now he was in the parking lot, eating an apple (I think it was a Granny Smith) and I had to capture the moment. I won’t pretend it made sense, but it was a perfect fan moment.
On the ride home, I thought back on the few short months of hard work that yielded these unexpected rewards, the friendliness and good nature of everyone we met at Lambeau Field, and the fact that though the presentation was over, the actual day was still months away.
Were those months all easy? No. There were some stressful moments. There were people who discouraged me from continuing the page or creating merchandise. There was the scam artist who showed up at my door with a gift for me in exchange for signing a photo release, which, in actuality, would’ve given him all rights to 12/12/12 had I signed it. There were people who thought I’d never raise money for charity, that I should just use the event to create a quick buck for myself.
To me, it didn’t, and still doesn’t, feel right to make money off of Rodgers’ name and accomplishments. I think it was extremely gracious of him to take this added dose of attention in stride, allowing us to make the day happen.
There were so many good moments that came with it. The conversations with people close to Aaron who offered advice, support, and gratitude. The group of fans kept growing in size and enthusiasm. It truly turned into a community of friends. When I shared with that community that I was in the midst of a chronic health issue, and that most of the work for 12/12/12 had been done from my couch or bed, suddenly I felt surrounded by a giant extended family. My health was the reason I didn’t plan any big official events or parties. I simply wasn’t able, but it didn’t matter. Everyone else stepped up and made it happen. I was – and still am – humbled and awed by the good things that Packers fans made possible.
On 12/12/12, there were celebrations across the United States and around the world. Stores had sales and special offers. Teachers planned school activities, businesses organized canned food drives and other charitable activities. People wore their favorite Packers clothes, and over $25,000 was donated to the MACC Fund. The fans came together and showed their support for a quarterback and team in the greatest way I’ve ever personally seen.
One of the very best parts of this whole adventure is that I was able to just let it happen. Yes, I worked on the page every day, but I never went out of my way to make it official. I simply kept doing what I was good at, what I believed in, and it all fell into place. No, I haven’t made money from it, but it has opened doors and presented opportunities to me, all thanks to this inspired thought and my willingness to run with it.
Now, two years after this all started, 12/12/13 is, or was, upon us. I wondered if enthusiasm would wane after the official day passed, but it’s been quite the opposite response. People wanted to stick around, so the Facebook page continues to grow. We’re still excited to have a place to talk about the Packers, win or lose. Plans are being made for fundraisers, charity drives, and donations of all types on Dec. 12. There’s great demand to keep it going year after year. Who am I to say no? At this point, the page and community are part of my daily routine and still bring me great joy.
When I share this experience with people, I try to let them know that I know this was special, but it doesn’t have to be unique. I believe it shows what any one person can do with a good idea and the desire to better the world around them. Find what you love – for me, Facebook and football – and find a way to do something with it. You never know what doors will open.
Central Wisconsin resident Jennifer Brilowski created 12.12.12 – Aaron Rodgers Day – and is the founder and editor of Whirled Affairs, an ‘infotainment’ website. In her spare time, she runs a social media business, homeschools her daughters and delights in the beer, cheese and football of Wisconsin. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.