The Green Bay Packers are as tough as they come, except when it comes to their youngest fans.
And that's why during every training camp, you'll find a curious scene: huge, 300-pound football players riding teeny, tiny bikes.
It's all for the Bike Brigade, a group of pint-size fans who show up, rain or shine, for a chance to give their favorite players a ride to practice on their bicycles. Anywhere from 30 to 100 children, middle-schoolers and teens show up for each preseason practice.
"It's awesome," said Packers backup quarterback Matt Flynn. "It's fun to get out here and talk to the fans."
Here's how it usually works: Players emerge from the locker room to find dozens of boys and girls with their bikes lined up outside. Some players pick the same kid each time, while others spread the wealth. The kids usually ride on the back of the bike or run alongside the pedaling player.
It's a quick two-minute trip to the practice field, but it's one that can leave lasting memories.
"You can talk to the Packers and talk about the season and how they're doing," said Leo Cartwright, age 12.
Kevin and Carolyn Stark of Appleton, Wis., have missed just three practices in the past nine years. Their three boys -- Curtis, James and Russell -- have all been part of the brigade.
"It's just so cool to get to know [a player]," said Curtis, age 18, a recently retired member of the Bike Brigade. "He gets off your bike, and you just smell it, and it's all that Packer sweat. ... It's awesome."
This tradition began nearly 50 years ago as a way to connect with fans. As the story goes, legendary Packers coach Vince Lombardi saw a few players one day riding on some fans' bikes and suggested the entire team take part. Through the years, some of Green Bay's biggest stars have participated, including quarterback Brett Favre and defensive lineman Reggie White.
For many, these few minutes of public relations have turned into lasting friendships.
When Packers great James Lofton was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame and the NFL's Hall of Fame, he invited his longtime bike buddy, Nick Mehan, to be a special guest.
'Titletown' Continues Bike Riding Tradition
"James was like a father figure to me," said former Bike Brigader Mehan. "He would come to my high school football games and over to my house for dinner sometimes."
And veteran wide receiver Donald Driver still keeps in touch with one of his early bike pals.
"He graduated from college, and he's got a job," said Driver. "He's a grown man now."
As for the Starks, their youngest son Russell, 10, has been paired with pro-bowl safety Nick Collins for the past four years. Collins has even taken time out to speak at Russell's school.
In an age when players are making bloated salaries and teams are surrounded by stringent security, many fans say they're glad this tradition has survived.
"I think there are a lot of great NFL players," said Carolyn Stark. "The ones you hear all the bad media about seem to take the spotlight, but there are a lot of good NFL players out there."