For Cassandra Hooyman, the real reward of appearing on “Big Fan” with Aaron Rodgers wasn’t winning the game show — she didn’t — it was all about that hug she got from her favorite quarterback.
She had imagined it would be life changing, and she was right.
“Oh my God, it was amazing,” said the ER nurse and University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh alum from Marshfield, after watching her episode of the new ABC game show on Monday night. “That was one of the best feelings in the world. It was amazing to just be literally inches away from him and touch him and hug him and touch his muscles, and not getting arrested for that. It was awesome. I wish I could hug him every day.”
Hooyman was one of three Rodgers super fans selected from a national search last year to appear on the Jimmy Kimmel-produced show that pits diehard fans of a celebrity against one another, and ultimately, the star, to see who knows the most about that person.
She went buzzer to buzzer with Eric Bombinski of Freedom and Laura Raske of Madison on the half-hour show that revealed to America that Rodgers once bought Speedos for his two fellow Packers quarterbacks as a joke, his SAT score is 1310 and he believes he saw a UFO in 2005.
It was a question about Rodgers’ facial hair during Super Bowl XLV that eliminated Bombinski in the first round but scored him one of the best lines of the night.
“I wasn’t looking at his face,” he told host Andy Richter. “I was watching his performance and his sweet behind.”
When that clip showed up in previews for “Big Fan,” the junior varsity basketball players Bombinski coaches at Winneconne High School were all over it.
“Nothing fuels 16-year-olds to make fun of you until you say something about another man’s butt,” said Bombinski, who expects to get more ribbing from his players now that the full episode aired. “There was nothing I could do but laugh. They’re all great kids, but they definitely let ol’ coach have it when they found out about that.”
It was Raske who dominated during the first two rounds of questions, getting every answer correct and breaking out Rodgers’ signature championship belt move. For the final round, she competed against No. 12 to see who could be first to correctly answer 10 questions about him, from his jersey number at the University of California, Berkeley (No. 8) to the name of the record label he founded (Suspended Sunrise Recordings).
Just like on the football field of late, Rodgers came out on top. Win or lose, he sent Raske, a marketing specialist with the Wisconsin Restaurant Association, home with four Row 6 tickets for the Indianapolis Colts-Packers game at Lambeau Field last November and signed her jersey, which she kept tucked away in a drawer since last year’s taping but wore for a viewing party with about 50 friends on Monday night.
Watching herself on TV was “super weird, I’m not gonna lie,” she said. “I was so scared all day long of what they were going to put on there.”
She made a memorable first impression on Rodgers, by telling him, “I’m not psycho, I promise,” and going in for an MVP-worthy bear hug that lifted him off the ground.
“I kind of pick up people on a normal basis anyway,” Raske said. “I was so excited, and adrenaline took over, and I was like, ‘Whew! Pick him up!’ Thank God I didn’t hurt him.”
Bombinski wasn’t about to take any chances with causing bodily harm to Rodgers. He declined to shake his right hand — his throwing arm — during the entrance, going instead for the left one.
“Jordy (Nelson) is back this year, so we’re keeping that arm safe, and we’re going to the Super Bowl,” Bombinski told him. (That was in May, by the way.)
All three super fans, who were sworn to secrecy about specifics of the show until it aired, said Rodgers couldn’t have been nicer, chatting them up during commercial breaks.
“Oh my gosh, he was so sweet, and he was so personable,” Raske said. “He wanted to know everything about our lives and what was going on in our lives and how we were doing. Everything during commercial breaks was so casual and so easy, go with the flow. He was just so, so sweet.”
Hooyman, who was planning her wedding during the taping of the show, rented a life-size cardboard cutout of Rodgers to have at the reception in October so guests could take selfies. She dropped Rodgers a Christmas card that read “Merry and Married” and included a photo of the two of them together on the set of “Big Fan” and another with the newlyweds and his cutout at the wedding,
“I just had to do that, because now he knows me. He knows I’m one of his big fans,” Hooyman said. “... He was just awesome. He was fun. I don’t know what else to say, other than it was amazing, and I will remember this for the rest of my life.”
kmeinert@pressgazettemedia and follow her on Twitter @KendraMeinert.