GREEN BAY - The man has addressed world leaders and national television audiences, but U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan had a new crowd Thursday morning.
This time, Ryan chatted with the Green Bay Packers. All of them.
Ryan had a captive audience as he broke down the Packers huddle after their first training camp practice with pads. The practice lasted for more than 2½ hours, and Ryan was an active observer.
“I’m used to giving a lot of speeches,” Ryan said. “I was actually pretty nervous talking to these guys. As just a lifelong Packer fan, it was just a pretty cool experience to meet the team.”
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Ryan, who maintains permanent residence in Janesville, was in Green Bay on Thursday because he is part of a Packers documentary. He spoke with the media briefly, asking for a “Trump-free zone” and only “sports questions,” but said he’ll watch Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech Thursday night.
“Of course I will,” he said.
But not before observing his favorite team’s practice. On Thursday, Ryan met the organization’s key members.
Surrounded by his kids and Secret Service members, Ryan spoke with Packers president Mark Murphy on the sideline during practice drills. Near the end of practice, Murphy pulled coach Mike McCarthy to the sideline. McCarthy and Ryan chatted for about 10 minutes during position drills.
Breaking down the post-practice huddle afterward, Ryan spoke with outside linebacker Clay Matthews and receiver Randall Cobb. He also shook quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ hand.
“That was something my kids will never forget for the rest of their lives,” Ryan said about meeting Rodgers. “That was very cool. He’s my favorite player. I’ve been watching this team all my life. To be a lifelong Packer fan and come out and actually watch the practice, see the Packers, this is a big moment.”
Ryan joked he wanted to get an “injury report” from certain players. The group included receiver Jordy Nelson, who started training camp on the physically unable to perform list.
Nelson was expected to return for training camp’s start after missing last season with a torn ACL in his right knee, but a “hiccup” in his left knee delayed his transition to football.
“I just wanted to make sure a hiccup is a hiccup,” Ryan said.
As with any political figure, Ryan can be a lightning rod for controversy. There is at least one opinion few inside the state of Wisconsin will question.
On Thursday, Ryan believes, he saw a team that could win Super Bowl LI in February.
“I feel very good about this team,” Ryan said. “I think this is a very deep team. The talent, the draft was good. I feel excited about this team. If we keep ourselves healthy, I feel like we can really go all the way this year.
“I don’t just say that every year. I feel really good about our team this year.”