When the 1-0 Green Bay Packers take on the 0-1 Seattle Seahawks on Sunday night at Lambeau Field, there will be some very interested observers at the game.
Yes, this is alumni weekend for the Packers. Several former Green Bay players will be in attendance, including a number of players who were on the team which won Super Bowl I.
Some of the the Packers scheduled to attend are John Anderson, John Brockington, Willie Buchanon, Leroy Butler, Al Carmichael, Paul Coffman, Fred Cone, Dan Currie, Lynn Dickey, Gerry Ellis, Ken Ellis, Antonio Freeman, Johnnie Gray, Ahman Green, Chris Jacke, Ezra Johnson, Gary Knafelc, James Lofton, Don Majkowski, Chester Marcol, John Martinkovic, Mark Murphy, Ken Ruettgers and Frank Winters.
In addition, Esera Tuaolo will be singing the national anthem, plus Butler and Ruettgers will be taking part in fan activities at the Tundra Tailgate Zone and Legends Club leading up to the kickoff of the game.
The Super Bowl I alumni which will be on hand include Donny Anderson, Zeke Bratkowski, Allen Brown, Tom Brown, Bill Curry, Carroll Dale, Willie Davis, Boyd Dowler, Marv Fleming, Jim Grabowski, Forrest Gregg, Doug Hart, Dave Hathcock, Jerry Kramer, Red Mack, Dave Robinson, Jim Taylor and Steve Wright.
A number of players from the Super Bowl I team will stay the week and take part in various events in both Green Bay and Milwaukee, as they will have a week-long celebration leading up to a Monday night game against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sept. 28.
I talked to Kramer earlier this week and he gave me his thoughts about alumni weekend.
“It’s like going home to a family reunion,” Kramer said. “There has always been a deep emotional bond with the guys who I played with. There’s also a professional admiration for all the former Packers.
“As a ballplayer you would look at the other players and you measure them subconsciously. You would look at their legs, you would look at their shoulders, you would look at their their fat and look at their physique.
“Then you would watch them run, watch them catch and watch them block. Then you would form opinions about the player. Like, this guy has great speed, but is a little shy about contact. Or this other guy is not shy about contact, but he doesn’t have the speed.
“You kind of gravitate towards the contributors. If a guy is making a contribution to your team, your organization, to your group, it didn’t matter what the hell he looked like. It didn’t matter what his skin color was. It didn’t matter where the hell he came from.”
Kramer then talked about the dynamic which bonded the players together.
“There are two things about that, Bobby,” Kramer continued. “First of all, Coach Lombardi put us through a hellacious training camp. There were kids losing consciousness on the field and in the chow line.
“For instance, Hawg Hanner spent three days at morning practice and three afternoons in the hospital getting an IV for dehydration. So it was an intense workout. And it pushed you close to the edge of your tolerance.
“So you got angry at Coach Lombardi and called him every name in the book. And if the guy next to you was a black person, he was united with me in our resentment of Lombardi. He was my pal. We were in a fox hole together. We shared a common survival trait.
“So I think it was a strategy that Coach Lombardi was aware of and was done on purpose to try and build team unity. That type of treatment came from the military, as a drill sergeant does basically the same thing.”
It’s important to know that before Lombardi came to the NFL and joined the New York Giants as an assistant coach in 1954, he was an assistant to the legendary Earl “Red” Blaik at Army from 1949-1953.
No. 64 continued.
“The other thing is the contribution of the player on Sunday afternoon,” Kramer said. “If a guy made a contribution, he automatically elevated himself in my eyes. And you have a fondness for him and a good feeling about him.
“There was a great bond there. Even if somebody did a little something out of line, you wouldn’t say anything about it. We didn’t get into each others personal life. And we didn’t judge them by their personal habits. We judged them by their contribution to the team on Sunday.
“And by that judgement standard, they were all pretty damn sensational. So there was an emotional bond, as well as a physical analysis or measuring process.
“In the emotional bond, you shared the depths of bitterness and defeat. Plus you shared the heights of elation, glory and victory. Most of us were together for most of Coach Lombardi’s years in Green Bay.
“Whether it was two years or 10 years, there was a hell of a feeling there. And it still exists today.”
Kramer also knows that alumni weekend is also somewhat bittersweet because some of his teammates are no longer around. Kramer, who will turn 80 in January of 2016, has seen some of his closest friends pass away in recent years.
Great friends like Fuzzy Thurston, Don Chandler and Max McGee.
“It’s like family again, Bob,” Kramer said. “It’s like losing a member of your family. We were fortunate to have a large family of 35 to 40 guys, and now we are losing some of that family. There is sorrow and sadness every time you lose one of them.
“There is a definite awareness of the dwindling time that we have together. The clock is ticking. We have lost about half the guys. I think there will be 21 guys at the [Super Bowl I] reunion, as Bart [Starr] and Paul [Hornung] won’t be there, as Bart is sick and Paul has something else going on.
“So it is very much like a family. You are acutely aware of every guy. You’ve been worrying about Bart. You’ve been worrying about Forrest [Gregg]. You’ve been worrying about Willie [Davis] now.
“There isn’t a hell of lot that you can do, except give them a hug when you see them and tell them that you still love them. Try to enjoy the time you have.”
Bottom line, I know the 80,000-plus crowd at Lambeau Field on Sunday night will show Kramer and the rest of the alumni of the Packers how much they still love and appreciate them.