I wrote this article just prior to the 2014 NFC Divisional Playoff Game between the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys while I was still with Bleacher Report. The Packers won that game at Lambeau Field, 26-21. Since it’s now December, and the Packers are hosting the Cowboys once again this week at the legendary stadium on Lombardi Avenue, I thought it would be apropos to republish this story.
When the Dallas Cowboys play the Green Bay Packers this Sunday in an NFC Divisional Playoff Game at Lambeau Field, there will be one very interested observer in attendance.
That observer will be former Packers great Jerry Kramer. Talk about a very apropos occasion.
Kramer knows all about playing the Cowboys in the postseason, as he played against them in two NFL Championship Games: in 1966 in Dallas at the Cotton Bowl and in 1967 at Lambeau. The Packers won both of those contests.
The second game was the legendary “Ice Bowl,” which was played on December 31, 1967. It was also the last time the Cowboys and Packers have played at Lambeau Field in the postseason.
That is, until this upcoming Sunday.
Kramer played a key role in the victory over the Cowboys in the Ice Bowl as the right guard for the Packers. The game was called the “Ice Bowl” because it was extremely cold that day in Green Bay, as the game-time temperature was 13 degrees below zero.
If you added the wind, it was bone-chillingly cold, as there was a minus-48-degree windchill for the game.
I had another chance to talk with Kramer recently, who shared some of his memories from that frigid contest.
One thing Kramer had going for him was that he was used to playing in cold weather.
“I grew up in that kind of weather,” Kramer said of growing up in northern Idaho. “I remember hunting for ducks one time when it 25 below zero. But in that part of the country, if you didn’t go out and do things in the winter time you would go nuts. We learned to deal with the severe cold.
“I knew enough to put thermal underwear on, and I cut them off at the knees and the elbows. And I put a dickey around my neck and chest and put gloves on. Gale Gillingham came up to me and asked if I was keeping the gloves on. I said, ‘Hell yes, I’m going to wear gloves.’
“So I got prepared for the weather and got it out of my mind and just focused on the game.”
Kramer talked about the flow of that classic game, in which the Packers jumped to an early 14-0 lead as quarterback Bart Starr threw two touchdown passes to Boyd Dowler.
“It seemed so easy in the first half. Then it became so damn difficult in the second half,” Kramer said. “At the end of the first half there were a couple of fumbles (by Starr and punt returner Willie Wood) that you don’t really count on.
“Those things can be the difference in the game.”
Those fumbles led to scores by the Cowboys which made the score 14-10 at halftime.
The second half was a real struggle for the Packers, as the Cowboys ended up taking a 17-14 lead when wide receiver Lance Rentzel caught a 50-yard touchdown pass from halfback Dan Reeves on the first play of the fourth quarter.
The Packers were not doing anything offensively, either.
“We had minus-nine yards in 31 plays in the second half at one point,” Kramer said.
The score remained 17-14 late into the fourth quarter. The Packers got the ball back at their own 32-yard line with just 4:50 remaining in the game. Somehow the Packers were going to have to trudge 68 yards across a truly frozen tundra to win the game.
It didn’t seem likely, not with the way the offense had performed in the second half.
Kramer described his mindset and that of his teammates at that moment.
“I don’t think we ever considered the possibility of losing,” Kramer said. “We didn’t really acknowledge the fact that we didn’t gain any yardage in 31 plays prior to that. We knew where we where when we got in the final huddle. We knew what we had to do.
“I asked Bart about that years later, about what made him think we could go 68 yards and score a touchdown after we had made minus-nine yards on 31 plays prior to that. Bart said, ‘Jerry, I came into the huddle and started to say something. Then I looked in your eyes, I looked at Forrest’s eyes and everyone else in the huddle, and I knew I didn’t have to say anything. So all I said was, ‘Let’s go.’
Kramer said there was calm in that huddle.
“Even at that point of the game there wasn’t any panic with us,” No. 64 said. “There was a sense of urgency however. We still believed that we could do it.
“The beautiful part of that was the contribution by so many different players in that drive. Players like Chuck Mercein, Boyd Dowler and Donny Anderson. Bob Skoronski made a key block on the give play later in the drive.
“On that play, if Bob didn’t block [George] Andrie on that play, Mercein would get killed. It was a very difficult block, too. So Bart looked at “Ski” and asked if he could make that block before the play. And “Ski” simply said, ‘Call it, on two.’
Mercein picked up eight yards on the play, and the Packers now had the ball at the 3-yard line of the Cowboys. As a matter of fact, Mercein had accounted for 34 out of the 68 yards the Packers gained in that drive.
When it was over, the situation came down to this: just 16 seconds to go with no timeouts at the Dallas 1-yard line.
Starr called a 31 Wedge play in the huddle, which calls for the fullback to get the ball. However, after conferring with coach Vince Lombardi, Starr decided to keep the ball due to the slippery conditions near the goal line.
That play was called earlier in the week when the team was studying the defensive tendencies of the Cowboys. Kramer actually suggested the play to Lombardi.
“Jethro [Pugh] was high, and I actually suggested that play on Thursday when we were studying short-yardage films. I said we could wedge Pugh if we had to. And Coach Lombardi said, ‘What?’ And I said that we can wedge Pugh if we have to. So we ran the film back three or four times, and coach says, ‘That’s right. Put in a wedge on Pugh.’
So after Starr called the play with just seconds to go in the game, what was going through Kramer’s mind?
“Responsibility. I mean I had suggested the play on Thursday. It seemed like the play was squarely on my shoulders,” Kramer said. “I knew I had to perform. I knew that to be successful as a blocker that I had to keep my head up and my eyes open.
“And also put my face into the chest of the defensive tackle [Pugh]. That is not the easiest thing to do, but it’s the safest and the surest way to make a block. I felt great personal responsibility to the team on that block. When I came off the ball, I was on fire.”
Center Ken Bowman also helped to move Pugh out of the way so Starr could score.
“I’ve analyzed that play a lot. “Bow” was there, there is no question about that,” Kramer said. “But when Jethro got up like I expected and then I got into him, the rest was a forgone conclusion. Jethro was then out of position and also out of the play. The play was over for him then.”
What did Kramer feel when he saw Starr laying in the end zone after his game-winning quarterback sneak?
“I turned around after the play and looked for Bart,” Kramer said. “And I saw him laying fairly close to me across the goal line, and I had an incredible sigh of relief. It was just a wonderful moment to see Bart in the end zone.”
That touchdown occurred with just 13 seconds left in the game, which the Packers won 21-17. After the game, Kramer’s block was shown over and over again on instant replay. Because of that, Kramer made that the title of the book he and Dick Schaap had been working on during the 1967 season.
I wrote about how Instant Replay was put together after another conversation with Kramer last August.
Kramer was also able to talk about Lombardi after the game as well.
“After that game, I was interviewed by Tom Brookshier,” Kramer said. “There had been a negative article about Coach Lombardi that had come out recently from Esquire magazine. The article compared him to Mussolini and a pigeon walking around with his chest thrown out. It was just a hatchet job.
“Tommy asked me about Coach Lombardi. I had made up my mind previously to talk about him, as I heard that Coach’s mother was really upset with the article. She even cried over it.
“So when Tommy asked me about the coach and mentioned the criticism, I said, ‘People don’t understand Coach Lombardi. They don’t know him. But we know him. We understand him. And we love him. And this is one beautiful man.’
“And that still fits today. I still feel that same way.”
A few minutes later Brookshier was interviewing Lombardi himself. They were both looking at the block Kramer made on Starr’s game-winning sneak. Kramer recalls watching that interview.
“Tom says, ‘Here we see Jerry Kramer make a block on Jethro Pugh for Bart Starr’s touchdown.’ So Coach is watching the replay and he yells, ‘Way to go, Jerry! Way to go!’
“He said that with that incredible smile on his face, and he just enjoyed the hell out of it. And so did I.”
After the game, some of the players from the Packers decided to go to the Left Guard restaurant in Appleton, which left guard Fred “Fuzzy” Thurston owned, and toast the New Year.
“That was a fun night,” Kramer recalled. “Fuzzy and I were toasting the two greatest guards in the whole world all night long.”
Kramer and his teammates had the right to celebrate long and hard. The Packers had just won their third straight NFL championship (which no other team has ever done) and were on their way to winning their second straight Super Bowl.
The 2014 version of the Packers hope to celebrate after their game on Sunday versus the Cowboys. The fact that Kramer will be on hand to watch certainly won’t hurt.
The forecast for Sunday calls for a temperature of 17 degrees for the game. We shall see.
The forecasters were saying the same thing prior to the Ice Bowl before an arctic blast from a front moved in, causing the temperature to plummet downward and downward.
One never knows what will happen in the region where the Fox River connects to the bay off Lake Michigan this time of year.
Just ask Jerry Kramer.