The 1967 NFL season was a special one in the history of the Green Bay Packers. It would turn out to be the last season that Vince Lombardi would be the head coach of the team.
Up until that season, Lombardi and his Packers had won four NFL titles in six years, plus had won Super Bowl I. In addition to that, the Packers had a chance to win their third straight NFL championship, a feat which had never been accomplished in the playoff era of the NFL.
1967 was also the year when right guard Jerry Kramer of the Packers kept a diary of the season. Kramer would recite his thoughts into a tape recorder and then submit those words to Dick Schaap, who edited the words into the final version of the classic book, Instant Replay.
Little did Kramer know that the 1967 season would be one of the most remarkable in the history of the NFL, culminating with the NFL Championship Game against the Dallas Cowboys, better known as the “Ice Bowl.” No. 64 played a key role in the outcome of that game as well, as the Packers won 21-17 in the final seconds of that legendary contest.
From training camp, through the Ice Bowl victory, then the win in Super Bowl II, Kramer provides a fascinating perspective about the viciousness of the NFL back then, when the game was truly a mixture of blood, sweat and tears.
Kramer also offers an insightful view of Lombardi, as a man, as a coach and as a leader.
Two of the more interesting aspects of the ’67 season were the two times the Packers had to face the Los Angeles Rams. With the Rams now going back to the City of Angels in 2016, I thought it would be an apropos time to talk those contests with Kramer.
The first time the team met was late in the season, when the Packers had already clinched the NFL Central division with a 9-2-1 mark heading into the game. They would be traveling to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to take on the 9-1-2 Rams.
The Packers really had nothing to play for except pride. The Rams meanwhile, were in a heated race with the Baltimore Colts to see who would win the Coastal division. Also, the NFL did not have a wild card format at the time, so the Rams had to win the division to advance to the playoffs.
Lombardi gave the team a quick pep talk on the sideline before the game.
“Thousands of people are here in the stands,” Lombardi told the team. “There are millions of people on television and everyone looking. All this speculation to see what kind of a game the Green Bay Packers are going to play today.
“Right? I want you to be proud of your profession. It’s a great profession. You be proud of this game. You can do a great deal for football today. A great deal for all the players in the league and everything else. Now go out there and play this ball game like I know you can play it!”
This past Friday, the NFL Network had a three-hour special as Super Bowl I was replayed in it’s entirety for the first time since that epic event 49 years ago.
In that special, it was presented that the speech that Lombardi gave his team in the 1967 regular season versus the Rams, was the one he gave before Super Bowl I, which also occurred at the Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles.
I knew that wasn’t the case and I posted a comment about it on Facebook. During a conversation I had with Kramer on Tuesday, I mentioned that to him.
“I saw that,” Kramer said speaking of my comment on Facebook. “I said, ‘Bob knows his sh*t. He’s doing it again. He’s got it right.’
The Packers played a great game on that Saturday afternoon in Los Angeles on December 9, 1967.
It was a hard fought contest, which saw both teams go back and forth taking the lead. The Rams had taken a 17-10 lead in the third period when they kicked off to Travis Williams of the Packers.
Williams had already become a sensation in the NFL in returning kickoffs that season, as he had returned three kicks for touchdowns before this game against the Rams.
No. 23 took the kickoff four yards deep in the end zone and returned the kick for yet another touchdown which tied the game at 17 all.
The Rams took the lead again 20-17 in the fourth quarter on a 16-yard field goal by Bruce Gossett, before the Packers scored on a four-yard touchdown run by fullback Chuck Mercein to give the Packers a 24-20 lead.
The Packers had that lead until the very last minute when Donny Anderson had his punt blocked by Tony Guillory of the Rams. Quarterback Roman Gabriel and his offense now had the ball on the five-yard line of the Packers with just seconds to go in the game.
Gabriel then threw a touchdown pass to Bernie Casey and the Rams won 27-24, as the Packers lost in heartbreaking fashion.
In Instant Replay, this is what Kramer wrote regarding the outcome of the game:
I was ready to fall down when the game ended. I contained Merlin pretty well, but I was beat from head to toe. I played about as hard as I ever played in my life, and I took an incredible physical pounding in the middle of the line. So did everyone else; everybody gave 100 percent. Coach Lombardi told me I played a great game, but I was down, blue, disappointed, dejected, everything. I never came so close to tears on a football field.
Fortunately for the Packers, they had one more opportunity to play the Rams. This time it would be in the Western Conference Championship Game at Milwaukee County Stadium on December 23, just two weeks after that painful loss to the Rams.
Kramer told me that he knew the Rams would be a very tough test.
“They [the Rams] were a hell of a football team,” Kramer said. “The Fearsome Foursome was very real. There wasn’t any weakness there. They also had a good linebacking corp and good defensive backs. They had a hell of a football team.”
The game didn’t start out well for the Packers as they had a couple of turnovers in the first quarter. The last turnover led to a score by the Rams, as Gabriel hit Casey on a 29-yard touchdown pass and a 7-0 lead.
But the Packers weren’t phased. The team was definitely ready to play, as Lombardi had given the team another pre-game pep talk in the locker room.
“We really got fired up in the locker room when Coach Lombardi gave us his Run to Win speech,” Kramer said. “That got us pretty high. The ring I wear, from Super Bowl II, has Run to Win on the side of it.
“He gave us this wonderful speech of St. Paul’s epistle, about when all the runners are running the race, only one can win, and we run, not just to be in the race, but we run to win. That got us pumped up pretty good.”
The Packers basically took control of the game emphatically in the second quarter. Kramer talked about one of the strategies that the Packers employed in the game.
“One of the best things we did for the ball game was to put Marv Fleming next to Forrest [Gregg] to double Deacon [Jones],” Kramer said. “We really spent some time on trying to neutralize him and keep him a way from his favorite target [the quarterback].
“So that worked really well. Of course Travis [Williams] was the wild card in that game. I remember blocking on Merlin [Olsen] and he was starting to slip away to the outside in pursuit and I look outside and Travis was about even with us, but near the sideline running towards the end zone. And I knew that this play was over. He’s gone.”
Gone he was, as Williams galloped 46 yards for a touchdown to tie the game.
The Packers added another touchdown in the second quarter, as Bart Starr threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Carroll Dale for a 14-7 lead going into halftime.
The Packers were never threatened after that. Williams ended up with 88 yards rushing and two scores, while Dale caught six passes for 109 yards and a score.
The Packers had 20 first downs to the Rams 12 in the game. Starr was only sacked once, while Gabriel was sacked five times, including 3.5 sacks by Henry Jordan.
The result was a very satisfying 28-7 victory over the Rams. That win set up the game eight days later, when the Packers played the Cowboys in the Ice Bowl game, when the Packers won their third straight NFL title.
This is what Kramer wrote regarding that great win against the Rams in Instant Replay:
I was misty-eyed myself I felt so good. I felt so proud, proud of myself and proud of my teammates and proud of my coaches. I felt like I was part of something special. I guess it’s the way a group of scientists feel when they make a big breakthrough, though, of course, we aren’t that important. It’s a feeling of being together, completely together, a singleness of purpose, accomplishing something that is very difficult to accomplish, accomplishing something that a lot of people thought you couldn’t accomplish. It sent a beautiful shiver up my back.
One of the reasons Kramer was busting with pride was due to the fact that he had competed against arguably the best defensive tackle in the history of the NFL, Merlin Olsen.
Kramer talked to me about the many times he competed against the great No. 74 of the Rams.
“I knew that Merlin was never going to let up on the field,” Kramer said. “He was never going to quit. He wasn’t going to hold you. He wasn’t going to play dirty. But he wasn’t going to take a play off either. He was coming.
“You had to gamble a little bit with Merlin. I liked to pop him every once in awhile. Like if it’s a pass play, I might come off the line of scrimmage and just whack him real quick like it’s a running play. Then I would almost bounce back into my position as a pass-blocker.
“That gave me an extra second for him to figure out that it really was a pass play. I remember one time he was starting to loop around the center towards Fuzzy [Thurston}, and I came up and popped him real quick with my helmet. And he went down to one knee and then bounced back up into a running position.
“He was a load. He was strong. He was motivated. He was smart. And he may have been the best I ever played against.”
Olsen had the honors to prove it. He was named to 14 Pro Bowls and was named first team All-Pro nine times.
The respect and admiration that Kramer had for Olsen, was equally shared by No. 74 towards No. 64.
In fact, Olsen sent off this letter of endorsement for Kramer regarding induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame:
“There is no question in my mind that Jerry Kramer has Hall of Fame credentials. Respect is given grudgingly in the trenches of the NFL and Jerry has earned my respect as we battled eye to eye in the pits on so many long afternoons.
Jerry Kramer belongs in the Hall of Fame and I hope you will put this process in motion by including his name on the ballot for this coming year.”
That might be the strongest endorsement Kramer has ever received regarding his rightful place in Canton, which has still yet to occur, even with Kramer being a finalist 10 times.
I have written about this travesty many times, including in this story.
How can a man who was on the NFL’s 50th anniversary team, be kept out of Canton? Kramer is the only member of that first-team not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
In addition, No. 64 was a five-time All-Pro and named to three Pro Bowls. He was also on the NFL All-Decade team for the 1960s.
But his biggest moments came on the football field in the postseason, when it truly was win or go home. The Packers kept winning and Kramer was a big reason why, especially in the 1962, 1965 and 1967 NFL title games.
Olsen wasn’t the only player who has come out to speak out on behalf of Kramer being in the Hall of Fame. So have contemporaries like Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Willie Davis, Frank Gifford, Chuck Bednarik, Bob Lilly, Doug Atkins, Alan Page, Joe Schmidt, John Mackey, Raymond Berry, Mel Renfro, Mike Ditka, Jim Otto, Tom Mack, Dave Wilcox, Tommy McDonald and Lem Barney.
You can see all of those endorsements and much more in this great book put together by Randy Simon.
No matter what your occupation in life is, you always want to be respected by your peers. And Kramer certainly was respected by his rivals in the NFL.
“In the wee small hours of the morning, I rather have the applause of my peers, than to not have the applause of my peers and be in the Hall,” Kramer said. “I rather have the guys I admired and I thought a lot of, think that I belong, than to be in there and have them think I didn’t.”
There is absolutely no question that Gerald Louis Kramer belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He has the credentials, the championships and the respect of his peers who are already in Canton.
In less than a week, on January 23rd, Kramer will celebrate his 80th birthday. He has waited far too long for his proper enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Here’s hoping that this injustice will be taken care of when Kramer is part of the Class of 2017 in Canton.
It s a well-deserved honor which has eluded the best guard in the history of the NFL, at least based on his inclusion on the NFL’s 50th anniversary team.
You know Merlin Olsen would certainly agree.