Today is the 80th birthday of Gerald Louis Kramer. I’ve been fortunate enough to get to know Jerry pretty well over the past several years. I’ve been able to talk with him countless times on the phone, usually for at least an hour at a time. I’ve also done dozens and dozens of stories about him and his exploits with the Green Bay Packers.
It goes without question that Jerry was an outstanding football player in the NFL as a member of the Packers. That was sealed in eternity when he was named as the only offensive guard on the NFL’s 50th anniversary team.
Yet, he is the only member of that first team not enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
But as great as he was on the football field, he’s an even better person. Don’t take my word for it. Ask his children. I’ve gotten to know Alicia, Dan and Diana fairly well since I’ve connected with Jerry. Their support for their father is amazing. And so is their love.
One person who helped to mold Jerry into the person that he has become was Vince Lombardi.
When I talked to Jerry about Lombardi, the discussion wasn’t just about football, it was about life in general.
“Coach Lombardi had a tremendous impact on my life,” Jerry told me. “The fundamentals that he taught us were fundamentals for life. They were about football, but also about business or anything else you wanted to achieve.
“You would use the Lombardi principles. He believed in paying the price. He believed in hard work and making sacrifices for the betterment of the team. His principles were preparation, commitment, consistency, discipline, character, pride, tenacity and perseverance.
“Those things are still helping me today.”
Kramer also talked about a the values he learned from Lombardi.
“Coach Lombardi use to share a philosophy about life with us,” Kramer said. “He said, ‘After the game is over, the stadium lights are out, the parking lot is empty, the fans have all gone home, the press has done their job and released their information, you are finally back in the quiet of your own room looking at the championship ring on the dresser. The only thing left after that was to have a standard of excellence in your life. Make sure that the world is a better place because you were in it.’
“The coach taught us to leave a positive impact on society,” Kramer said. “The world would be a much better place if we did that. That’s what I have tried to do all these years.”
Because of all the stories I’ve written about Kramer, I’m often asked if Jerry is as genuine as he looks on television when he doing interviews for various media outlets.
The answer is YES. I’m as comfortable in talking with Jerry as I would be with my favorite uncle.
I have over 20 years of sales experience and have worked for companies like Xerox over that time. I developed a pretty good understanding on how to read people, either via the phone or in person.
You pretty much know where things are going in the first five minutes of your conversation. In my first conversation with Jerry, the ice was melted in the first thirty seconds.
I knew we would have a great relationship.
Back to Jerry’s exploits as a player. Jerry was a six-time All-Pro and named to three Pro Bowls. He was also on the NFL All-Decade team for the 1960s.
No. 64 would have received even more honors except for injuries and illness.
Jerry performed at an exceptional level in the regular season for the Packers under coach Lombardi, but he took it up a notch in games that determined who the champion would be.
I’ll give you three examples.
In the 1962 NFL Championship Game versus the New York Giants at cold and windy Yankee Stadium, Jerry doubled as a right guard and as placekicker. Jerry booted three field goals on a very difficult day to kick, as some wind gusts were over 40 mph during the contest.
Kramer scored 10 points in the 16-7 victory for the Packers, plus helped lead the way for fullback Jimmy Taylor to gain 85 yards rushing and also scored the lone Green Bay touchdown. As a team, the Packers gained 148 yards rushing that day.
In the 1965 NFL Championship Game versus the Cleveland Browns at snowy and muddy Lambeau Field, Kramer and his teammates on the offensive line had a sensational day.
The Packers rushed for 204 yards behind Taylor and halfback Paul Hornung, as the Pack won 23-12. The power sweep was especially effective, as Kramer and fellow guard Fuzzy Thurston kept opening big holes for the backs, mowing down defenders so the Packers gained big chunks of yardage on the ground.
Hornung scored the last touchdown of the game on one of those power sweeps. Kramer pulled left and first blocked the middle linebacker and then a cornerback as the “Golden Boy” found the end zone.
In the 1967 NFL Championship Game (better known as the “Ice Bowl”) versus the Dallas Cowboys at frigid Lambeau Field, Kramer made the most famous block in the history of the NFL.
The playing surface that day was truly a frozen tundra, as the game-time temperature was 13 below zero.
In the closing moments of the game, down by a score of 17-14, the Packers had to drive 68 yards down the frozen field to either tie or win the game.
It all came down to 16 seconds to go with no timeouts at the 1-yard line of the Cowboys. The Packers could have kicked a field goal at that point to tie the game at 17-17.
But coach Lombardi decided to go for the win. If the Packers run the ball and are stopped short of the end zone, the game is over.
Bart Starr called a 31-wedge play in the huddle, which calls for the fullback to get the ball. However, Starr decided to keep the ball after conferring with Lombardi on the sideline about the play.
Starr thought it would be better to try to get into the end zone himself due to the slippery and icy conditions near the goal line. He followed Kramer’s classic block on Jethro Pugh and found a hole behind No. 64 to score the winning touchdown.
When one looks back on the great success of the Lombardi Packers of the 1960s, there are two things about that era which are pretty obvious.
The power sweep was the signature play for the Packers under Lombardi. Plus, Starr’s quarterback sneak with just seconds remaining in the “Ice Bowl”, had to be the signature moment of the Lombardi legacy.
Jerry Kramer played a huge role in both of those iconic memories.
When Kramer played in the NFL, he played against some of the very best defensive tackles in the history of the NFL. Two examples are Merlin Olsen of the Los Angeles Rams and Alex Karras of the Detroit Lions.
Olsen is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, while Karras, like Kramer, should be.
Olsen is considered by many to be the best defensive tackle in the history of the NFL. The awards he received as a player certainly seem to say that.
No. 74 was named to 14 Pro Bowls and was named first team All-Pro nine times.
When Kramer had to battle Olsen in the trenches, he knew it was going to be a war of attrition.
“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.”
The admiration and respect Kramer had for Olsen went both ways, as Merlin 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.”
Yes, today is the 80th birthday for Jerry Kramer. No. 64 has been eligible for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame since 1974. That’s 42 years ago.
It’s ridiculous that Kramer has yet to get in, especially knowing he’s been a 10-time finalist. Nine of those ten times occurred from 1974 through 1987, however.
Kramer was also a finalist as a senior in 1997, but also didn’t get the votes necessary for induction.
I honestly can’t fathom an answer as to why No. 64 has not been enshrined yet. Jerry has the playing credentials, the championships and the respect of his peers who are already in Canton.
Here’s hoping that on his 81st birthday, Jerry will be just a couple of weeks from induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. On Saturday February 4, 2017 in Houston, the site of Super Bowl LI, the Class of 2017 will be named.
Jerry rightfully deserves to hear his name called that day. It’s something he should have already heard decades ago.
Happy Birthday, Jerry! All the best on YOUR day! I hope you receive some presents you can enjoy.
Speaking of presents, you have given us all treasured memories which will never be forgotten.
Jerry Kramer is not just a great ambassador for the Packers and the NFL, but also a great ambassador for the human race.
Coach Lombardi would be proud.