Around the third week of August, the Senior Selection Committee for the Pro Football Hall of Fame will make their one and only Senior nomination for possible inclusion for the Class of 2017 in Canton.
Normally there are two Senior candidates nominated, but this year there will be two Contributor nominees, which is part of a five-year temporary process which allows a Contributor- defined as an individual who has “made outstanding contributions to professional football in capacities other than playing or coaching”, a chance to get in the Hall of Fame.
This is the third year of this process, which allows two Contributor finalists in years one (starting with the Class of 2015), three and five, of the next five years. In years two and four of that same period, there will be just one Contributor finalist. At the end of the five-year period, the number of Contributor finalists going forward will be one per year.
To keep the maximum number of nominees elected at no more than eight per year, the Senior finalists will be reduced from two to one per year in years one, three and five of the same five-year period. In years two and four and each year thereafter, there will be two Senior finalists, as is now the practice.
I’ve talked to Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News, who happens to be on both the Senior Select Committee and the Contributor Committee and he disagrees with this current process. Gosselin believes that there are far too many Senior candidates who deserve a bust in the Hall of Fame, as opposed to the number of Contributors who the Hall of Fame should consider.
One of those Senior candidates is Jerry Kramer.
There is absolutely no doubt that Kramer had a superb 11-year career with the Green Bay Packers. Not just in the regular season, but also in the postseason when the lights are the brightest and the pressure to win is extremely high.
Especially when your head coach was named Vince Lombardi.
In his career with the Packers, Kramer was a five-time (first team) All-Pro and was also named to three Pro Bowls. No. 64 would have had even more honors if not for injuries and illness. Kramer missed half of the 1961 season due to a broken ankle and almost all of the 1964 season due to an intestinal ailment which took nine operations to resolve.
Kramer is the only member of that 50th anniversary first team not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Kramer also played a large role in the success that the Packers had under Lombardi in the postseason. The Packers were 9-1 under Lombardi in the playoffs, which included five NFL championships in seven years. That included victories in the first two Super Bowls.
In addition to that, the Packers became the only team in the modern NFL to win three straight NFL titles, when Green Bay won it all in 1965, 1966 and 1967.
No. 64 played a big part in a number of those championship game victories.
In the 1962 NFL Championship Game versus the New York Giants at cold and windy Yankee Stadium, Kramer doubled as a right guard and as placekicker. Kramer 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 score 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 1966 NFL Championship Game at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, the Packers outlasted the Cowboys 34-27. Kramer and the rest of the offensive line had a large impact in that victory, as quarterback Bart Starr threw for 304 yards and had four touchdown passes, plus the running game picked up an additional 102 yards.
In the 1967 NFL Championship Game (better known as the “Ice Bowl”) versus the 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 13 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.
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 consistent success of those great Green Bay teams under Lombardi, there are two points which have to be made.
The power sweep was obviously 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.
Kramer played a prominent role in both of those instances.
Even with all that, Kramer has not yet been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Between 1974 and 1987, Kramer was a finalist for induction into Canton nine times. That in itself tells you that Kramer was a tremendous player.
But as this was going on, a lot of Kramer’s teammates with the Packers were getting inducted. This included players like Taylor, Starr, Hornung, Forrest Gregg, Ray Nitschke, Herb Adderley, Willie Davis and Jim Ringo.
But Kramer’s name was never called for induction. In 1989, another former teammate was inducted. Safety Willie Wood finally heard his name called, after also being a finalist nine times, just like Kramer.
In all, Kramer has seen 11 of his former teammates get inducted, as well as his legendary head coach, yet Kramer still waits.
In 1997, Kramer was a Senior finalist, but once again he did not get the votes necessary for induction. So, why is that?
It’s hard to fathom the reasons why. It really is. But let’s try. Cliff Christl, who was the long-time Green Bay representative as a voter for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and is now the official historian for the Packers, wrote an article in 2014 which attempted to give the reasons why Kramer has not yet been inducted.
Basically, here are the reasons that Christl has heard through the grapevine as to why Kramer is still not in Canton:
1) There are too many Lombardi-era Packers are already in the Hall of Fame.
2) Kramer may have struggled against Merlin Olsen and Alex Karras.
3) Kramer may not be the best Lombardi-era offensive linemen not in the Hall of Fame.
Let me address each point.
As to the issue that there are too many Lombardi-era Packers in Canton, I have already addressed just how important Kramer was to the success for the Packers, not just in the regular season, but also in the postseason.
One could make an argument that the Packers don’t win the 1962 and 1967 NFL title games if it wasn’t for the great contribution by Kramer. How would the great legacy of Lombardi and his Packers look if they only won three NFL championships in seven years, as opposed to five?
The three field goals that Kramer kicked in very gusty conditions in the 1962 title game at Yankee Stadium were the difference in the outcome of that 16-7 game.
Plus there wouldn’t have been the three straight NFL titles without that epic block by Kramer in the “Ice Bowl” as the closing seconds of that classic game were running down.
In terms of struggling versus Olsen and Karras, I would disagree. First off, both Olsen and Karras were the two best defensive tackles in the NFL in the 1960s. That is why they are on the All-Decade team at that position, along with Bob Lilly of the Cowboys. But Kramer was also on that team at right guard and he had nice success against both Olsen and Karras.
Yes, there were times when the two got the best of Kramer, but that is what they did on a consistent basis with all the right guards in the NFL. In the games where Kramer was matched up against Karras, the Packers won nine games, lost five and tied three with Detroit. The Lions were the biggest threat to Green Bay in the early 1960s, as they finished second to the Packers in the Western Division three straight years from 1960-1962.
When Kramer and the Packers went up against Olsen and his Los Angeles Rams in the regular season, Green Bay won seven games and lost just three against the Rams. Plus, the Packers also beat the Rams 28-7 in the 1967 Western Conference Championship Game in Milwaukee. Kramer did not allow a sack to Olsen in that game, plus the Packers piled up 163 rushing yards and 222 passing yards.
Plus there is the fact that both Olsen and Karras have endorsed Kramer for the Hall of Fame.
Olsen is considered by many to be the best defensive tackle of all time. Olsen went to 14 Pro Bowls, which is the all-time NFL record shared by Bruce Matthews, the uncle of Clay Matthews of the Packers.
Olsen was named AP All-Pro nine times in his career as well.
In his endorsement of Kramer to the Hall, Olsen says:
“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.”
There are also quite a number of Kramer’s contemporaries who are already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame who likewise believe Kramer belongs in Canton. Randy Simon has put together a great book that shows all the endorsements.
They come from teammates like Starr, Hornung and Davis, along with players like Lilly, Frank Gifford, Chuck Bednarik, 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.
In addressing the final point that Christl mentioned in his story about whether Kramer may not be the best Lombardi-era offensive linemen not in the Hall of Fame, I would fervently disagree.
I certainly agree that Thurston was an excellent left guard for the Packers. In his career, Fuzzy was an AP All-Pro once, but he unbelievably never went to a Pro Bowl. Bob Skoronski was a solid left tackle in Green Bay but was never All-Pro and only went to one Pro Bowl. Both Thurston and Skoronski were very good offensive linemen for the Packers, but they were not up to the level of Kramer overall.
Now guard Gale Gillingham did have a Hall of Fame career in my opinion. He was All-Pro a number of times and went to five Pro Bowls. Most of that was done after Lombardi left Green Bay, however.
As much as Gillingham deserves to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Kramer needs to get in first for all he has accomplished, much of which was done well before Gillingham became a starter in 1967.
The bottom line is that Jerry Kramer should have been inducted into the Hall of Fame decades ago along with the rest of his teammates. No. 64’s importance and contributions to those great Packer teams under Lombardi have been noted.
Until the Senior Selection Committee and the rest of the voters for the Pro Football Hall of Fame right this wrong about Kramer and his place in NFL history, there will always be a dark cloud which will hover over that prestigious building in Canton.
Gosselin said this about the issue in one of his chats with his readers at the Dallas Morning News:
“I think Jerry Kramer is the biggest oversight in Canton — if only for the fact that the Hall of Fame selection committee voted him the best guard in the first 50 years of the NFL. Yet he’s gone before that committee something like 10 times and can’t get the votes for induction. It becomes a credibility issue. If you’re going to tell us a player is the best at his position in the first 50 years of the game then not stand behind that selection when it comes time to hand out busts…why even pick an all-half century team?”
I couldn’t have said it better, Rick.
The NFL’s 50th anniversary team was named 47 years ago. Kramer became eligible for induction five years later. That means Kramer has patiently waited 42 years for the Pro Football Hall of Fame to open it’s doors for him.
Kramer has remained classy and stoic throughout this ordeal. When I talked with him recently, Kramer told me that he sees the glass as half-full, talking about his football life and his time with Coach Lombardi.
“I’ve pretty much accepted the fact that it’s [his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame] not going to happen,” Kramer said. “I’ve gotten along fine without it. I still feel that…I’m going to pull a Lou Gehrig on you…that I’m one of the luckiest guys in the world.
“The opportunity to play for Coach Lombardi and the timing of it was just so perfect. I arrived one year before him, played nine years with him as coach and then one year while he was the GM. I was really able to watch his impact and learn from his philosophies, beliefs and principles. It was as much an education, as it was an experience.
“I was very fortunate to have been a part of that.”
Speaking of Coach Lombardi, and before I spoke to Kramer, I found a quote from Lombardi talking about Kramer from a 1969 article in the Chicago Tribune.
“Jerry Kramer is the best guard in the league,” Lombardi said. “Some say the best in the history of the game.”
I told Kramer about that quote and asked if he had heard it before.
“I think I have,” Kramer said. “But coming from that source, it’s always nice to hear it again.”
I only wish the Senior Selection Committee and the rest of the voters at the Pro Football Hall of Fame would heed the words of Lombardi and many, many others. Besides all the great salutations Kramer has received from his peers, the bottom line is that he was the best player at his position when he played in the NFL.
Not just in the regular season, but in the bright lights of the postseason as well when his team was so dominant. Kramer played a huge role in championship legacy of the Packers in the 1960s.
Which is why he was named to the NFL’s 50th anniversary team in 1969.
It is high time that Kramer gets the honor which he so richly deserves. That being, induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a place where the best of the best get recognized.
And Kramer was the best of the best.