I do it every summer around training camp. I get out the book Instant Replay and read it. I’ve been doing this for over 40 years. It’s been a ritual for me. Why? The book is that good.
In 1967, when Jerry Kramer of the Green Bay Packers was 31 years old, he 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 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 classic 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 the team’s legendary leader, head coach Vince Lombardi. The 1967 season was Lombardi’s last year as head coach of the Packers as well.
In one of my many conversations with Kramer, he gave me his perspective about the book and how it came to be. Kramer told me how he first got to know Schaap, who co-wrote the book with him:
“Dick was doing a story on [Paul] Hornung, and he walked by the room I shared with Jimmy Taylor. Our door was open and I was reading some poetry to Jimmy. Dick walked by the door and then stopped. Then he walked back and looked in to see if he had really seen that.
“About five or six years later, Dick called about doing the book. Apparently, the episode about me reading the poetry stuck in his mind.”
The first conversation between Schaap and Kramer about doing this undertaking was interesting:
“Dick asked me if I wanted to write a book. I said, ‘What the hell do I know about writing a book?’ He says, ‘Well, you talk into a tape recorder and record your observations, activities, impressions, thoughts and your life. Then you send it to me and I’ll transcribe it and I’ll organize it into a book.’
“I had one more question for him. And I said, ‘Who gets final say?’ And Dick said, ‘You do.’ And I said, ‘Let’s talk.’ We went to New York and talked to the publisher. But I was still new to all this. I asked Dick how may books would we need to sell to do well. Dick said, ‘If we sell between 15,000 and 20,000 books, we did good.’ We ended up selling over 400,000 hard-cover books.”
Kramer had to contemplate as to what approach he would use to write the book:
“I was thinking about being an ‘author’ and how flowery my language should be. And that I would have to use some big words. I was worried about how I would be perceived. Finally, I said that it is what it is and I am who I am. You aren’t going to change that.
“So I decided to just write it from the perspective of being as honest as I could be and straight forward. Tell it like it is. If they don’t like it, they don’t like it.”
Kramer got a critique from one of his teammates, Forrest Gregg, the following training camp after the book was published in August 1968.
Gregg and his roommate, Gale Gillingham, were visiting Kramer in his room. They began talking about the book, when Gregg offered up an observation as retold by Kramer.
“That damn book. Everywhere I go, people want to know about that book”, Gregg said. “I’m getting sick and tired of that damn book. But I’ll tell you one thing Jerry, you were dead-honest.”
Kramer said that was probably the nicest compliment he ever had about the book. Coming from someone like Gregg made it extra special. Gregg was right there with Kramer during the legendary ’67 season.
The book came at a perfect time. Sort of like a perfect storm, according to Kramer:
“It was very fortunate timing.”
It was also fortunate timing that Kramer helped to create. Jerry was named All-Pro that season at right guard along with getting named to the Pro Bowl.
Kramer and his teammates overcame a lot during that season. Hornung and Taylor were gone. There were multiple injuries on the team. Quarterback Bart Starr missed a couple of games due to injuries. Both starting running backs, Elijah Pitts and Jim Grabowski, were lost for the season with injuries in the eighth week of the season.
Despite all of that adversity, the Packers still finished second in the NFL in rushing in 1967 with players like Donny Anderson, Travis Williams, Ben Wilson and Chuck Mercein filling the void.
The team also lost a couple of heartbreaking games (including one to the Los Angeles Rams) in the last minute during the course of the season.
A couple of weeks after that loss to the Rams, Green Bay whipped Los Angeles 28-7 at Milwaukee County Stadium in the Western Conference Championship Game.
The week after that came the “Ice Bowl” at Lambeau Field. The Packers were down 17-14 to the Cowboys with just 4:50 remaining in the game. It was extremely cold, as the game-time temperature was 13 below zero. The offense of the Packers had to trudge 68 yards across a truly frozen tundra to win the game.
It came down to this: just 13 seconds to go with no timeouts at the 1-yard line of the Cowboys. Starr called a 31 Wedge play in the huddle, which calls for the fullback to get the ball. However, after conferring with Lombardi, Starr decided to keep the ball because of the slippery and icy conditions near the goal line.
Starr followed Kramer’s block on Jethro Pugh, and he found a hole behind No. 64 to get into the end zone with the winning touchdown.
Kramer talked about that block with me in one of our discussions:
“Jethro 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.’
“On the play, Pugh is up high, like I expected, and I got off the ball really well. I got a great start, and Jethro was up where I expected him to be. I kept my head up and my eyes open and I put my face in his chest, and at that point it’s over. I had control of Jethro, and he’s up in the air and he’s just dead. As soon as he comes up, and I get into him, I had the power of position on him.
“There was no way in hell he was going to do anything but slide. Now Kenny [Bowman] was there, and he was part of it [the block], there is no question about that, but I have always felt that the thing was over as soon as I got into Jethro.”
That block propelled the Packers into Super Bowl II, where the Packers beat the Oakland Raiders 33-14. A couple weeks later, Lombardi resigned as head coach and stayed on with the Packers as a general manager only for the 1968 season.
The Packers have won 13 NFL titles. No team has won more. All of those championship teams were special. But the 1967 championship team will always be my favorite.
It was the last Green Bay team that Vince Lombardi coached, and his last squad overcame all sorts of adversity to win the team’s third NFL title in a row. No team in the modern NFL has ever accomplished that incredible feat.
The ’67 team also won Green Bay’s fifth NFL championship in seven years.
Besides all of that, Jerry Kramer opened a door for all of us to see how that epic 1967 season unfolded with his co-authoring of Instant Replay.
The book is truly a masterpiece, just like the 1967 season was for the Packers.