In 1969, the Pro Football Hall of Fame named their NFL 50th anniversary team. The first team consisted of Jim Thorpe, Johnny Unitas, Jim Brown, Gale Sayers, Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch, Cal Hubbard, Don Hutson, John Mackey, Jerry Kramer, Chuck Bednarik, Gino Marchetti, Leo Nomellini, Ray Nitschke, Dick “Night Train” Lane, Emlen Tunnell and Lou Groza.
Every one of the members on that legendary team are enshrined as players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. All except one. That would be Jerry Kramer.
Why Kramer is still not in Canton has created a credibility problem for the Hall of Fame. One of the voters for admission into that hallowed place has told me that a number of times while we conversed. That would be Rick Gosselin.
Gosselin writes for the Dallas Morning News and sits on two committees for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. They are the seniors committee, as well as the contributors committee.
Gosselin said this about the Kramer omission issue in one of his chats with his readers:
“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?”
Indeed, Rick. Indeed. The fact that Kramer is still not in Canton is not only a slap in the face to No. 64, but also to the panel who named that 50th anniversary team. A panel that named that prestigious team just six years after the Pro Football Hall of Fame was created in 1963.
A little less than a month ago, a subcommittee of the seniors committee named defensive back Kenny Easley as the lone senior nominee for possible induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2017.
Easley was a great player back in his era, although his career was somewhat short. Still, Easley was also named on the 1980s First-Team All-Decade team. Usually when a player is named First-Team All-Decade, it’s almost a sure thing that the player will also be inducted in the Hall of Fame.
Guess who else was a First-Team All-Decade player? Yes, Kramer was also named to the NFL All-Decade team for the 1960s.
Looking back on the players who were named First-Team All-Decade through the year 2000, there were 145 players who were given that designation.
And up until now, 133 of those players have been inducted into the hallowed halls in Canton.
The eight modern-era players who have not yet received their rightful place among the all-time greats are Kramer (60s), Easley (80s), Johnny Robinson (60s), Drew Pearson (70s), Cliff Harris (70s), Jim Covert (80s), Tony Boselli (90s) and Steve Atwater (90s).
Former Green Bay end Lavvie Dilweg was a First-Team All-Decade player in the 1920s, while guard Ox Emerson was First-Team All-Decade in 1930s. Guard Bruno Banducci and tackle Al Wistert were also First-Team All-Decade in the 1940s.
So the fact that Kramer was not only a First-Team All-Decade player, plus was the lone guard on the NFL 50th anniversary team, make his omission from the Pro Football Hall of Fame truly appalling.
There is absolutely no doubt that Kramer has the credentials to be in Canton. It’s incomprehensible that Kramer still is waiting for his proper enshrinement.
There is also no doubt that the members of the seniors committee have a very difficult job. A lot of very good players have fallen through the cracks through the years.
Besides the First-Team All-decade players who have still not been enshrined, there are several more deserving players who have been kept out of Canton. Players like Chuck Howley, Robert Brazile, Ken Anderson, Randy Gradishar, Bob Kuechenberg, Pat Fischer, Alex Karras and Joe Jacoby.
And besides Kramer, there are a number of other deserving players who played for the Packers, like the before-mentioned Dilweg, as well as Cecil Isbell, Bobby Dillon and Gale Gillingham.
It would help if the Hall of Fame would make the process a little easier for seniors committee.
Like allowing the committee to nominate more than two seniors. Gosselin has proposed to nominate up to 10 seniors for the Class of 2019, which will be the 100th anniversary of the NFL.
That would be a great gesture by the Pro Football Hall of Fame to follow through on Gosselin’s proposal.
Plus there is the issue of who votes for the senior nominees. There are nine members of the seniors committee. Yet only five of the nine meet in August to determine the senior nominee or nominees. All committee members should be present for the discussion.
Also, not only should the committee allow current Hall of Fame members to be part of the discussion for the senior nominees (which is being done now), but more of them need to be part of the discussion.
Each decade (if possible) should be represented by at least one current Hall of Fame player at the seniors meeting.
There are a number of current Hall of Fame members who are still living and who played in the 1960s. They could speak on behalf of Kramer, whether they played with him or against him.
There would definitely be a lot to say.
Because in the 60s, Kramer was a five-time (First-Team) All-Pro and was also named to three Pro Bowls for the Packers. 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 also played a large role in the success that the Packers had under head coach Vince Lombardi in the postseason. The Packers were 9-1 under Lombardi in the postseason, 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 NFL team has ever duplicated that feat.
No. 64 played a big role in a number of those championship game victories.
In the 1962 NFL Championship Game versus the New York Giants at very 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.
Kramer earned a game-ball for his efforts that day in the Bronx.
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.
Taylor and halfback Paul Hornung led a rushing attack that gained 204 yards, 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 as the Packers gained big chunks of yardage past the line of scrimmage.
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” made his way into the end zone.
In the 1966 NFL Championship Game at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, the Packers outlasted the Cowboys 34-27. Once again, 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.
Then came the 1967 NFL Championship Game (better known as the “Ice Bowl”) versus the Cowboys at frigid Lambeau Field. In that legendary contest, 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 certainly 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 still 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. Nine times! That in itself tells you that Kramer was a tremendous player.
But as all 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.
In 1997, Kramer was a senior finalist, but for some ridiculous reason he did not get the votes necessary for induction.
That was almost 20 years ago. Yet Kramer still waits.
Opponents who played against Kramer in his era certainly endorse his enshrinement into Canton.No endorsement is bigger than the one from the late Merlin Olsen. To many, Olsen is considered the best defensive tackle in NFL history.
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.”
Besides Olsen, 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 Bart Starr, Paul Hornung and Willie Davis, along with players like Bob 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.
That is why it is so important to hear from Hall of Fame players when the senior committee meets to determine which senior or seniors will be nominated.
The bottom line is that 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.
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.
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. A credibility cloud to be sure.
The Super Bowl trophy is named after Vince Lombardi. For good reason. This is what Lombardi said about Kramer in 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 only wish the seniors committee 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 he played a big part in the team’s success.
It goes without saying that Kramer should absolutely receive the honor which he so richly deserves. That is, being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a place where the best of the best get recognized.
Kramer was most certainly the best of the best.
Which is why he was named to the 1960s All-Decade team, as well as the NFL’s 50th anniversary team in 1969.
Yet the Pro Football Hall of Fame still hasn’t recognized that. Which tells me and many others like Rick Gosselin, that there is definitely a credibility issue at the Hall.
That credibility problem will never change until Kramer gets his rightful enshrinement in Canton.