Offensive linemen in the NFL will always have a difficult job, especially in protecting the quarterback in the passing game. But starting in 1978, the job became a tad easier, after the NFL implemented a rule change which allowed offensive linemen to extend their arms and use their open hands while pass-blocking.
That change also coincided with another rule change which permitted a defensive back to maintain contact with a receiver within five yards of the line of scrimmage, but restricted contact beyond that point.
Those rules changes made the NFL more of a passing-happy league, which has continued to this day.
Anyone who was an offensive lineman before 1978, was very restricted with their ability to block, whether in the passing game or the running game.
One of those players was the legendary right guard of the Green Bay Packers, Jerry Kramer, who played with the Pack from 1958 through 1968. I had another opportunity to talk with Kramer about that situation earlier this week.
“It was a totally different deal as opposed to today, Bob,” Kramer said. “Not only were you not allowed to use your hands, you had to have them up on your chest. If you let your hands get away from your body, even if your fists were clinched, and you didn’t reach for anything, they could call illegal use of hands.”
Just imagine having to stay that restricted while having to take on the likes of Alex Karras or Merlin Olsen at defensive tackle. Pass-blocking had to be extremely difficult.
“You really had to move in front of the guy,” Kramer said. “That’s why Fuzzy [Thurston] was so good at it. Fuzz had great feet. He had really quick feet. Plus, he had a wonderful sense of balance too. He was like a spinning top. The defender would hit him and Fuzzy would spin and counter the move.
“That’s kind of what you had to do. You had to get in front of the guy and stop him with force. You couldn’t grab him and you couldn’t hold him. And if he was on the edge, he was going to get by your ass. The only thing you could do was move your feet really well.
“You could also change things up once in awhile. You could mess with the defensive tackle. But not too much. You didn’t want to overdo it and you had to be pretty careful. I would often times, when we would be passing several times in a row, I would fire off the line of scrimmage like I’m blocking someone on a running play, and I would pop the guy really quick and then pop back into my stance.
“It would take the guy a little bit to re-start himself and orient himself to figure out what the hell we were doing. You could also put a lot of weight on your hand in the stance, and look like you were about to drive-block, and lean way forward, and have the defensive tackles submarine, thinking it was a running play.”
Kramer talked about one of the things he used to do against Charlie Krueger of the San Francisco 49ers, who was one of the better defensive tackles in the NFL at the time.
“Charlie was a great pursuit guy,” Kramer said. “You could take a step with your right foot, like you were pulling, which I did a few times with him, not a lot, he would be outside the defensive end in a heartbeat.
“Charlie would instinctively and instantly react that way to the move, thinking I was pulling, and he would be outside about six yards before he figured out that I was jerking him around and that it was really a pass play.”
There was also another defensive tackle for the 49ers that Kramer also faced at times. That would be Leo Nomellini, who was a first-team All-Pro six times and went to 10 Pro Bowls.
Nomellini would give away which way he would be going on his pass rush after careful study by Kramer.
“Leo indicated which way he would be rushing,” Kramer said. “The 49ers only used an inside or an outside charge in their 4-3 defense at the time. When Leo was going inside, he would put his right foot back.
“When he was going outside, he would put his feet parallel, because it was difficult to go to his left without getting that right foot out. So he told me through his feet, which way he was going.”
This process worked both ways. Sometimes an offensive lineman like Kramer would give out keys to what type of play would be upcoming to their opponent.
For example, Kramer’s teammate on the Packers, defensive tackle Ron Kostelnik, figured out what type of play the offense would be running by studying Kramer during a practice one day.
“I was leaning towards the inside on a cutoff block,”Kramer said. “I was subconsciously leaning. And the “Culligan Man” (Kostelnik) would tell me, ‘You are leaning, Jerry. Cutoff block.’
“I wasn’t aware of it or conscience of it. But I guess I was because Kos called me on it. That helped me to be much more aware of my stance before that play was called again in the future.”
The most famous block that was ever thrown by Kramer or anyone else in NFL history came in the closing seconds of the 1967 NFL Championship Game, better known as the “Ice Bowl” at Lambeau Field.
That block came to be because of film study by Kramer, as he explained.
“We were watching three films of the Cowboys from their previous three games,” Kramer said. “I watched Jethro Pugh in the first game and I noticed he was high on every goal line play. I saw him high in every instance of that game in that situation. I didn’t say anything though.
“I watched the second game and then the third game and then I said that we would could block Pugh on a wedge play. Coach Lombardi goes, ‘Run that back!’ So they ran it back three or four times and Coach finally goes, ‘That’s right, put in a wedge on Pugh.’
“I mean I didn’t realize when that situation would come up when we played the Cowboys. Late in the first half or in the middle of the field on a third and short play. I had no idea that it would occur with just 13 seconds remaining at the Dallas 1-yard line.
“I had no idea that would be the situation when I volunteered that information. But I saw something that in the scheme of things was a very small piece of information. But as it turned out, it was a big piece of information.”
Indeed it was.
On the legendary play, quarterback Bart Starr called a “31 Wedge” play in the huddle, which calls for the fullback to get the ball. But after conferring with Coach Lombardi, Starr decided that it would be better if he kept the ball due to the slippery conditions near the goal line.
When Starr started on his quarterback sneak, Pugh was high just as Kramer had expected, and No. 64 put his head into the chest of Pugh and moved him aside with late help from center Ken Bowman.
The result? Starr happily followed Kramer’s block into the end zone and into NFL immortality. The Packers had a 21-17 win and that play turned out to be the signature moment of the Lombardi legacy in Green Bay, which included five NFL titles in seven years, plus the first two Super Bowls.
On that famous block, Kramer used his head and his shoulders to block Pugh. Not his hands, like offensive linemen can do in the current NFL, as long as they are kept inside.
It was like that on all running plays. And the Packers were a run-first team under Lombardi. The power sweep was the staple play of the Packers. When Kramer and Thurston pulled on that play, they were not allowed to use their hands in any way.
So, how did one block his opponent in the open field on the power sweep?
“You just had to run over the defender,” Kramer said. “You would run them the hell over. Sometimes you could get a forearm in there a bit. But generally, you just ran through them.”
The blocking rules and limitations for offensive linemen back in the era when Kramer played, is yet another reason why it’s so ridiculous that No. 64 still doesn’t have a bust in Canton.
There is no doubt that the Pro Football Hall of Fame has a credibility problem regarding the omission of Kramer from that hallowed place.
I wrote about that situation three months ago. This is the beginning of that piece:
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.
When you add to that Kramer was also on the NFL All-Decade team for the 1960s, plus was first-team All-Pro five times and went to the Pro Bowl three times, the fact that Kramer has not been inducted up to this point is just bewildering and ludicrous.
As is the fact that Kramer performed fantastically at crunch time or in championship games. I already mentioned Kramer’s block in the 1967 title game, but he also was key figure in the 1962 and 1965 NFL championship games.
In the 1962 NFL title 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.
In the 1965 NFL title 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 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.
And all of this was done without Kramer being allowed to extend his arms or use his open hands.
In an ironic twist, the seniors committee members for the Pro Football Hall of Fame need to extend it’s arms and open it’s hands in August of 2017 by naming Kramer as one of the two senior nominees for the Class of 2018.
And then on the Saturday before Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Kramer can finally get his rightful induction into Canton by all the voters for the Hall of Fame.
When that happens, we can all extend our arms and use our hands to clap and cheer for one of the best offensive linemen to have ever played in the NFL…Gerald Louis Kramer.