The moment that so many people had been waiting for actually happened on Thursday afternoon, August 24. Yes, right guard Jerry Kramer of the Green Bay Packers was nominated by the Seniors Selection Committee for possible induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Besides Kramer, linebacker Robert Brazile of the Houston Oilers was also nominated as a senior candidate. On Friday, former Washington Redskins and San Diego Chargers general manager Bobby Beathard was named as a contributor nominee.
Kramer, Brazile and Beathard immediately became finalists for enshrinement in Canton. The modern group of finalists is yet to be determined. The entire group will be voted on by the 48 members of the entire Selection Committee of the Hall of Fame on February 3, the day before Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis.
This process has been a long road for Kramer, who is now a finalist for the 11th time, but only the second time as a senior candidate.
I tried to lay out the reasons why Kramer deserved to be a senior nominee this year in a recent story, as I wrote a presentation piece as to why No. 64 should be one of the two senior candidates.
Here is part of what I wrote:
In 1969, Jerry was named the best player ever at the guard position in the first 50 years of the NFL, when 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, Chuck Bednarik, Gino Marchetti, Leo Nomellini, Ray Nitschke, Dick “Night Train” Lane, Emlen Tunnell, Lou Groza and Kramer.
Every one of the members on that legendary team are now enshrined as players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. All except one. That would be Mr. Kramer.
Plus, let’s not forget that 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, 134 of those players have been inducted into the hallowed halls in Canton.
Kramer is one of those 11 First-Team All-Decade players who have yet to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
Now looking back on Kramer’s career with the Packers, No. 64 was a six-time AP All-Pro and was also named to three Pro Bowls for the Packers. Kramer 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.
Kramer was a huge component in the NFL title victories in 1962, 1965 and 1967.
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.
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.
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.
It all came down to 13 seconds to go with no timeouts at the 1-yard line of the Cowboys.
Quarterback 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 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.
Finally, besides being named to the NFL 50th anniversary team and being named All-Decade in the 1960s, Kramer also has the respect and admiration of many of his peers who he played with and against during his era.
Peers who now have busts in Canton.
Kramer has been endorsed by legendary defensive tackles such as Merlin Olsen and Bob Lilly, who were not only All-Decade in the 1960s, but also in the 1970s. Kramer was also endorsed by Alan Page, who was named All-Decade in the 1970s.
Kramer was really honored with the endorsement he received from Olsen, as Merlin was the finest defensive tackle he ever faced. In fact, there are many who believe Olsen was the best defensive tackle in NFL history.
Olsen went to 14 Pro Bowls, plus 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.”
Kramer has also been endorsed by other contemporaries who are already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Kramer has been recommended for the Hall of Fame by teammates like Starr, Hornung and Willie Davis, along with opponents like Frank Gifford, Chuck Bednarik, Doug Atkins, Joe Schmidt, John Mackey, Raymond Berry, Mel Renfro, Mike Ditka, Jim Otto, Tom Mack, Dave Wilcox, Tommy McDonald and Lem Barney.
he absolute proudest endorsement Kramer ever received came from his head coach.
This is what Vince 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 do know from talking with Rick Gosselin, who was at the Seniors Selection Committee meeting on Thursday, that he along with Bernie Miklasz, were the two people responsible for convincing the other three members of the committee gathered in Canton that day that Kramer deserved to be one of the two nominees.
I also talked with Kramer himself and he shared his thoughts about how this all went down. My first question was where Kramer was when he heard the news.
“I was having lunch,” Kramer said. “Chad Ovitt from Kenosha called me. I had done an autograph session for Chad on Sunday. Chad said, ‘Congratulations!’ And I said, ‘For what?’ He said, ‘The nomination.’
“I was caught a bit off-guard, as I was somewhat aware of this situation, but I made it a point to not focus on it. Not to pay a lot of attention to it. Not to participate. And to not get all worked up emotionally about it.
“When I put my phone down after I hung up with Chad, I saw I missed a couple of calls from David Baker (President/Executive Director of the Pro Football Hall of Fame). And I couldn’t believe it. It really did happen!”
Kramer related his thoughts to me about the conversation he had with Baker about his nomination.
“I had a nice chat with David and others in the room,” Kramer said. “There were congratulations all around. My stomach was doing flip-flops. My heart was pounding a bit. It was sort of surreal setting. Like is this real? Is this my imagination again or am I really on the phone with David Baker, thanking him for selecting me as a nominee?
“I had played that scenario in my head a number of times. Sometimes, I got real nasty and would tell them to stick it in their ear. And sometimes I’m very polite, thoughtful and considerate and all that. I go back and forth depending on my mood I guess.
“But when the moment came, I became all wishy-washy, all gooey and all emotional with them on the phone. I allowed my emotions to come out. I gushed a little bit. It was really a wonderful moment for me. I thanked them and thanked them and thanked them.
“All the bad and the negative stuff I might have said didn’t appear. It was all thank you and I appreciate it. And what a wonderful honor this is. I was just very happy about it all and the negative guy didn’t show up and didn’t even get in the room.”
The people who Kramer talked with included Baker, Gosselin and the other committee members, consultants Art Shell and Carl Eller, plus Executive Director for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Joe Horrigan.
During the conversation, Horrigan told Kramer, “Jerry, this will reduce my mail by 90 percent!”
As we talked, Kramer made it a point to thank all of his fans, especially those in America’s Dairyland.
“Wisconsin fans are absolutely sensational,” Kramer said. “You can’t define them well enough for people to understand how wonderful they are and how wonderful they have been to me. Specifically over the years. We are still having that love affair.”
Kramer also mentioned how his phone has been blowing up with calls of congratulations from so many people.
“There are so many people who have come forward with congratulations, best wishes and all kind of things,” Kramer said. “It’s heartwarming. Especially at this particular point in time in my life.
“To have so many people weigh-in and say, ‘Hell of a job’ or ‘Congratulations’ mean a lot to me. You can feel their happiness. They are pleased just like they were nominated. In a sense, they were. They were part of the process, writing letters and they helped. It is really a state-wide, nation-wide and even world-wide effort on behalf of these people.”
Still, the job has not been completed just yet. Kramer needs to get at least 39 members of the 48-person Selection Committee to vote for him on February 3 so he can get his rightful place in Canton.
That is the second step of this process. But the first step was taken care of on Thursday, when Kramer was nominated.
In terms of where Kramer is, regarding his enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, using an analogy, the ball is now inside the one yard line with just seconds remaining in the game. It’s definitely time to call the 31-wedge play.
It will be very apropos that 50 years and basically a little over a month after that famous play was called on December 31, 1967, that Kramer finds himself in the end zone once again.
But this time the end zone will be an entrance to be among the best of the best in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.