Jerry Kramer played right guard and at times as a kicker for 11 seasons for the Green Bay Packers from 1958 through 1968. In those 11 seasons, Kramer was part of five teams under head coach Vince Lombardi which won five NFL titles in seven years, which also included the first two Super Bowls.
In addition to that, the Packers won three straight NFL championships from 1965 through 1967, which makes them the only NFL team to ever accomplish that feat since the playoff era started in the league in 1933.
Kramer was honored for his stellar play at right guard during that era, as he was named AP first-team All-Pro fives times and AP second-team All-Pro once. No. 64 was also named to three Pro Bowl squads.
The former Idaho Vandal star also came up big in championship games, as he played a key role in the victories in the 1962, 1965 and 1967 title games for the Packers.
After his career was over, Kramer received more honors, as he was named as a guard on the NFL All-Decade team for the 1960s.
Plus, there was the NFL 50th anniversary team named in 1969. The first team, which consisted of the best players ever at their particular positions, included 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.
For some unfathomable reason, Kramer is the only member of that 50th anniversary team who has not been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
I had an opportunity to talk with Kramer again recently, and I wanted to get Jerry’s take on who were the five-best defensive tackles that No. 64 faced in his career. Here is the rundown of that group according to Kramer:
- Merlin Olsen
- Alex Karras
- Leo Nomellini
- Art Donovan
- Charlie Krueger
Of that group of five, three (Olsen, Nomellini and Donovan) are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Karras deserves to be in Canton, as does Kramer. Like Kramer, Nomellini was also on the 50th anniversary team.
Nomellini and Donovan were both on the NFL All-Decade team for the 1950s. Olsen and Karras were both on the NFL All-Decade team for the 1960s.
Kramer added some commentary on each one of these stalwart opponents who he faced on so many occasions.
The 6’5″, 270-pound Olsen was named AP first-team All-Pro five times and AP second-team All-Pro four times. In addition, Olsen was named to a whopping 14 Pro Bowls.
“At a Pro Bowl once, Merlin weighed in at 300 pounds,” Kramer said. “Just think about the measurables you were up against versus Merlin. He was 6’5” and close to 300 pounds near the end of the season.
“Add to that, Merlin was a Phi Beta Kappa who had a bright mind and an incredibly competitive spirit. He was smart enough to be a great movie star and smart enough to be a great football player.
“He also had a vibe and an energy about him that just drove him. He never let up. If a game was 65 plays, Merlin was going to come at you 65 times. So with the brains, the physical abilities and the heart, Merlin was just a complete player.
“Merlin and I were great pals. We hung out together. I actually did a sales film with Merlin and Don Shula in the recession of the mid-70s called, Defense, Defense to help companies to better take care of their customers and their business.
“But in terms of being a player, Merlin brought it all day. There was no rest when you were going up against him.”
The 6’2″, 248-pound Karras was named AP first-team All-Pro three times and AP second-team All-Pro four times. Plus, Karras was named to four Pro Bowl squads.
“I knew Alex and Merlin very well,” Kramer said. “I studied them. I dreamed about them. I spent hours and hours studying their tendencies. And there was not a hell of a lot of difference between the two of them. Alex was maybe not as consistent as Merlin.
“Alex and I first played against each other in the East-West Shrine Game and we were both on the College All-Star team.
“Alex was very strong in the upper-body. He also had a wrestling background and also had good feet. Alex also brought a lot of emotion when he played. He just hated Green Bay, just like my old buddy Wayne Walker did, who recently passed away. All of the Lions just hated the Packers.
“Alex and I had some great battles that got a bit testy at times, but later we became good friends. Both us of were doing color commentary for CFL games in the ’70s. In our first game together, it didn’t go well, as Alex would say the players were doing this and I’m saying no, that the players were doing this instead. We were basically sniping at each other.
“The next week, as I was trying to get better as a commentator, I was watching the practice of one of the CFL teams. As I’m doing this, Alex walks up and sits down besides me and says somewhat uneasily, ‘We sure had a lot of great games against one another didn’t we?’ And I responded that we sure did.
“I also reminded him of the last game that we played against each other. I was trying a 52-tard field goal and Alex broke through the line and hit me with a forearm right in the chest. As he did that, Alex said, ‘Stick that in your book you ******cker!’
“After Alex heard me tell that story, he sort of blushed, but we both giggled and it broke the ice. From that point on, we became really good pals.”
The 6’3″, 259-pound Nomellini was named AP first-team All-Pro six times and AP second-team All-Pro once. In addition, Nomellini was named to 10 Pro Bowl teams.
“Leo was also a professional wrestler,” Kramer said. “He was always in great shape. One time he cussed out the officials in a game against us once and he called them every name in the book. I was shocked, as this happened in my first or second year and I was always respectful to the officials.
“Leo had great upper-body strength that made him tough to play against. But he did one thing that made it easier for me to play against him. The San Francisco 49ers ran a 4-3 defense almost exclusively. The only variation from my standpoint, was whether Leo went inside or outside.
“If Leo went inside, the middle linebacker would cover the guard-tackle hole on either side. If Leo went outside, the middle linebacker would cover the center. So as I’m watching film of Leo and the 49er defense, I noticed that Leo normally lines up with his right foot back. But then I also saw a play where Leo put his right foot parallel to his left foot.
“I soon realized that Leo would line up with his feet parallel if he was going outside. But when he went inside, his right foot would be back. That film study by me catching that key made it a bit easier for me to handle Leo. I was a lot more confident in going up against Leo after that.”
The 6’2″, 263-pound Donovan was named AP first-team All-Pro four times and AP second-team All-Pro two times. Plus, Donovan was named to play in four Pro Bowls.
“Most of your NFL defensive tackles are big, strong bull-rushers,” Kramer said. “They don’t dance. Henry Jordan was a dancer. Henry beat you with quickness, not so much with strength. Artie was the same way. He also had quick feet.
“Artie would stand up and wiggle and shake. He was like a matador. He would move back and forth and wait for you to hit him. Then he would dodge you and push you aside with his arms and head towards the quarterback.
“I had never played against a defensive tackle like that was a shaker like that. I always went up against big bulls. Now Artie was a big guy, but he could really move. The first time I played against him, I wanted to touch him after the game to see if he was real. Because during the game I lunged at him many times and never touched him.
“I was sat down in the second half of that game against Artie. I studied that film for quite awhile and got better playing against Artie after that. But it was still hard to play against him. You had to wait on him to make his move and eventually he would because he was running out of time.”
The 6’4″, 256-pound Krueger was named AP second-team All-Pro twice and was also named to two Pro Bowl squads.
“Charlie was a Texas A&M boy,” Kramer said. “Charlie was lean and mean. Like Merlin, Charlie would come after you play after play. He just never let up. He never took a play off.
“I remember that when I would pull to the right, Charlie would go down the line instantly. He pulled almost with me. He had great quickness and great reflexes. So I got the idea that on pass blocks sometimes against Charlie, I would throw my right leg and shoulder out like I was pulling and Charlie would be outside the defensive end just like that.
“After that, I went back into normal pass protection mode, but by then Charlie was out of position and couldn’t recover in time to rush the passer. You couldn’t do that with very many guys.
“In Instant Replay, I wrote about Charlie when he and I played together in the College All-Star game. His wife kept calling to find out if Charlie was there. She would ask, ‘Is Charles Krueger thayuh?’ When he finally showed up, we called him, “Charles Krueger thayuh” after that.
“In the book, I talked about my mental preparation going into a game against an opponent. I didn’t want to look at my opponent and I didn’t want to see him. I wanted to build up an anger and emotion. So before we are going to play the 49ers in ’67, I was standing in the tunnel ready to take the field when I felt a presence behind me. Then I heard, ‘Is Gerald Kramer thayuh?’ It was Charlie.
“That completely threw off my mental preparation for the game.”
Kramer went to battle in the trenches many times with Olsen, Karras, Nomellini, Donovan and Krueger. As you have read, Kramer has the highest level of respect for each one of those players.
But the opposite is also true. In fact, the top two defensive tackles who Kramer faced in his career, Olsen and Karras, both endorsed Kramer for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
In his endorsement of Kramer to the Hall, Olsen said:
“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.”
Karras said this about Kramer and why he belongs in Canton:
“As you well know, Vince Lombardi was in fact a great coach and won so many games. The reason Lombardi had such an outstanding record was due to the players: Jimmy Taylor, Forrest Gregg, Bart Starr, Ray Nitschke, Herb Adderley, Willie Davis, Jim Ringo and Paul Hornung.
“With all the players listed above, someone has been left out. But, why? Jerry Kramer is one player that should never be forgotten. The “best” pulling guard in his time.
“Let’s don’t pass him up for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, just because he played with so many greats. Jerry made all of them better.”
Kramer appreciates all of the kudos and endorsements that he has received from all of the great defensive tackles of his era, which also includes Bob Lilly and Alan Page, who also have busts in Canton.
“That’s such a great thing,” Kramer said. “To know that those guys, guys that I respect, also respected me. It is wonderful to know that. That’s as good as it gets.”