Boyd Dowler Talks About the 1959 NFL Draft Class of the Green Bay Packers

Boyd Dowler Running Downfield

A little over a year ago, I wrote about the 1958 NFL draft class of the Green Bay Packers. One of the members of that draft class, right guard and occasional placekicker Jerry Kramer, commented about that prodigious class.

When I wrote the piece, Kramer had not been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, like he was earlier this month.

Now with Kramer being enshrined, that means that three members of that draft class in 1958 are among the best of the best in the hallowed halls in Canton. Both Jim Taylor (1976) and Ray Nitschke (1978) preceded Kramer into the Hall of Fame.

In addition to those three, the 1958 draft class also had Dan Currie, who was a great pro in his own right until a knee injury hampered him throughout the rest of his career. The class also had a guard by the name of Ken Gray who was drafted two rounds after Kramer in the sixth round.

Kramer and Gray basically battled for one job in training camp and Kramer won out while Gray was cut. Gray soon ended up signing with the then Chicago Cardinals and ended up having a great career with the Cards.

While he was with the Cardinals (in Chicago and St. Louis), Gray was named to six Pro Bowl squads, plus was named first-team All-Pro four times.

Needless to say, the 1958 NFL draft class for the Packers was the best the team ever had in it’s history.

Back in the 1950s, the man who headed the scouting for the Packers was Jack Vainisi. A number of great players were drafted by Vainisi over that time. The list includes Billy Howton, Bobby Dillon, Dave “Hawg” Hanner, Bill Forester, Jim Ringo, Max McGee, Forrest Gregg, Bob Skoronski, Hank Gremminger, Bart Starr, Ron Kramer, John Symank and also the class of 1958.

Vainisi also played an important role in drafting the class of 1959 for the Packers. The team was undergoing a very strange set of circumstances. Green Bay was coming off the worst season in in team history, as the Pack went 1-10-1 under head coach Ray “Scooter” McLean.

Sadly, Vainisi died of a heart attack in 1960 at the young age of 33, just prior the championship run that the Packers had under Vince Lombardi, who had not been hired until after the 1959 draft.

Anyway, back in those days, the NFL draft was set up to have the early part of the draft in the latter part of the ongoing 1958 season (December 2, 1958), while the next part of the draft took place after the season had ended (January 21, 1959).

When the first part of the draft took place, McLean was still the head coach. But the writing was on the wall for “Scooter” to be replaced. At that point, the front runner to become the new head coach of the Packers was Forrest Evashevski, who was the head coach at Iowa.

Evashevski had turned the Hawkeyes into a powerhouse in the Big Ten in the ’50s and was on his way to his second Rose Bowl win in three years. Iowa was led by quarterback Randy Duncan, who guided the Hawkeyes to a 8-1-1 record in 1958 and a 38-12 victory over the Cal Bears in Pasadena.

Duncan was consensus All-American in 1958 and finished second in the voting for the Heisman Trophy.

So, when the 1959 NFL draft took place, the Packers sort of rolled the dice and selected Duncan with the first pick of the draft in the first round. I’m sure that Packers were thinking that Evashevski would soon be following. But that never happened.

Plus, Duncan never played for the Packers and went to the CFL instead to play for the British Columbia Lions.

Two other players were selected on that early December day in 1958 for the Packers. In the second round, Green Bay selected halfback Alex Hawkins of South Carolina and in the third round, the Packers selected flanker Boyd Dowler of Colorado, who actually played a number of positions for the Buffaloes. More on that later.

The early part of that draft lasted four rounds, but the Packers were done after selecting Duncan, Hawkins and Dowler, as they had traded away their selection in round four.

In the second stage of the draft, when by then McLean had resigned as head coach, and the team was still in the process of hiring a new one, the Packers selected 28 more players. Yes, you read that correctly. The draft lasted 30 rounds in those days.

Of those 28 players, only three made the team. Those players were guard Andy Cvercko of Northwestern (fifth round), halfback Bill Butler of Tennessee-Chattanooga (19th round) and halfback Timmy Brown of Ball State (27th round).

You probably have recognized two pretty well known players in this draft, who then went on to have pretty good careers in the NFL, but for other teams. I’m talking about Hawkins and Brown. More on them later.

A week after the second stage of the 1959 NFL draft was completed, the Packers hired Lombardi to become their head coach.

Vince meeting Dominic to become the new head coach of the Packers

Vince Lombardi shakes hands with Dominic Olejniczak of the Packers in 1959.

Lombardi obviously did not take part in the draft for the Packers in 1959, but he did make a number of trades that offseason after looking at film of the team he would now be coaching.

Here are the key trades Lombardi made:

  • G Fred “Fuzzy”Thurston from the Baltimore Colts for LB Marv Matuzak.
  • S Emlen Tunnell from the New York Giants for cash.
  • QB Lamar McHan from the Chicago Cardinals for a 1960 third-round pick.
  • HB Lew Carpenter and DE Bill Quinlan from the Cleveland Browns for WR Billy Howton.
  • DT Henry Jordan from the Cleveland Browns for a 1960 fourth-round pick.

Between the 1959 NFL draft and the trades Lombardi made, that set up what the Packers had to work with going into the 1959 season. It’s also important to remember that Green Bay had not had a winning season since back in 1947.

So, with all that being said, I had another opportunity to speak with Dowler earlier this week. He and I talked about the 1959 draft and also one of the Lombardi trades that made his role even larger on the team in 1959.

Dowler first talked about the process he went through before the 1959 draft.

“I did not hear from very many people,” Dowler said. “I heard from the San Francisco 49ers, who drafted a few spots down from the Packers. I was picked with the 25th pick, which was the first selection in the third round. So I heard from the 49ers who said they would be interested in drafting me.

“As it turned out, the Packers took me with the 25th pick and the 49ers took my roommate Eddie Dove a few picks later at No. 29. Eddie was one of my best friends and teammates from college (Colorado).

“Eddie was a safety and got picked to play in the Pro Bowl as a rookie, while I was named Rookie of the Year. Eddie and I played against each other for a number of years in the same division before he was traded to the Giants.”

I asked Dowler about the two players who were selected before him in the draft, Duncan and Hawkins.

“I was still in college at Colorado when the Packers took Randy Duncan first as a quarterback,” Dowler said. “Then they took me third, and I also played quarterback and I sort of shook my head and said, ‘What in the hell is going on here?’ It was pretty obvious that the Packers didn’t think of me as a quarterback.

“In terms of Duncan, I’ve never seen him in my life. I never met him. He went to the CFL instead of coming to Green Bay.”

But what about Hawkins and why was he eventually cut?

“Alex played running back as a rookie and for a number of years with the Colts, but he also turned into a good receiver with Falcons,” Dowler said. “Hawkins was sort of a free spirit. He also was on a roster that had quite few running backs. We had Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor. They traded for Lew Carpenter, who was also pretty good. Plus they had Don McIlhenny from SMU who was also a pretty good back.

“Plus they drafted Timmy Brown, who ended up going to the Eagles and had a good career there. But those guys were all on the team. The roster limit was 35 at the time, so it was tough for Alex to make the team, plus he fumbled in a preseason game which sort of sealed his fate.”

Hawkins went on to have a fine career in the NFL. In 11 seasons in the league, nine with the Colts and two with the Falcons, Hawkins rushed for 787 yards and 10 touchdowns, while he caught 129 passes for 1,751 yards and 12 more scores. Hawkins was obviously never a part of any championship teams in Green Bay, but he did strike gold early, as he was on the Colts in 1959 when they won the NFL title.

Dowler also talked about Brown.

“Tim opened the season with us in ’59,” Dowler said. “He fumbled a kickoff in the opener against the Bears and was cut on Tuesday the very next week.”

I checked the Packers media guide and that is correct. That one game was the only game Brown ever played for the Pack.

Brown had a great career with the Eagles, plus also won a NFL title with them in 1960, when they ironically defeated his former teammates 17-13 in the 1960 NFL Championship Game at Franklin Field in Philadelphia.

Timmy Brown

Timmy Brown

In eight years with the Eagles, starting in 1960, Brown rushed for 3,703 yards and scored 31 touchdowns. Brown also caught 231 passes for 3,346 yards and 26 more scores. As good as those stats are, Brown really made a mark as a returner, as he returned five kickoffs for touchdowns and one punt for a score.

Dowler then talked about a trade that Lombardi made which allowed him a real opportunity to get playing time.

“When Coach Lombardi traded Billy Howton, who was really their best receiver (four Pro Bowls), I was fortunate,” Dowler said. “That opened up a spot for me in the lineup. We did not have a lot of receivers them. We had Max [McGee], who was the only wide receiver on the team who had really played when I came in as a rookie.

“I didn’t start right away, but I played quite a bit. I got into the starting lineup against the Bears in Chicago and then had a breakout game against the Colts (eight receptions for 147 yards), who were the world champions that year, the next week in Milwaukee.”

Dowler and I also discussed the reason why Howton was traded. I had heard and read that Howton had rubbed Lombardi the wrong way with his clubhouse lawyer demeanor.

“Howton sort of felt like he should be helping out on who they were going to throw the ball to,” Dowler said. “And that he needed to get the ball more. I think they met up in Lombardi’s office. I think before Howton got in his car to leave that day, he was already traded.”

As it was, Dowler filled in quite well as a rookie at receiver, as he caught 32 passes for 549 yards and four touchdowns, plus rushed for 20 yards on one scamper. That led to Dowler being named Rookie of the Year by UPI in 1959.

That was a great accomplishment for Dowler, as he was not even sure what position he would play in the NFL because he had so many roles when he played at Colorado.

Kramer talked about that in a story I did about Dowler last year.

“Boyd was a very talented athlete,” Kramer said. “He led Colorado in passing, running, receiving and punting. But when you think about that, how the hell could you lead the team in both passing and receiving? You can’t throw to yourself! But Boyd told me that he played in a single-wing offense at Colorado and sometimes he threw the ball and sometimes he caught the ball.”

Dowler concurred.

“When I was drafted, I didn’t really know what position I would play,” Dowler said. “I played quarterback at Colorado. I played in the slot in the East-West Shrine Game and caught some passes and punted. I actually looked pretty good, as we played both ways back then, playing pass defense. My senior year in college, I led the conference in pass interceptions with five. I had 10 in my career at Colorado.

“So I really didn’t know what position I would play. I kind of thought I would be a receiver. I knew I wouldn’t be a quarterback. I knew enough about how I played and how I threw the ball that I wouldn’t be a NFL quarterback.

Boyd Dowler scores TD in Ice Bowl

“When I showed up with the other quarterbacks with the Packers in June, as Coach Lombardi brought us in early, it didn’t take Coach very long to figure out I was a flanker.”

Lombardi figured out a lot of things that year, as the Packers ended having their first winning season (7-5) in 12 years.

It led to the Packers winning five NFL championships in seven years, which included the first two Super Bowls. In addition to that, the Packers won three NFL titles in a row, a feat that has never ever been duplicated in the playoff history of the NFL.

Dowler was in Green Bay for all of that and he played a large role in a number of the championship victories, as he had 30 receptions for 440 yards and five scores in 10 postseason games.

In his overall career in Green Bay, No. 86 had 448 catches for 6,918 yards and 40 touchdowns. Dowler also punted for the Packers for four seasons and had a 42.9 average.

That led to Dowler being named to the NFL 1960s All-Decade team, plus he was also named to the second team on the NFL’s 50 Anniversary team.

When Dowler retired, he was ranked 10th in receptions and ranked 12th in yards receiving in NFL history.

Not bad for guy who wasn’t sure what position he would play in the NFL out of college, huh?

Green Bay Packers: More Wisconsin Badgers on the Way in the 2018 NFL Draft?

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The Green Bay Packers made a significant change this offseason that many of the members of Packer Nation have been asking for. That was, the firing of defensive coordinator Dom Capers.

When head coach Mike McCarthy made that change, many, like NFL scout Chris Landry, thought that Vic Fangio might be a possibility to replace Capers.

But while Fangio decided to stay on as defensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears, McCarthy decided instead to bring in Mike Pettine to run his defense.

Pettine hadn’t coached in the NFL since 2015, which was his second and last year as head coach of the Cleveland Browns, where he was 10-22 over those two seasons. Not a great record, but it looks pretty good compared to the 0-16 mark that the Browns had in 2017.

Pettine was named head coach of the Browns because of his prowess as a defensive coordinator in the NFL. In five years at that position, four with the New York Jets under head coach Rex Ryan and one with the Buffalo Bills, Pettine always coordinated a top 10 defense.

From 2009 though 2012 with the Jets, his defenses were ranked first, third, fifth and eighth in the NFL in total defense, while in 2013 with the Bills, his defense was ranked 10th in that category.

There was one player who was a constant for Pettine, both as a coordinator and one year as a head coach. That player was safety Jim Leonhard, who is now the defensive coordinator for the Wisconsin Badgers.

Leonhard played under Pettine with the Jets from 2009 through 2011, then again with the Bills in 2013 and then finally with the Browns in 2014, which was Pettine’s first year as head coach.

In the year off between playing in the NFL and getting into coaching, Leonhard studied film in 2015 with then defensive coordinator Dave Aranda of the Badgers. Then, in 2016, head coach Paul Chryst of the Badgers hired Leonhard as the defensive backs coach of the Badgers to work under the new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox.

When Wilcox left to become the head coach at Cal, Chryst surprised some people by making Leonhard his new defensive coordinator in 2017.

The decision turned out to be a wise one by Chryst.

Wisconsin has had a fairly long tradition of having good defenses over the past decade. From 2009 though 2012, the Badgers were ranked 16th, 21st, 20th and 13th in total defense in the country.

But when then head coach Gary Andersen brought in Aranda to be the defensive coordinator in 2013, things really changed for the better. First, Aranda switched the Badgers from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 defense.

The players definitely took hold of the new scheme as the Badgers were ranked eighth, fourth and second in total defense from 2013 to 2015, which was Aranda’s final year as defensive coordinator.

The after Aranda left to become the defensive coordinator at LSU, Wilcox took over in 2016, kept the 3-4 scheme, and the defense was ranked sixth in total defense.

But in 2017, in only Leonhard’s second year as a coach and his first as a defensive coordinator, the Badgers were ranked second in total defense (262.1 yards per game) and were exceptional in other statistical categories as well.

The Badgers were ranked third in scoring defense (13.9 points per game), third in rushing defense (98.4 yards per game), fifth in passing defense (163.6 yards per game) and tied for sixth in turnovers gained (29).

Leonhard also used the 3-4 scheme he had learned under both Aranda and Wilcox, plus sprinkled in concepts he had learned playing in the 3-4 defense he played in the NFL under Pettine.

Back when my college buddy Kevin Cosgrove was the defensive coordinator of the Badgers from 1995 through 2003, he told me that the coaching staffs of the Badgers and Packers would get together once every summer before training camp to discuss concepts and schemes.

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Mike Pettine and Jim Leonhard

Now, with Pettine and Leonhard being so closely aligned in the recent past, expect that there will be more than concepts being discussed between the two. I’m sure that there will be a discussion about players as well, especially since a number of former Wisconsin defenders who played under Leonhard in 2017 will be available in the 2018 NFL draft.

There are a number of Badger prospects who should interest Pettine and the Packers on defense. The list includes includes cornerback Nick Nelson, linebacker Jack Cichy, linebacker Garret Dooley, linebacker Leon Jacobs, safety Natrell Jamerson, defensive lineman Alec James and defensive lineman Conor Sheehy.

General manager Ted Thompson of the Packers did select linebacker Vince Biegel of the Badgers in the 2017 NFL draft, when he was selected with the first pick of the fourth round.

But it was the bookend to Biegel on the Badgers, that many, including myself, thought Thompson should have selected. I’m talking about T.J. Watt.

I had the Packers taking Watt in the first round of my first mock draft from last year, as well as in my final mock draft.

Watt ended up being named to the 2017 NFL All-Rookie Team at linebacker.

This year, Thompson has stepped away from his duties as general manager and has been replaced by Brian Gutekunst.

When Thompson was GM, he was almost always a regular at the Wisconsin pro day prior to the draft. You can be assured that Gutekunst will do the same thing and that he will be accompanied by folks like McCarthy, offensive coordinator Joe Philbin and Pettine.

McCarthy and Philbin will be taking a close look at tight end Troy Fumagalli, as well as fullback Austin Ramesh.

Fumagalli would certainly fill a big hole for the Packers at tight end, and the offense of the Packers under McCarthy are always looking for multi-skilled fullbacks, and Ramesh certainly fills that role.

But it is the defense of the Packers which desperately needs upgrading. The Packers were ranked 22nd in total defense in 2017, as they allowed an average of 348.9 yards per game.

Green Bay was ranked 23rd in passing defense (236.8 yards per game) and was ranked 17th in rushing defense (112.1 yards per game).

The Packers played the run fairly well in the early part of the 2017 season, but got progressively worse as the year wore on.

The pass defense of the team was basically in disarray all season long.

The Packers were ranked second-worst in the NFL in opponent’s passer rating, as the season average was 102.0. That is an amazing and very disappointing stat. Why? Because there is only one quarterback in NFL history (based on 1,500 pass attempts) who has a passer rating over 100. That is Aaron Rodgers of the Packers, who has a career mark of 103.8.

To give up a season average of 102.0 is almost unfathomable. Plus Green Bay also allowed opposing QBs to complete 67.8 percent of their passes. The Pack also allowed 30 touchdown passes and only had 11 picks. The defense also allowed 55 completions of 20 yards or better.

That is why the Pettine will certainly want to look at cornerbacks in the draft like Nelson, who received a second-round grade from the NFL Draft Advisory Board. Or safeties in the draft like Jamerson, who had a great week of practice at the East-West Shrine Game, plus was named Defensive MVP of the game itself.

Jamerson definitely improved his draft stock in the Shrine game and is currently projected to get selected late in the draft.

Cichy was probably the best player on the Wisconsin defense in 2016 (which included Watt) in 2016, before he tore his pectoral muscle. In seven games in 2016, Cichy was a magnet for the football, as he had 60 total tackles, seven tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.

Cichy didn’t play in 2017 due to a knee injury suffered in training camp. “Three-Sack Jack” could have come back to play for Wisconsin in 2018, as he was eligible for a medical redshirt, but he decided to declare for the NFL draft instead. Cichy received his nickname due to the three consecutive sacks he had in the 2015 Holiday Bowl versus USC, when the Badgers beat the Trojans 23-21 and Cichy was Defensive MVP of the game.

Jack Cichy

Jack Cichy

Cichy would definitely add some talent to the linebacker depth of the Packers, as he can play inside or outside. Right now Cichy is slotted to be picked anywhere from the fourth through the sixth round. How Cichy is clocked in the 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine and at the Wisconsin pro day will definitely determine where teams will slot him in the draft.

The Packers would seem to be in an excellent position to select Cichy if they like him, as they are slotted to have four picks in the fifth round according to Over The Cap. The Packers will have their own selections in each of the seven rounds of the draft, plus will be also have an additional seventh round pick because of a trade with the Bills, when the team shipped linebacker Lerentee McCray to Buffalo in 2016.

The NFL will officially announce the number of compensatory picks each team will receive soon, but Over The Cap has the Packers getting one in the third round and three in the fifth round. That would mean the Packers would have 12 picks overall in the 2018 NFL draft.

*** The NFL announced on Friday that the Packers were awarded four compensatory picks Friday in the 2018 draft: a fourth-round pick (No. 133 overall), two fifth-round picks (Nos. 172 and 174) and a sixth-round pick (No. 207).

Dooley is another player who could help the linebacker corp for the Packers. He was very consistent for the Badgers at outside linebacker in both 2016 and 2017, as he had 79 total tackles, 17 tackles for a loss and 9.5 sacks. Dooley is another prospect slotted to be selected in the fifth round or later.

Jacobs had a great senior year for the Badgers, as he had 60 total tackles, 10 tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks, two interceptions, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries (one for a touchdown). Jacobs, like Cichy, can play either inside or outside. Jacobs is also expected to go late in the draft.

In terms of the defensive line, both James and Sheehy were very good in stopping the run at Wisconsin. James also had 11 sacks in his career as a Badgers, while Sheehy added six. Both James and Sheehy are projected to go late in the draft or be signed as an undrafted rookie free agent.

The draft stock of all these players will be helped or diminished by how they perform at the combine and at their pro day.

All of the Wisconsin draft prospects certainly know how to win, as the Badgers have gone 34-7 under Chryst the past three seasons (10-3, 11-3 and 13-1), which includes bowl wins in the Holiday Bowl, Cotton Bowl and the Orange Bowl.

But based on the connection between Pettine and Leonhard, I definitely could see at least one Badger defender taken in this draft by the Packers, especially based on the seven picks the team will have from the fifth round through the seventh, where a number of the Wisconsin defensive prospects are slotted.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame: Both Boyd Dowler and Ron Kramer Deserve Consideration

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In my most recent story, in which Jerry Kramer of the Green Bay Packers reflected about being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, one of the things we talked about was the NFL’s 50th anniversary team.

You see, Kramer was the last player on the first-team of that half-century team of the NFL to be enshrined in Canton. The other players on the first-team are 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 and Lou Groza.

Talk about an impressive list of the best of the best in NFL history!

I mentioned to Kramer that only two other players on that 50th anniversary team were still not inducted and both were teammates of his. Kramer was shocked to hear that the players are Boyd Dowler (second-team) and Ron Kramer (third-team).

The other players on the second-team besides Dowler, are Sammy Baugh, Bronco Nagurski, Harold “Red” Grange, Forrest Gregg, Raymond Berry, Mike Ditka, Danny Fortman, Mel Hein, Len Ford, Ernie Stautner, Joe Schmidt, Jack Butler, Jack Christiansen and Ernie Nevers.

Not a bad group to be associated with, huh?

The other players on the third-team besides (Ron) Kramer, are Norm Van Brocklin, Joe Perry, Hugh McElhenney, Lenny Moore, Joe Stydahar, Dante Lavelli, Jim Parker, Alex Wojciechowicz, David “Deacon” Jones, Art Donovan, Clyde “Bulldog” Turner, Herb Adderley, Larry Wilson and Ken Strong.

Another stellar group.

After I told Jerry that Boyd and Ron were the only two out of 45 players from the 50th anniversary team of the NFL not in Canton, No. 64 talked about his two former teammates.

First, Jerry talked about the player who shared his last name.

“Ron was a 260-pound runaway truck,” Kramer said. “He was an outstanding athlete at Michigan. He high-jumped 6’4”. He threw the shot put around 60 feet. Ron was also very good in basketball, was the captain of the team and at one point was the all-time leading scorer in team history at Michigan.

“He was an All-American in football for two years running. Overall, Ron won nine letters in sports at Michigan, three each in football, basketball and track.

“Ron was also quite the character off the field. He and Paul Hornung were very close. Ron was a unique human being. He was a bit wacky at times. He loved to put a drink on his head because he had a flat spot up there, and he would dance with it up there.

Ron Kramer and Vince Lombardi in 1961 NFL title game.

“Ron also like to mess with you. He would kiss you in the ear or some silly-ass thing. Just to irritate you. He would do that just for aggravation and he would giggle and laugh.

“So when Ron died, Hornung goes to his funeral up in Detroit and Ron’s son Kurt picked up Paul at the airport. When Kurt sees Paul, he gives him a big kiss right on the lips. And Paul yells, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ And Kurt said, ‘Dad told me about three months ago that if he didn’t make it and if you came to his funeral, I was supposed to give you a big kiss on the lips and to tell you it was from dad.’

“Paul started crying like a baby after that.”

When Kramer played tight end for the Packers, they were predominately a running team and that is when the power sweep was most effective, as the tight end played a key role in the blocking scheme.

From 1960 to 1964, the Packers were ranked either first (three times) or second (twice) in rushing in the NFL.

In one of our many conversations, Jerry said of the power sweep, “Bobby, in the first three years we ran that play, we averaged I believe 8.3 yards a carry.”

Ron Kramer was one hell of a run-blocker, but was also very effective in the passing game. In his career with the Packers, which spanned seven years before he played out his option to play for his hometown Detroit Lions, No. 88 had 170 receptions for 2,594 yards and 15 touchdowns.

In the postseason, Kramer had six catches for 105 yards and two touchdowns. Both scores occurred in the 1961 NFL title game, when the Packers beat the New York Giants 37-0 at then City Stadium (now Lambeau Field). That was the first championship game ever played in Green Bay.

Ron Kramer was named All-Pro once and also was named to one Pro Bowl team. Plus, Kramer was also on the third team of the NFL’s 50th anniversary team.

Jerry then turned his attention to Dowler.

“Boyd was so precise and so mature his rookie year,” Kramer said. “He started taking care of business right out of the gate. He rarely dropped a pass. He would catch it over the middle, catch it on the sidelines and catch it wherever the hell you threw it. He was consistent throughout his career.”

I wrote a story about Dowler last year, as Kramer added some more commentary. One of the things Kramer mentioned was how Dowler was very self-assured.

“I think Boyd’s confidence was one of the big reasons why he was accepted so quickly and completely,” Kramer said. “There were no excuses from Boyd. If he screwed something up, he would be the guy to tell you. But he very seldom screwed things up and made very few mistakes.”

In his 11-year career with the Packers, Dowler had 448 receptions for 6,918 yards and 40 touchdowns. In the postseason, Dowler also had 30 receptions for 440 yards and five scores.

In his rookie year in 1959, Dowler was named Rookie of the Year by UPI (United Press International). The former Colorado star was also named to two Pro Bowls in his career.

Boyd Dowler scores TD in 1961 NFL title game

In addition to that, Dowler was named to the NFL 1960s All-Decade team, plus was named to the second-team on the NFL’s 50 Anniversary team.

I had an opportunity to talk with Dowler earlier this week to talk about his being on the NFL’s 50th anniversary team and also about his chances of getting into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The reason I brought up the Hall of Fame, was because Rick Gosselin also noted that only Dowler and (Ron) Kramer are the only players on the NFL’s 50th anniversary team not in Canton.

Here is what Gosselin said about Dowler and Kramer in a recent podcast on the Talk of Fame Sports Network:

“Can you enshrine too many players from one franchise in the Hall of Fame? That’s the question that came up last week when those of us on the Hall of Fame selection committee enshrined the 12th member of the 1960’s Packers. That’s guard Jerry Kramer.

“That’s more than half of the starting lineup, plus the head coach from one team. A team that won five championships in a span of seven years. And went to six title games in a span of eight seasons. No team of any era, has more players in Canton than those 1960’s Packers.

“They have indeed been rewarded for their success. Should the committee now draw the line there with the Lombardi Packers? Well, ponder this. In 1969, this same Hall of Fame selection committee was commissioned to pick the greatest players in the game’s first 50 years.

“There were 45 players selected to that team. And 43 are now enshrined in Canton. Only two are not. They both played for the ’60’s Packers, split end Boyd Dowler and tight end Ron Kramer. Dowler was selected to the 1960’s All-Decade team as well and Kramer would have been had the committee selected more than one tight end.

“Yet neither of those players has ever been discussed as a finalist for the Hall of Fame. If you were chosen as one of the best players in the game’s first half-century, don’t you deserve a spin through the room as a finalist to determine if you are indeed Hall of Fame worthy.

“It took [Jerry] Kramer 45 years to get in. It took teammate Dave Robinson 34 years and Henry Jordan 21. The Hall of Fame is a process. Maybe Dowler and Ron Kramer deserve to be Hall of Famers. Maybe they don’t. But they certainly deserve a few minutes in that room to start the process and have their cases heard, regardless how many teammates have been enshrined.”

I certainly concur with Gosselin’s take there.

As I wrote about earlier in the story, the Packers did not throw the ball as often as many NFL teams, because they had such a solid run game behind the likes of Hornung and Jim Taylor. On average, quarterback Bart Starr threw the ball less than 20 times per game.

Dowler talked about one factor which set him apart from a lot of receivers in his day.

“Probably the most significant statistic that I can come up with in my career was the fact that I caught five touchdown passes in championship games,” Dowler said. “The guy who sticks out to me who is sort of similar as far as statistics are concerned is Lynn Swann. He probably got inducted because of his play in playoff or championship games.”

Dowler brings up an excellent comparison.

In terms of regular season numbers in his career, Dowler had 448 catches for 6,918 yards and 40 touchdowns, while Swann had 336 catches for 5,462 and 51 touchdowns.

In the postseason, Dowler had 30 receptions for 440 yards and five scores in 10 games. One of those games was Super Bowl I, when No. 86 missed almost the entire game due to a shoulder injury.

After that injury, Dowler was replaced by Max McGee, who went on to have the best game of his career, as he had seven receptions for 138 yards and two touchdowns.

Swann had 48 catches for 907 yards and nine touchdowns in 16 postseason games.

Dowler continued the comparison between himself and Swann.

“Swann and John Stallworth on the other side, are both in the Hall of Fame,” Dowler said. “Stallworth put up better numbers than Swann. The only argument I can make for myself is that I always seemed to come up with big plays in our championship games.

“The rest of the story in terms of my production was pretty much being consistent. I led the team in catches seven times.

“The other thing that I’ve noticed, is that on our team in the Hall of Fame, there are now three offensive linemen…Jerry, Forrest Gregg and Jim Ringo, two running backs…Jimmy and Paul, and one quarterback…Bart of course.

“But there is no tight end and no wide receiver. I’ve never looked it up or figured it out, but how many quarterbacks are in the Hall of Fame without having one of their receivers in there as well?”

Very few, as a matter of fact. Here is the list of modern-day quarterbacks who are in Canton and who also have had at least one of his receivers/tight ends also in the Hall of Fame.

  • Troy Aikman
  • George Blanda
  • Terry Bradshaw
  • John Elway
  • Dan Fouts
  • Otto Graham
  • Bob Griese
  • Sonny Jurgenson
  • Jim Kelly
  • Joe Montana
  • Joe Namath
  • Ken Stabler
  • Roger Staubach
  • Johnny Unitas
  • Norm Van Brocklin
  • Bob Waterfield
  • Steve Young

Talking about the postseason games he played in, Dowler made a great point.

“We won a lot of championship games,” Dowler said. “In those championship games, there were a lot of big plays made by receivers and tight ends. We kind of flew under the radar.”

Bart looking downfield in the Ice Bowl

Dowler is correct in that assertion. In 10 postseason games as a quarterback, Starr threw 15 touchdown passes, compared to just three picks for 1,753 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 104.8, which is the best in the history of the league.

No. 15 didn’t do all that by himself, as he got some help from his receivers like Dowler as well.

Talking about being a bit unnoticed, Dowler said he is fine with that, even with his Hall of Fame snub.

“I don’t really have a problem with that,” Dowler said. “I’m real happy with the fact that we won five world championships. I never thought throughout my career or since, that I’ve never been nominated. It really doesn’t surprise me. And it doesn’t upset me.

“That’s just the way it is and that’s the way our team was put together. I was happy that they kept putting out there in the huddle for 11 years.”

Talking again about his play in the postseason, Dowler reminisced about the 1967 postseason.

“The highlight for me was the two touchdown catches in the “Ice Bowl” and I got another score in the Super Bowl, the second Super Bowl,” Dowler said.

“I always seemed to come up with something against Dallas. I always seemed to come up with big plays against the Cowboys. I can’t really explain why.  We just kind of operated that way.

“We never went into a game thinking that I was going to get the ball a lot this week. We just never did that. We just went along and Bart ran plays on how the game developed. We didn’t game-plan those things or that I was going to catch two scores in the “Ice Bowl” game.”

The second touchdown pass that Dowler caught in the “Ice Bowl”, was one of the favorite calls for Starr throughout his years in Green Bay. It was third and short and on a play-action fake, Starr hit Dowler on 43-yard post pattern.

Dowler talked about the way Starr liked to use play-action on third and short and also about that particular play.

“It almost always worked,” Dowler said, talking about the play-action calls by Starr. “On the long touchdown pass from Bart in the “Ice Bowl”, I kind of went, ‘oh oh’, because he was throwing into the wind. But I was pretty sure I could get to it and the wind held it up just a little.

Boyd Dowler scores TD in Ice Bowl

“On that play, I was a little bit off the line like I was going to block and my eyes met Mel Renfro about the time we got even. He was still facing the line of scrimmage and I was pretty sure I could get by him, even though he was pretty fast, as he was a world-class sprinter. Renfro was an awful good football player and had a lot of speed, but it was the play-call that got me open.”

Getting back to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I mentioned to Dowler the comments of Gosselin, talking about that fact that he and (Ron) Kramer are not be enshrined in  Canton, even with being on the NFL’s 50th anniversary team.

That, plus the fact that Gosselin has submitted what he calls his “amnesty proposal” which will allow several seniors to get inducted in the 100th anniversary of the NFL, as opposed to the one or two per year as it stands now. That proposal is being considered by David Baker, the President/Executive Director of the Hall of Fame.

“If a guy [Rick Gosselin] is going to take the ball and run with it for a bunch of old guys for the 100th year of the NFL, that’s fine by me,” Dowler said. “If he wants to put me in that mix, I’m all for it. I’m not going to discourage him from doing that. I think that’s a great idea.”

Jerry Kramer Reflects on his Induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Jerry with David Baker

Well, the day that so many of us waited for finally happened. Jerry Kramer of the Green Bay Packers was finally inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday, February 3, 2018.

That epic honor came at last for Kramer, after 45 years of being eligible and on his 11th time as a finalist for enshrinement.

Kramer certainly had the résumé to become a member among the best of the best in pro football history.

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.

Kramer was also named to the NFL All-Decade team for the 1960s.

In addition to that, Kramer was a six-time AP All-Pro at right guard 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.

Plus there was his performance when the lights were the brightest, when the Packers went 9-1 under head coach Vince Lombardi in the postseason. That led to five NFL championships in seven years, which included the first two Super Bowls.

Kramer was exceptional in three (1962, 1965 and 1967) of those championship games.

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.

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.

Jim 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 1967 NFL title game, better known as the “Ice Bowl”, Kramer made the most famous block in NFL history, when with help from center Ken Bowman, Kramer delivered a classic block on defensive tackle Jethro Pugh, as quarterback Bart Starr scored the game-winning touchdown on a QB sneak behind Kramer’s block with just 13 seconds left in the game, as the Packers defeated the Dallas Cowboys 21-17.

Bart's Sneak III

That play was the signature moment of the Lombardi legacy, while the power sweep was the signature play of the Lombardi era. Kramer played a large role in the success of both of those instances.

I tried getting a hold of Kramer after the word came out that he was indeed part of the Class of 2018, but it was near impossible to catch him with all the whirlwind activity Kramer took part in this past weekend in Minneapolis. That included going to the NFL Honors show on Saturday night, Super Bowl LII the next day and also being fitted and measured for a gold jacket and a ring for the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Monday, not to mention getting his likeness studied for the bust which will be made of him.

I finally was able to speak with Kramer on Tuesday night, as he relaxed at his home in the Boise, Idaho area after flying back from Minneapolis.

The first words he uttered were meant for me. “Thank you, thank you and thank you,” Kramer said. “For all of your efforts and all of your time. And also your commitment which I believe worked.

“It was an amazing week. An incredible time. I thank you for all of your input and all your effort. It’s definitely appreciated.”

Yes, there is no question that I have been on a long crusade to get Jerry what he rightfully deserved. Which of course was enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But many others have also played a large part in the success of this journey. None so much as Alicia Kramer, Jerry’s daughter.

Alicia has spearheaded the efforts to get her dad a bust in Canton and has used the social media and other outlets to keep fighting the fight for her dad for several years now. Jerry’s son Dan has also played a prominent role in helping out that cause. It’s been a sincere pleasure of mine to get to know both Alicia and Dan.

Then there is Packer Nation and also Kramer Nation, as I like to call them. The letters from those fans just kept flowing non-stop to 2121 George Halas Drive NW in Canton over the past several years. That is the address for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Joe Horrigan, the Executive Director for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, has told me that one-quarter of his mail came from supporters of Kramer.

From my standpoint, over the past 15-plus years or so, writing for Packer Report, Wisconsin Sports Online (Packer Chatters), Bleacher Report and now on my own blog page (plus LandryFootball.com), I have written over 100 articles about Kramer.

Yes, several were about his ridiculous omission from the Hall of Fame, but many others were about his exploits in big games or seasons. In other stories, Kramer commented about his iconic head coach, Vince Lombardi, or about other teammates/opponents.

Before I became a writer and was just working in sales, I was writing letters on Kramer’s behalf for his induction into the Hall of Fame to publications like Packer Report, a place where I would later become a writer.

I showed one of those letters to Kramer at a golf outing prior to Super Bowl XXV here in the Tampa area. That was back in 1991. Kramer was touched by my letter. Little did he or I know that it would take 27 more years to see No. 64 finally inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Chatting with Kramer is like talking to your favorite uncle. It’s always fun and engaging. Our call on Tuesday night was like most of our other phone conversations. It lasted over an hour.

My first question was about how it felt waiting for the knock on his hotel door by David Baker, the President and Executive Director for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“Yeah, that was a pretty incredible time,” Kramer said. “I was starting to go downhill. I had pretty well gotten myself in a positive frame of mind because they told us that he [Baker] was supposed to be at the door between 3:00 and 4:00.

“I had heard that Rick Gosselin had done my presentation early to the selection committee, so I figured that they were going to do the seniors [knock on the door] first. So I’m thinking it’s good if I get a knock on the door at 3:15 or so, we would have a pretty good shot. But if it’s 3:45 or so, not so much.

“So it’s just about 3:30 and we hear that they were delayed and would be a little late. So about twenty minutes to 4:00, we hear a knock at the door. And everyone there, which was my daughter Alicia, my son Matt, my grandson Charlie, my son Tony and his wife Darlene, Chris Olsen (close friend), Chuck Greenberg (former owner of the Texas Rangers) and a couple other folks there, all started cheering. So we go to the door and it’s the maid.

“So she was like a deer in the headlights. She didn’t know what was going on.  So after she left, we settled back down. Now it’s 3:45 and I’m really sliding downhill. I’m thinking that I’m not going to make it. That they would be here by now. All of a sudden there is a thunderous knock on the door. Boom, boom, boom.

“And you knew that was him [Baker]. So I said, ‘Who is it?’, being bit of a smart ass and I open the door and David is standing there with a half a dozen photographers and camera people. He gave me a big hug and I gave him a big hug. He’s 6’9” and 400 pounds. And I said, ‘You’re the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen.’

“I was so wanting to see him. We were all praying for Mr. Baker to knock at the door and he was a lovely sight.”

The day was just getting started for Kramer, as he was whisked off to the NFL Honors show. There he had some unforgettable moments. First, he was announced to the crowd by Brett Favre.

Kramer stood on stage with the rest of the Class of 2018, which included Randy Moss, Brian Urlacher, Robert Brazile, Brian Dawkins and Ray Lewis. Two other members of the class, Terrell Owens and Bobby Beathard, were not in attendance.

Jerry at the NFL Honors

After the class was announced, the other members of the Hall of Fame who were in the audience came on stage to welcome their new brethren.

“That was a real special moment,” Kramer said. “I think you ought to call Jerry Jones and ask him about me. I suspect there may be a story there, but I’m not sure. He gave me a big hug and I congratulated him for getting into the Hall and also apologized to him for the way I acted several years before.”

I wrote a story about that situation last year just before the Class of 2017 was named for the Hall of Fame, which included Jones.

Kramer was at a function in Dallas in the early-to-mid ’90s when the Packers were playing the Cowboys in the NFC playoffs, which the Packers did for three straight years (1993-1995) in Big D.

Jones was there and he saw Kramer and went up to him to say hello and stuck out his hand, but Kramer just kept walking. Kramer always regretted that moment, which was one of the reasons I wrote the piece about Jerry rooting for Jerry last year.

But this past Saturday, Kramer got the chance to convey his true feelings.

“I told Jerry that I rooted for him last year,” Kramer said. “I told him that he has done a hell of a job as an owner and has made this game better. I said that I didn’t have enough sense to be civil to you back when I was younger back in Dallas, but I sure as hell thought you ought to be here. And that I was glad to be associated with him now.

“Jerry got sort of teared up when I said that and it seemed like it was an emotional moment for him.”

Kramer shook hands and hugged with all of the other members of the Hall of Fame as well.

“That was a special moment,” Kramer said. “That was very, very special. When they came up hugging and saying, ‘welcome to the brotherhood’ and ‘welcome to the family’, it was just wonderful.

“It cleared everything up about how they were going to respond. And how they felt. You never know, but they were really like teammates. It was just special.”

I asked Kramer if there was anyone in particular he was anxious to meet and greet.

“Mike Singletary,” Kramer said. “I saw him and there were a couple of guys in between us, and I made a special effort to shake his hand and Mike did the same for me. It was a pleasant moment. We didn’t talk a lot, but we hugged. I thought he was just a hell of a player.”

I then mentioned to Kramer that it was apropos that one of the members of his draft class included another middle linebacker of the Chicago Bears, Urlacher.

“Yeah, while we were chatting, I said to Brian that he taught me something about the Chicago Bears,” Kramer said. And Urlacher says, ‘What the hell is that, Jerry?’ I said that I finally understood that Bears are people too.”

After the NFL Honors show, Kramer went back to his hotel room to chill out and relax after his exciting afternoon and evening thus far. But his evening wasn’t over, as he received a call from Jeremy Schaap, the son of the late, great Dick Schaap. who co-authored three books with Kramer, including the classic Instant Replay.

Jeremy invited Kramer to dinner and cocktails, so Jerry and some of his entourage met Schaap. Kramer had a great time, plus saw Mark Murphy (President and CEO of the Packers) there and had a nice chat with him.

Plus on Super Bowl Sunday at the game, Kramer went to the Green Bay suite at the stadium and had another chat with Murphy for quite awhile. That got Kramer to thinking about a couple of great things coming up.

“Certainly the Hall of Fame itself in Canton in August and all of that,” Kramer said. “But another moment which will be awfully powerful for me is seeing my name on the facade at Lambeau Field and being honored there in front of those great fans.”

at Lambeau Field on October 16, 2016 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

That’s what happens to other Hall of Fame players, coaches or front office people from the Packers who are enshrined in Canton. The names currently on the facade are Earl “Curly” Lambeau, Robert “Cal” Hubbard, Don Hutson, Johnny “Blood” McNally, Clark Hinkle, Mike Michalske, Arnie Herber, Vince Lombardi, Tony Canadeo, Jim Taylor, Forrest Gregg, Bart Starr, Ray Nitschke, Herb Adderley, Willie Davis, Jim Ringo, Paul Hornung, Willie Wood, Henry Jordan, James Lofton, Reggie White, Dave Robinson, Ron Wolf and Brett Favre.

Speaking of Wolf, he sent a nice email to Kramer congratulating him on being inducted, as he was not in attendance at the NFL Honors show.

And like Kramer did with Robinson the night before “Robby” was inducted in 2013, the two of them went out to dinner the night before Kramer was inducted.

“That was a good luck dinner,” Kramer said. “Robby felt that it had worked for him, so he said let’s do it again so it can work for me. And it sure did. We had a nice dinner and a nice time.”

Kramer also talked to another teammate for the first time in over 45 years. That would be his old roommate, Taylor. The two of them have not talked since they had a falling out with each other back in the early ’70s.

“Yes, I talked to him,” Kramer said. “His wife is such a sweet lady and she sat down at the table with us. Someone was between Jimmy and I, but we were almost elbow to elbow. It would have been awkward and asinine to continue the boycott. I wasn’t overly friendly and didn’t slap him on the back or anything, but we did chat.”

After telling me that story, Kramer said that another discussion with Taylor probably won’t happen again.

But you never know.

While we chatted, I reminded Jerry that he was the last player on the NFL’s 50th anniversary first team to be enshrined in Canton. The other players who were on that first team and are now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame are 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 and Lou Groza.

Now that Kramer has rightfully been inducted, there are just two players on that 50th anniversary team, one on the second team and one on the third team, who are currently not in Canton.

Kramer was shocked to hear who they were. They are Boyd Dowler (second team) and Ron Kramer (third team).

I’ll be doing a story regarding that situation in the near future.

I then asked Kramer what is was like getting fitted for a gold jacket and all the other things associated with going into the Hall of Fame.

“It was an incredible time,” Kramer said. “It kind of was the last straw in believing if you were in or not. If they are measuring you for a bust, it’s not because you are President of the United States, it’s because you are in the Hall of Fame. And if they are measuring you for a gold jacket, than you know you are one of the guys. And when they put that Hall of Fame ring on my finger, I had to get out my sunglasses to protect my eyes. So those things solidified the whole thing for me.”

Pro Football Hall of Fame Gold Jacket

When I heard the happiness in Kramer’s voice as he told me about the wonderful weekend that he had because of his induction into the Hall, I told him of a conversation I had with his son Dan the evening he was inducted.

Dan told me that his brother Tony, who was in the hotel room in Minneapolis with his dad, said that his father cried when he saw Baker at the door. I told Dan that I wasn’t surprised.

Jerry had always told me and many others that not being in the Hall of Fame didn’t bother him. Jerry would always say that the game of football had been very kind to him and had given him a number of gifts. If he didn’t receive the Hall of Fame gift, so be it, it still would be fine. If he got in, it would be like a cherry on a sundae.

But I never believed that. Jerry was just being stoic. He wanted this honor badly. When I mentioned that to Kramer, there was silence for a number of seconds. Then with his voice quivering slightly, Kramer replied, “No question, Bob. You are exactly right. Exactly right. All my honors came 40 years or so ago.  And I got the feeling that some people were thinking if you are so hot, how come you are not in the Hall?

“I mean the Commissioner [Roger Goodell] thought I was in the Hall. John Hannah thought I was in the Hall. I had to tell them that I wasn’t. I was thinking maybe I was overrated. So you start doubting yourself. Your emotions are up, down and around and around.

“But the ring day, the bust day and the gold jacket day put all that to rest for me”.

Yes indeed. From now on, Kramer will be forever known as a Pro Football Hall of Famer. He already was in the minds of many of us, but now it’s official.

Jerry Kramer is Near the Goal Line for the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Time to Run the 31 Wedge

Bart's Sneak III

The parallels and the similarities are striking. That is comparing the 1967 Green Bay Packers, especially their 68-yard march for the winning touchdown in the “Ice Bowl”, to Jerry Kramer’s quest for being enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

It’s apropos that the 50th anniversary of the “Ice Bowl” was just a month ago. That 21-17 victory by the Packers over the Dallas Cowboys with just seconds remaining in the game, was an exclamation point on the adversity that the team faced throughout the 1967 season.

That season was chronicled in magnificent fashion by Kramer and the late, great Dick Schaap in the book Instant Replay.

Kramer has also been on a long march to to receive the recognition that many believe should have happened decades ago. That would be getting a bust in Canton, like his coach Vince Lombardi did in 1971, a year after he died from colon cancer.

Kramer first became eligible to gain enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1974. That is 44 years ago folks. Kramer was a finalist in his first year of eligibility and was also a finalist eight other times between 1974 and 1987. But while other Packers like Jim Taylor (1976), Forrest Gregg (1977), Bart Starr (1977), Ray Nitschke (1978), Herb Adderley (1980), Willie Davis (1981), Jim Ringo (1981) and Paul Hornung (1986) were all inducted during that time period, Kramer never heard his name called.

10 years passed before Kramer was again a finalist in 1997, but this time as a senior candidate. The timing seemed perfect. The Packers were playing in Super Bowl XXXI against the New England Patriots in New Orleans.

The Packers won that Super Bowl 35-21 over the Pats, but Kramer for some unfathomable reason was not inducted.

In that 10 year period between 1987 and 1997, two more Lombardi-era Packers were inducted into the Hall of Fame, Willie Wood (1989) and Henry Jordan (1995 as a senior).

The road to Canton was not easy for some of the Packers.

Some players made it into Canton on their first try. This would include Gregg, Starr, Nitschke and Dave Robinson (senior).

For others, it was a little more difficult. Adderley was inducted on his third try. It took four times for Taylor and Jordan (senior) to get enshrined. It took six times for Davis to get a bust, while Ringo had to wait until his seventh attempt to get into the Hall.

Then there are the two double-digit guys. Wood didn’t get into Canton until his 10th try, while Hornung had to wait until his 12th attempt.

But it was especially tough for Kramer. It was tough for all guards in the NFL as a matter of fact. From his first year in eligibility in 1974 up until 1997 when he was a senior nominee, the Hall of Fame inducted just one guard, Gene Upshaw.

This made little sense based on the honors and achievements Kramer compiled in his NFL career with the Packers.

No. 64 was a six-time AP All-Pro and also was named to three Pro Bowl squads. Kramer would have had more honors if not for injuries and medical issues that caused him to miss the better part of two-plus seasons.

Also, 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 Jerry Kramer.

In addition to 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.

But Kramer now has another chance to finally be given the honor he so richly deserves, as he is once again a senior nominee finalist, which will be his 11th opportunity to be enshrined. This Saturday, on February 3, the day before Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis, No. 64 can be given the cherry on the cake regarding his NFL career when the Class of 2018 is named for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

In terms of the 1967 Packers, it also was a hard road to travel. But the journey started for Kramer three years before that.

That was because of some intestinal issues that Kramer had starting in 1964. At first, the doctors thought Kramer had cancer, but after multiple medical procedures, the situation was finally resolved.

But it was not resolved as far as Lombardi was concerned. Kramer explained the situation to me in one of my many conversations with him.

Jerry holding the splinters

“I reported to camp at around 220 pounds,” Kramer said. “I nine operations that offseason, which involved removing 16 inches of my colon because of a bunch of slivers that were in there for 11 years.

“So when I went to talk with Coach Lombardi about playing, he said, ‘Jerry, we can’t count on you this year. I just want you to go home and we’ll take care of your salary and your hospital bills.’

“I told Lombardi that I really wanted to play. I knew that I had already missed most of the ’64 season and if I missed the ’65 season, I would probably never get a chance to play again.

“I told Lombardi that I would not go home and that I wanted to play. We went back and forth about this for about 35 or 40 minutes. Finally Lombardi says, ‘Okay, I’m going to put you with the defense.’

“I said, great. I always wanted to play defense anyway.”

Kramer soon found out that his task of getting in football shape would be very difficult.

“We always used to take three laps around the field to start practice. I ran a half of a lap and my lungs seized up. I just couldn’t breathe or get any air. Don Chandler came up to me and asked, ‘What’s wrong, pal?’

“I told Don that I can’t breathe. Don told me that, ‘Between the two of us, we would do what one of the players does in terms of an exercise. If you can only do a half of a lap, I’ll do the other two and half laps.’

“So Don worked out besides me for the next month and we did just that. If the team did 50 sit ups and I could only do 10, Don would do the other 40. If the team did 50 side-saddle hops and I could only do 15, Don would do the other 35.

“So Don kept me in the game and kept me from being embarrassed. That kept me from feeling like a jerk in front of a bunch of world-class athletes. So by doing that procedure with Don, I gradually was able to do more and after a month I was able to do all of the exercises.

“I gained about 15 pounds. I knew that the colostomy was reattached, the hernia was fixed and the intestines were okay. It was just going through the reconditioning which was so difficult.

“Without Don, I really doubt that I could have made it through that camp. So all the books, all the Super Bowls and all the great things that happened to me after that was because of my teammate.”

Vince and Jerry after Super Bowl II

Lombardi knew Kramer was a tough hombre. He said so in his book, Run To Daylight, which was published in 1963. This is what Lombardi said about Kramer:

Jerry Kramer has the perfect devil-may-care attitude it takes to play this game. He not only ignores the small hurts but the large ones, too, and the evidence of his indifference is all over his body.

When Jerry was a high school kid he was sanding a lamp in the woodworking shop one Friday afternoon and a lathe took a couple of inches of flesh out of his side and he played football that night. On a duck-hunting trip he shredded his right forearm with a shotgun blast, and once, when a rotten board split under him, a sliver went into his groin. He pulled that out and two days later they found seven and a half inches of it still in there. He was in the hospital for two weeks, but three weeks later he was playing football. Then there was the night he was in a car doing 100 miles an hour and it went off the road. He was thrown out of the car. It rolled over him , hit a tree and burst into flames. He walked away from it.

At three o’clock one morning at the University of Idaho, Jerry bet somebody that he could ring the bell on the roof of one of the dorms. He threw a rope on a railing around the cupola and while dangling three stories above the ground the railing started to give. If a couple of them looking out the window hadn’t grabbed the rope he probably would have walked away from that, too. In 1960 he suffered a concussion and a detached retina in hi left eye in one of our games and had to undergo a four-and-a-half-hour operation. And in 1961 against the Minnesota Vikings he broke his left ankle and had to wear a 2-inch pin in there for four months.

“But where did you get that big scar on the back of your  neck?” someone asked him once. Because of it they call him Zipper Head.

“Where the hell did I get that?” Jerry said, and he wasn’t kidding. This typifies him. “Oh yeah, I remember now. In my sophomore year in college I couldn’t turn my head and they X-rayed it and found out I had a chipped vertebra.”

I remember our Dallas game a couple of years ago and on our 49-Sweep Jerry got two defenders and picked up a piece of a third. We were playing the 49ers later and they say Red Hickey, their coach, was screening our game and he called his staff and said, “My God! Just look at this guard!’

It took Kramer a few games to get back into the starting lineup for the Packers at right guard in 1965, but by season’s end, he was playing exceptionally well. Case in point, the 1965 NFL title game at snowy and muddy Lambeau Field versus the Cleveland Browns, the defending NFL champs.

Green Bay rushed for 204 yards behind Taylor and Hornung in the game, as the Pack won 23-12. The power sweep was especially effective, as Kramer and left guard Fuzzy Thurston kept opening big holes for the backs, mowing down defenders as the Packers gained big chunks of yardage on the ground.

Jerry in the '65 title game

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” found the end zone.

That wasn’t the first time Kramer excelled in a title game. Three years earlier, the Packers played the New York Giants at frigid and windy Yankee Stadium in the 1962 NFL title game.

Besides playing at a high level at right guard, Kramer was also the placekicker for the Packers at that point due to a knee injury suffered by Hornung.

Kramer had to kick that day under very difficult conditions. It was a bitingly cold day, plus the wind was gusting up to 40 miles per hour. Plus, Kramer played the entire game at right guard as well battling in the trenches.

Kramer ended up scoring 10 points (three field goals and an extra point) in the 16-7 victory for the Packers, plus helped lead the way for fullback 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.

No. 64 also recovered a fumble by Taylor to keep a drive alive.

When the Packers were up 13-7 late in the fourth quarter, Kramer knew that he had a chance to put the game away with a 30-yard field goal.

“The wind was really blowing hard that day,”Kramer said. “The wind was blowing so hard that at halftime our benches on the sideline were blown 10 yards onto the field. That wind was really swirling that day.

“The ball was being moved pretty well by the wind. On that last field goal, I aimed 10 yards outside the goal post because of the wind. At first, the kick was heading to where I aimed before the wind caught it and brought it back in and split the uprights.

“It was a great relief to me that I had guessed right, because if I missed the Giants still had a chance to win the game.

“After I made the kick, the guys were jumping on me and pounding me on the back knowing that we probably had clinched the game then. I got to feel like a running back or a quarterback for a moment or two and it was a wonderful feeling.”

After the victory by the Packers, Nitschke was named the game’s MVP, as he had been tenacious with his tackling on defense and also recovered two fumbles.

 

Jerry's game ball from 1962 NFL title game

Kramer certainly could have received that honor as well, based on the way he played that day. As it was, the coaches and the players presented No. 64 with a game ball because of the great performance he had in that year’s championship game.

Anyway, after the 1965 season, the Packers won their second straight NFL title by defeating the Cowboys 34-27 at the Cotton Bowl in the 1966 NFL title game. Two weeks later, the Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10 in the very first Super Bowl.

That set up the challenge of winning a third straight NFL title in 1967, as well as a second straight Super 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 (one to the Baltimore Colts and 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.

I wrote about that drive recently, as Kramer, along with Donny Anderson and Chuck Mercein recounted that epic drive.

It didn’t look promising, as the Packers had minus-nine yards on 31 plays prior to that drive. But thanks to great efforts by the entire offense, especially Anderson and Mercein, the Packers were in position to win the game in the final seconds.

It came down to a third and goal play from the one-yard line with 16 seconds to go in the game and the Packers were out of timeouts.

After conferring with Lombardi on the sideline, Starr called a 31 wedge play in the huddle, which calls for the fullback to get the ball. However, unknown to anyone in the huddle, Starr decided to keep the ball himself due to the slippery conditions near the goal line.

That wedge play was called earlier in the week when the team was studying the defensive tendencies of the Cowboys. Kramer actually suggested the play to Lombardi.

“Jethro [Pugh] was high, and I actually suggested that play on Thursday when we were studying short-yardage films,” Kramer said. “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.’

So after Starr called the play with just seconds to go in the game, what was going through Kramer’s mind?

“Responsibility. I mean I had suggested the play on Thursday. It seemed like the play was squarely on my shoulders,” Kramer said. “I knew I had to perform. I knew that to be successful as a blocker that I had to keep my head up and my eyes open.

“And also put my face into the chest of the defensive tackle [Pugh]. That is not the easiest thing to do, but it’s the safest and the surest way to make a block. I felt great personal responsibility to the team on that block. When I came off the ball, I was on fire.”

Bart's sneak II

Starr followed Kramer’s textbook block on Pugh and happily scored the game-winning touchdown.

It also meant the Packers won their third straight NFL title and two weeks later won Super Bowl II when they beat the Oakland Raiders 33-14.

In this NFL Films video of the No. 1 player not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which is about Kramer, go to 1:38 of the video which shows Starr’s quarterback sneak behind Kramer and you will hear Vince Lombardi say, “Watch that No. 64. That’s Jerry Kramer. The best right guard in football doing his job.”

Which takes me to Saturday. Now it’s time for the 48-person selection committee to do their job and induct Kramer.

I had the opportunity earlier this week to speak with both Rick Gosselin and Pete Dougherty, both of whom are voters.

It will be Gosselin who will be doing the main presentation on Kramer’s behalf to the selection committee on Saturday, as he was part of the Seniors Selection Committee who nominated Kramer. That will be followed up by a presentation by Dougherty, who is the Green Bay representative for the Hall of Fame.

I was privy to some of what both will be presenting to the selection committee during our conversations, plus I was able to share my ideas. Both Gosselin and Dougherty are confident that Kramer will indeed be inducted as part of the Class of 2018 on Saturday.

I share their confidence, as I did an unofficial straw poll of a dozen or so voters about Kramer’s chances of getting inducted, and every one of those voters told me that they support No. 64’s enshrinement.

It would definitely be appropriate. Because just like in the “Ice Bowl”, Starr will be behind Kramer, as a recent story of mine indicates with his endorsement letter for Kramer to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Besides Starr, there are several peers of Kramer who all have a bust in Canton and also support No. 64’s enshrinement.

One of whom is Merlin Olsen, who many consider the best defensive tackle in NFL history. This is what the nine-time AP All-Pro and 14-time Pro Bowl player said about Kramer:

“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.”

Jerry with the 5 NFL Championship rings

So as we come close to the vote for the Class of 2018 for the Pro Football Hall of Fame by the 48-person selection committee on Saturday, just as Kramer and the Packers were close to the goal line in the “Ice Bowl”, the selection of Kramer as one of those who are inducted should be obvious. As obvious as to why Kramer thought the wedge play on Pugh would work, which it did.

So, it’s time for the 31 wedge play (the obvious call) on Saturday for the committee on behalf of Kramer. In this case, Kramer won’t be in the end zone celebrating another championship, but instead will be celebrating his place among the best of the best in the annals of pro football history.

And after the selection committee does it’s job, Kramer will later on get a knock on his Minneapolis hotel door by David Baker, the President and Executive Director for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

After Kramer opens the door, this is what he will hear from Baker, “Jerry, it is my great pleasure to tell you that you will be going into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as one of the greatest players, coaches and contributors to ever play this game.”