When it comes to authors who write about sports and the star athletes who play in those sports, there was no one better than the late, great Dick Schaap.
Schaap wrote autobiographical books about stars like Hank Aaron, Joe Montana, Joe Namath, Tom Seaver, Bo Jackson and Mickey Mantle.
Schaap also wrote that same type book about Jerry Kramer, called Instant Replay. More about that book a bit later.
The Brooklyn native also wrote books about golfing events like the Masters and the U.S. Open.
It wasn’t just sports that Schaap wrote about either, as he wrote about Robert Kennedy in his 1967 book called RFK, plus he also wrote about the Son of Sam, along with Jimmy Breslin, in a book called .44 Caliber.
Schaap also wrote about comedian/actor Billy Crystal in the 1986 book called Absolutely Mahvelous.
Schaap was a well-rounded author who also excelled on TV, as he hosted The Sports Reporters on ESPN for several years, plus had a show called Schaap One on One on ESPN Classic.
Schaap also had a show on ESPN radio called The Sporting Life with Dick Schaap. In that show, Schaap discussed the sports stories of the week with his son Jeremy.
Sadly, Schaap died in 2001 at the young age of 67 due to complications from hip replacement surgery.
In 1961, Schaap wrote another book called, Paul Hornung: Pro Football’s Golden Boy. Schaap spent a number of weeks covering the Packers that season, which also turned out to be the year the Packers won their first NFL championship under head coach Vince Lombardi.
That was also the first time Schaap got to know Kramer. Schaap was walking through the dorm of the Packers at St. Norbert that training camp. As he passed by the room shared by Kramer and fullback Jim Taylor, he heard Kramer reciting poetry to Taylor.
Schaap found that situation somewhat unusual, so he stopped for a few seconds to listen to the poetry.
I had a chance to talk with Kramer this week about his great relationship with Schaap, which basically blossomed due to that encounter and he recalled the poetry he was reading to Taylor.
“I was reading some work by Robert Service,” Kramer said. “Things like Spell of the Yukon and Dangerous Dan McGrew.”
That episode stuck in the mind of Schaap and in 1966, he asked Kramer about doing a book together.
That book turned out to be Instant Replay. I wrote about how that iconic and wonderful book was put together back in 2016.
“Dick asked me if I wanted to write a book,” Kramer said. “I said, ‘What the hell do I know about writing a book?’ He says, ‘Well, you talk into a tape recorder and record your day, your activities, your observations, your stories, your team, your coach, things that are happening that might be interesting and then send me the tape and I’ll transcribe it and I’ll organize it into a book.’
“I then asked Dick, ‘Who gets final say?’ And he told me that I did. And I said, ‘Let’s talk.’
After they had put together a game plan, Kramer and Schaap met with the publisher in New York.
“We went to our first meeting with the publisher with our agent Sterling Lord,” Kramer said. “I don’t know if that was his real name, but it sure was memorable. So we get to the meeting and it’s a large boardroom table with around seven or eight folks there.
“I asked the publisher how many books did we have to sell to do good. And he says, ‘Jerry, if we sell 7,500 to 10,000 that would be good. Sports books just don’t sell, Historically they have never been a big seller. This is kind of a niche deal, so if we sell 10,000 books, we would do real well.’
“So in the end, I think we sold 440,000. That was pretty stunning that the head of a publishing company missed the mark that badly. But Dick and I traveled and promoted the book like crazy. There was no internet back then, so you would go to San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Dallas, Miami, Detroit or wherever you could get on a show to promote the book.”
All that promotional work paid off, as did the book itself, which is widely considered a sports masterpiece, as it told the story of the historical 1967 season for the Packers.
Green Bay won it’s third straight NFL title that season with the legendary “Ice Bowl” win, as well as it’s second consecutive Super Bowl win. In the book, Kramer also gives an insightful glimpse of Lombardi, the team’s storied leader. The 1967 season turned out to be Lombardi’s last year as head coach of the Packers as well.
Kramer and Schaap were somewhat shocked by the success of the book.
“I was stunned by the reception,” Kramer said. “Just to see it on the best seller list. It started at 16 or somewhere like that. But even there that was pretty exciting. Then it got to No. 2. And I believe it stayed there for like 15 or 16 weeks.
“Dick told me, ‘Those SOBs, they won’t put a sports book No. 1.’ He thought it might be a literary bias or something. Finally, the book did make it to No. 1 for about four weeks.”
That success led to another book written by Kramer and Schaap called, Farewell to Football, which was a story about Kramer’s last year in the NFL (1968), which was just a year after the magical 1967 season.
One of the main reasons Kramer retired was due to his differences with his offensive line coach.
“I was struggling with Ray Wietecha, my line coach” Kramer said. “I’m having a difficult time with him because I thought he was doing some things which were stupid. And that year, Lombardi was not head coach anymore, he was just general manager.
“For instance, we are getting ready to play the Bears, and Chicago has an odd-man line. They had a defensive tackle named Dick Evey, who went about 245 pounds. They also had a middle linebacker named [Dick] Butkus, who also went about 245 or 250.
“On an odd-man line, Evey, who would normally play on my outside shoulder, moves over and plays head up on the center, where normally Butkus would line up. But on an odd-man, Butkus lines up over me. So, normally if we want to run in the hole where I am, I would block Butkus. And the center would block Evey.
“But the fullback is also in that blocking assignment. So Wietecha wants Jimmy Grabowski, who was 220 pounds with a gimpy knee, to block Butkus one on one and he wants me to double-team with the center on Evey.
“So I go up to Ray and say, ‘Why don’t you let me have Butkus and let [Ken] Bowman and Grabo take care of Evey? It’s a much stronger play that way. And Ray goes, ‘I’m the coach. I’m the coach. We are going to do things my way.’ So I tell him that it’s stupid. And he yells, ‘I’m the coach!’
“So, the next day I’m in the sauna before practice and so is Lombardi. He says, ‘Jerry, how are you running that 53?’ And I told him that Ray had me on Evey and he’s got Grabo on Butkus. Lombardi says, ‘Go talk to him.’ And I said, ‘Coach, I talked with him yesterday and got my ass chewed.’ So Coach goes, ‘Go talk to him again,’ and he pushes me on the shoulder.
“So I try to communicate with Ray and ask him about the play. I said, ‘Coach are you trying to set something up with this particular call?’ And Ray goes, ‘I’m the coach and that’s the play we are running!’ That was the end of the conversation.”
In addition to that situation, Kramer had issues with Wietecha about the spacing between the linemen on the offensive line. Spacing which had worked for Kramer and the offensive line for over a decade that Wietecha wanted to change.
The spacing changes Wietecha made did not work. By then, Kramer was about fed up.
“The whole situation was so demotivating, especially when it’s so hard to win,” Kramer said. “You can’t give things away. You can’t let the opponent know what you were going to do, whether its a drive block or if you are going to pull. You try to not give the defense a clue about anything. But we were telling people what we were going to do by the way we would line up.
“It just made the whole situation that much more difficult. It was just very defeating. It was hard to get your heart going and playing with conviction when we were doing something stupid. So I decided it was time for me to move on leave football.”
Besides writing another book with Schaap, Kramer also did color commentary for NFL games for CBS in 1969. But in that season, Kramer got two invites to come back and play in the NFL.
The first offer came from the Los Angeles Rams and their head coach George Allen.
“I was doing television work for CBS in 1969, and George Allen called me to see if I wanted to play for the Rams,” Kramer said. “Apparently they had lost two guards to injury. So I flew out to LA and had a chat with George. He told me that he would pay me whatever I made the year before on a proactive basis, as it was the middle of the season.
“So I agreed to the thing and I went back home, but the Packers wouldn’t release me. They didn’t want the Rams to have me because they had been to the playoffs and they thought I might tell them something about the team, which might be a detriment to the Packers. So the deal never happened.”
Readers of Instant Replay may recall something which Kramer mentioned in the book. Kramer says that as a high school senior at Sand Point, Idaho, he wrote in his yearbook that his ambition was to play professional football for the Los Angeles Rams.
After being asked to play again by the Rams, Kramer received another offer.
“I got a call from the Minnesota Vikings,” Kramer said. “Bud Grant and I always got along. I did some television stuff with him and I liked him a lot. Bud called and said, ‘Jerry, we would love to have you come to Minnesota and play for us.’ And I said, ‘Shoot, Bud. Hollywood would have been pretty exciting. Minnesota, not so exciting. I think I’ll just stay in the booth.’
Something else happened in 1969, as the second book (Farewell to Football) by Kramer and Schaap was published. Jeremy Schaap was born. Jeremy was named after Kramer, plus is also his godson.
Kramer and Schaap continued writing and had another classic book published as co-authors.
The book was Distant Replay, which was published in 1985, as Kramer reminisced with his teammates who had won Super Bowl I. Kramer traveled to many landscapes across the country to meet and talk with his former teammates whom he had played with almost 20 years before.
I personally have all of the books that Kramer and Schaap have co-written, plus I have a number of books written by just Schaap, which includes RFK, Green Bay Replay and Flashing Before My Eyes.
From my many discussions with Kramer over the years, I always knew that Schaap was very close to his heart. And when we talked earlier this week, he confirmed my suspicion.
“I consider Dick to be among a handful of close friends,” Kramer said. “I’ve had a lot of friends and acquaintances along the way, but there are only a few that I really felt close to. One was Art Preston, who recently passed on. Willie Davis is another. As is Claude Crabb. And Dick Schaap is the other.
“Dick was like family to me. When we would be working on books, he would tell me that we may not want to go there about this subject or that. And he was always right. I remember one time we were supposed to write a letter to one of the major publications at the time.
“He told me that he would mock it up and that I could correct it. The first one he did, I made four or five changes. The second one he did, I made two or three changes. The third one he did, I made one change. And the fourth one he did, I didn’t make any changes. He truly understood me and knew what I liked and didn’t like.
“He got to know me awfully well and I go to to know him awfully well. The more I know him, the more I loved him as a human being. He was extremely bright, aware and thoughtful. He was just a great guy and we became really good friends. He guided me gently and intelligently along the trail.”
Speaking of writers, Kramer received a congratulatory note from Mike Lupica about being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this past February. In the note, Lupica said, “Schaap is smiling somewhere.”
How true that is. Back in 1997, when the Packers played the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI, Kramer was a senior nominee for the Hall of Fame. Just about everyone thought that No. 64 was a shoe-in for Canton.
Kramer recalled being there in New Orleans with Schaap awaiting his induction.
“Yes, we planned on it happening,” Kramer said. “Dick had shirts made. We had a big party the night before. Everything seemed to be in place.”
But alas, it didn’t happen for Kramer in 1997.
But it did happen for Kramer in 2018. And yes, there is no doubt that Schaap smiled broadly with the news. I’m sure Coach Lombardi did as well, along with former teammates and close friends like Fuzzy Thurston, Max McGee, Don Chandler, Henry Jordan, Ray Nitschke, Tommy Joe Crutcher, Lee Roy Caffey, Dan Currie and others.
But few knew Kramer better than Schaap. In Green Bay Replay, Schaap wrote about how Kramer handled the news about not being inducted in New Orleans at Super Bowl XXXI.
“In the afternoon, Jerry Kramer and Willie Davis, once roommates and still friends, encountered each other on Bourbon Street and embraced,” Schaap wrote. “Willie almost cried for Jerry, who smiled and signed autograph after autograph for Packer fans flooding the sleazy street, outnumbering Patriot fans by a huge margin.”
Kramer handled that omission into the Pro Football Hall of Fame with dignity and grace. And Schaap was there with Kramer in New Orleans lending support to his good friend.
Now 21 years later, Dick Schaap is in another place applauding the great achievement of getting to Canton by his good friend Jerry Kramer.