Yes, a week from today, I will be witnessing in person Jerry Kramer being enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. What a glorious moment that will be.
I won’t be alone, as my son Andrew will be traveling with me, plus Kramer’s family and friends will also be on hand, as well as a huge throng of people from Packer/NFL Nation.
What really makes this event so amazing and unbelievable is that Jerry first became eligible to get into the Hall of Fame 44 years ago.
That was three years after his head coach Vince Lombardi was given a bust in Canton in 1971, a year after he died from colon cancer. Lombardi had led the Packers to five NFL titles in seven years, including wins in the first two Super Bowl games.
Yes, Kramer became finalist in his first year of eligibility in 1974. That made sense, as No. 64 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 in 1969.
Add to that, Kramer was also named to the NFL All-Decade team for the 1960s.
Kramer was also a five-time AP first-team All-Pro and 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.
Plus, not only was Kramer a great player in the regular season for the Packers, he was outstanding in the postseason as well, as his play stood out in the 1962, 1965 and 1967 NFL title games.
No play epitomizes that more that Bart Starr’s quarterback sneak in the 1967 NFL title game between the Packers and Dallas Cowboys at frigid Lambeau Field. That game will be forever known as the “Ice Bowl.”
Kramer led Starr into the end zone with a classic block on defensive tackle Jethro Pugh of the Cowboys.
Kramer became a finalist for admission to the Hall of Fame on eight other occasions up until 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.
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 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.
Kramer recalled being there in New Orleans with his good friend and co-author Dick 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 the “Big Easy” that year.
In his book 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.”
That describes Jerry perfectly. He has remained stoic through all the disappointments over the years of not being rightfully enshrined in Canton.
And all during that time, which continues to this day, Kramer has been an ambassador for the Packers and the NFL.
But all of the frustration over the years of not being inducted into the Hall of Fame were washed away on February 3 in Minneapolis, when Jerry was finally inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2018.
Kramer talked to me shortly after he experienced the gratification of that momentous occasion, as he was hoping for a knock on his hotel door by the President/Executive Director of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, David Baker.
“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.”
I chronicled that experience and more in an article I wrote which is in the 2018 Green Bay Packers Yearbook. The piece focuses about the great work done by Jerry’s daughter Alicia, which led to her father’s rightful place among the best of the best in Canton.
Meanwhile, Jerry is doing what he always does. Traveling around as an spokesman for the Packers and the NFL. He just spent over a week in Wisconsin, in which he did a function with the Milwaukee Athletic Club, made an appearance at the Charles Woodson golf tournament, did an Associated Bank commercial, had an interview with ESPN, plus was honored by the Packers Hall of Fame, which included the opening of the Jerry Kramer Exhibit there.
As I often do, I have talked with Jerry as all of this was going on. Yesterday was one of those occasions, as Kramer was resting at home in his “Big Chair” at his home in Boise for a couple of days before he gets on his travel horse again and heads to Canton.
“It’s still a little surreal,” Kramer said. “You see see yourself doing these things because of the induction. You just shake your head, because it’s just one after another after another. Just one would be a sensational event, but there are like a half-dozen of them going on.
“It’s just mind-boggling and overwhelming. I was holding up pretty good and then I started getting weary yesterday afternoon and was anxious to get home. But I had a real good night’s sleep and I probably need a couple more, but I’ll get re-charged.”
No doubt, as the activities in Canton this upcoming week will be fast and furious for Kramer.
But the journey doesn’t end for Kramer after his enshrinement in Canton. Another moment that Jerry is really looking forward to will occur in Week 2 at Lambeau Field on September 16 when the Packers host the Minnesota Vikings.
“Certainly the Hall of Fame itself in Canton in August and all of that will be nice,” Kramer told me. “But another moment which will be awfully powerful for me is getting my Hall of Fame ring and seeing my name on the façade at Lambeau Field in front of those great fans.”
There Kramer will see his name unveiled alongside the other 24 Packers enshrined in Canton, nearly half of them his own teammates, which also now includes Dave Robinson, who was inducted into the Hall in 2013.
Yes, that will be a truly fantastic occasion.
As will being on hand to see Jerry get his appropriate enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame next Saturday.