I’m back in Florida now, getting ready for another trip. Soon I will be making my annual summer excursion to Wisconsin. But this past weekend, I had one of the best times of my life in Canton, Ohio, as Jerry Kramer of the Green Bay Packers was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
What made the experience even more special, was that my son Andrew was with me. He agreed with me that the time we spent in Canton was exceptional.
Before we traveled from Tampa to Cleveland on Friday, some things were set in stone. Andrew and I had tickets to the enshrinement ceremony on Saturday night, plus had tickets to the party the Packers would be throwing for Jerry on Saturday afternoon. In addition to that, we had VIP passes to the actual Pro Football Hall of Fame Museum.
But our biggest problem was where to stay. Hotel rooms in Canton were priced at over $300 per night. That would have meant spending close to $1,000 for the three nights we stayed in the area. That was a bit too much for my limited budget.
While searching for rooms, I found a motel in Richfield, which is about 40 miles from Canton, that had rooms for $70 a night. So I booked a room for three nights.
Then something extraordinary happened. One of my loyal readers and a huge fan of the Packers, Greg Kloehn, sent me a note and asked me what my plans were for the weekend.
You see, Kloehn is a cardiologist in Canton, who is originally from Brookfield, Wisconsin. When I told him that I was going to be staying at a motel in Richfield, Kloehn said that would not be a good idea, at least on Friday and Saturday night, because of the distance, all the events going on and some other factors like highway construction.
Kloehn then graciously invited my son and myself to stay at his home, which is about five miles from the Hall of Fame. Fortunately, Kloehn has a large home, as he had a number of other guests that weekend, which included his two brothers Tim (and son Ian) and Phil, plus his good friend John Donaldson.
Greg and his wife Lisa, along with their four children (Alyssa, Andrew, Olivia and Anna), were kind beyond belief with their hospitality. On Friday night, Kloehn had a party which reminded me of my college days in Wisconsin, as I had an immediate connection with Greg, his brothers Tim and Phil, and also John. It felt like I was back at UW-Oshkosh.
That feeling really surfaced when my buddy Jeff Kurszewski (who I went to high school and college with) and his wife Therese joined us at the party after first going to the Gold Jacket Dinner, which unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend. Jeff took some great photos though at the event, as that was when Jerry was given his Gold Jacket by his daughter Alicia, after first going through a gauntlet of other Hall of Famers. More on that later.
Greg’s party was just fantastic, with a large assortment of great food (Tim did a great job on the grill) and there were a number of superb possibilities in terms of selecting an adult beverage.
Later in the evening, Jeff and I called our good buddy Kevin Cosgrove, who is currently the defensive coordinator at New Mexico, but who also spent many years at that same position at Wisconsin, including when the Badgers won back-to-back Rose Bowls in 1999 and 2000.
Kevin went to school with Jeff and I at UWO. We talked for at least a half hour and we talked about all the good times that we had at the Big O.
Bottom line, Friday night at Greg’s house was a fantastic start to the weekend in Canton, as we partied until well after 2:00 am.
But that was just a warm up to Saturday, which would end up being an epic day.
After enjoying a late-morning breakfast put together by Lisa, Andrew and I headed out to join Jeff and Therese at Jerry’s party at the beautiful Gervasi Vineyard.
What a party it was! It was like going to a Hollywood premiere, with celebrities everywhere.
The first person I saw was Jerry’s son Dan. Then I talked with Rick Gosselin, who really helped Jerry get his rightful place in Canton, due to his hard work on the seniors committee, as well as the overall selection committee.
It was then when I had an opportunity to get with Jerry and talk for a little while. It was somewhat short-lived, as Jerry was being approached by anybody and everybody at the party, which was to be expected.
Besides Dan, I also got to see Jerry’s other children…Alicia, Diana, Tony, Matt and Jordan.
In the 2018 Green Bay Packers Yearbook, I wrote the story about Jerry’s induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and Alicia played a prominent role in that article with her unrelenting goal of getting her father his rightful place in Canton.
It was really neat to see Alicia, as we both had worked so hard to get No. 64 a place among the best of the best in the Hall of Fame. I also saw Randy Simon, who also played a big part in helping Jerry’s cause, as he put together a Flipsnack booklet of testimonials from Hall of Fame teammates and opponents.
The list included Paul Hornung, Bart Starr, Willie Davis, Merlin Olsen, Frank Gifford, Chuck Bednarik, Doug Atkins, John Mackey, Raymond Berry, Mel Renfro, Mike Ditka, Bob Lilly, Jim Otto, and Lem Barney, among others.
I also saw Mike Spofford of the Packers, who is the editor of the Packers Yearbook. I thanked him for the opportunity to write the induction piece about Jerry.
There were also a number of former Packers at the party, which included Hornung, Dave Robinson, James Lofton, Frank Winters and Marco Rivera. Plus, Tony Fisher was also there, helping guests as they made their way in and out of the party.
I talked with all of them except the “Golden Boy”, who left the party early.
Mark Murphy, the President and CEO of the Packers, was also in attendance and I talked with him as well.
One of Jerry’s very best friends, Claude Crabb, who is a former NFL player, was also on hand for his buddy’s well-deserved party. I told Claude how much Jerry appreciated him being there for his enshrinement. I could see Claude’s eyes moisten.
Cathy Dworak of the Packers did a fantastic job organizing and putting together this event, with help from Mark Mayfield, who is Jerry’s marketing agent.
There were a number of talented writers besides Gosselin at the party as well. It was great to see and talk to David Maraniss, who wrote one of my favorite books about Vince Lombardi, When Pride Still Mattered.
Andy Benoit of SI was also there and we also talked for a bit. I also saw Jeremy Schaap, who was late getting to the party due to a delayed flight. Jeremy and I also chatted. I had written a story about Jeremy’s father Dick a few months earlier.
I was also pleased to meet a number of loyal backers of Jerry’s from Packer Nation, which included Dinger Mueller, Chuck Velek, Dmitriy Solodov, Jef Taylor and Ryan VanAcker.
The party for Jerry was just the beginning of things on that epic Saturday.
The actual enshrinement ceremony was unbelievable. I sat in the club seating area, which allowed free beer and food (which is always a good thing) and sat next to my buddy Jeff Kurszewski and his wife.
Alicia did a fantastic job presenting her father and then Jerry hit one out of the park with his speech.
“You can, if you will,” is the phrase I’ll never forget from that oratory from Jerry.
After the ceremony, I saw Jerry and his family and friends at the Holiday Inn. I congratulated Jerry on his speech and told him how good he looked in the Gold Jacket. Shortly thereafter, Jerry had to call it a night after a very long day.
Andrew and I then headed to Greg’s for our second sleepover. Greg and company were waiting for us and we all had a nightcap before we hit the hay.
On Sunday, Greg had a ticket for me to use to go with him, John Donaldson and his son Andrew to the Enshrinees’ Roundtable event at the Canton Auditorium.
There were only four members of the Class of 2018 at the event. Ray Lewis, Robert Brazile, Randy Moss and Jerry. And what a performance they put on!
Before they got started, my buddy Jeff, who was sitting near the stage, was talking to Jerry when Kramer asked, “Where’s Bob?” Jeff walked to my table which was a ways away and he had me stand up and wave to Jerry. Jerry did the same and we both gave each other the thumb’s up.
It was a memorable moment for me.
After the the roundtable was over, I was able to meet the President/Executive Director of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, David Baker. I then rushed out to talk with Jerry for just a minute before he drove away. I could tell he was pretty exhausted from all of the events that he had taken part in the last few days.
Our weekend in Canton wasn’t over. My son Andrew and I then went to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. What a glorious place that is. We quickly made it over to where the busts of the Class of 2018 were.
While I was looking at Jerry’s bust, I gave him a call. People standing around me couldn’t believe I was talking to the man whose bust I was looking at. It was an apropos moment.
The entire Hall was great to go through and I have to say that the Packers Hall of Fame is in the same category in terms of being an upper echelon attraction for pro football fans.
Andrew and I then left for Richfield for our last night in Ohio. We were back in Florida the next day.
A day later, I wanted to check on Jerry. I caught him at his home in Boise sitting in his “Big Chair” having some coffee. Jerry told me that it felt good to get a couple of good night’s sleep in his own bed.
Then Jerry reflected.
“Canton was a fantastic experience. It’s something I’ll never forget,” Kramer said. “It was a validation of my career with the Packers and in the NFL. And with my family there and so many friends and fans, it just made the whole time there so memorable and unforgettable.”
When we talked, Jerry as usual thought of his coach.
“Coach Lombardi is the reason that so many players, including myself, are now in Canton.”
Jerry then talked about one of the more momentous moments in the days he spent in Canton.
“At the Gold Jacket dinner, as I was heading to get my Gold Jacket from Alicia, I had a group hug with fellow Hall of Fame guards John Hannah, Joe DeLamielleure and Tom Mack. They told me how much they tried to emulate my play in their careers. There wasn’t a dry eye among us.”
Had Jerry been able to see where I was sitting in the club seat section during his enshrinement speech, he would have seen the same reaction from me.