Now that Jerry Kramer (first team) of the Green Bay Packers was finally rightfully inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame after over four decades of waiting, that means that there are just two players who were on the NFL 50th anniversary team who do not have busts in Canton.
Those players are Boyd Dowler (second team) and Ron Kramer (third team).
I wrote about why Dowler deserves to be considered to have a place among the best of the best in pro football about a month ago. Today I am going to state the case for Kramer.
But before I do that, I want you to see the words that Rick Gosselin, who is on the Seniors Selection Committee for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, said about both Dowler and Kramer in a podcast on the Talk of Fame Sports Network shortly after Jerry Kramer was named to the Class of 2018 for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“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.”
Both Jerry Kramer and Dowler were on the NFL’s All-Decade team of the 1960s, as well as being on the 50th anniversary team. And as Gosselin stated in his comments above, Ron Kramer would have been on the All-Decade team of the 1960s if the team would have had more than one tight end.
That in itself makes a compelling case why both Dowler and Ron Kramer deserve to be in Canton.
Besides Jerry Kramer, Dowler and Ron Kramer, there were also a few of their teammates on the 50th anniversary team. They were Ray Nitschke (first team), Forrest Gregg (second team) and Herb Adderley (third team).
Nitschke, Gregg and Adderley were also all on the NFL’s All-Decade team of the 1960s. Plus, like Jerry Kramer, all three have busts in Canton.
The thing that voters need to realize is that the NFL was a different game back in the 1950s and 1960s. It was a much more violent game and the running game was still the main staple of most offenses in the NFL.
Originally, when the tight end position morphed into play in the NFL, it was mainly a position that helped out the running game by blocking. Catching the ball was almost an afterthought.
In fact, on the NFL’s All-Decade team of the 1950s, there isn’t even a tight end listed.
That was the state of the NFL when Ron Kramer was drafted in the first round by the Packers in 1957, thanks to the great scouting work done by Jack Vainisi.
Also selected in that draft was Paul Hornung, who was the first overall selection that year by the Packers, as teams were awarded bonus picks (the No. 1 overall selection) from 1947 through 1958. Once a team was awarded a bonus pick, they were eliminated from further draws.
Ron Kramer didn’t win the Heisman Trophy like Hornung did in 1956, but he he did finish in the top 10 in Heisman voting, both in 1955 (eighth) and 1956 (sixth), when he was a consensus All-American at Michigan.
Kramer earned nine letters at Michigan, as he was also a talented basketball player who averaged 17 points a game and almost nine rebounds a game, as well being an excellent track athlete.
Kramer was so good at Michigan, that his No. 87 was retired after his senior year. Plus, Kramer was also inducted into the University of Michigan Athletic Hall of Honor, as well as the College Football Hall of Fame.
In one of our many conversations, Jerry Kramer talked about the tight end from Michigan 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.”
Kramer had a nice rookie year in 1957 under then head coach Lisle Blackbourn, as he was second on the team in receptions to Billy Howton, as No. 88 had 28 receptions.
Kramer missed the 1958 season due to military service in the Air Force, which was probably for the best, as the Packers had their worst season ever that year finishing 1-10-1 under Scooter McLean, who took over for Blackbourn that season.
Kramer was back in 1959 with the Packers and also their new head coach and general manager Vince Lombardi.
In 1959 and 1960, Kramer did not start a lot of games, as Gary Knafelc was the starter at tight end most of the time. Because of his athleticism, Kramer played in every game in both 1959 and 1960 (mostly on special teams), but only started four games at tight end.
That all changed in 1961. Lombardi recognized that he had an immense talent in Kramer. Not only a receiver, but as a blocker. In fact, the power sweep was the signature play of the Packers under Lombardi, and Kramer was a key attribute on the success of that play due to his great blocking.
From 1961 through 1964, Kramer became the first of the great tight ends to ever grace the NFL. Kramer led the way for players like John Mackey and Mike Ditka, who were also on the NFL 50th anniversary team, plus also have busts in Canton.
I talked to Dowler recently and he talked about Kramer, who was his roommate in Green Bay for five years.
“You should talk to somebody who can talk about the tight end position and tell you who he thinks the best at that position was,” Dowler said. “Give Mike Ditka a call. Ditka has said, and he and Ron were pretty close friends, that the best of the bunch was Ron.”
In 1961, Kramer had 35 receptions for 559 yards (16 yards per catch) and four touchdowns.
In the 1961 NFL title game against the New York Giants at City Stadium (now Lambeau Field), No. 88 caught four passes for 80 yards (20 yards per catch) and two touchdowns, as the Packers won 37-0.
That was the year Titletown was born.
In 1962, Kramer caught 37 passes for 555 yards (15 yards per catch) and seven touchdowns. He later caught two passes in the 1962 NFL title game at Yankee Stadium, as the Packers won 16-7, as the other Kramer (Jerry) was the star of the game.
In 1963, Kramer caught 32 passes for 537 yards (16.8 yards per catch) and four touchdowns. And in 1964, Kramer caught 34 passes for 551 yards (16.2 yards per catch).
As you can see by the yards per reception average, Kramer made a lot of big plays down the seam, as quarterback Bart Starr scanned the field. And besides being a big receiving threat, he was also considered the best blocking tight end in football.
While he was in Green Bay, Kramer was named first-team All-Pro by AP in 1962, plus was named second-team All-Pro by various media sources like AP, UPI, NEA (Newspaper Enterprise Association) and the New York Daily News six times in 1962 and 1963.
Kramer was also named to the Pro Bowl in 1962.
Kramer played out his option in the 1964 season, which allowed him to sign with another NFL team. Kramer wanted to go back to Michigan to be with his family, so he signed with the Detroit Lions.
Back then, if a player played out his option like Kramer did, the team he played for would get a first-round draft pick. The Packers did receive one from the Lions and used that pick on fullback Jim Grabowski in the 1966 NFL draft.
The player that was probably the closest to Kramer was Hornung, who entered the NFL and Green Bay with No. 88. Hornung has as much fun as anyone in the NFL did off the field when he played. Kramer was with No. 5 on a number of those occasions.
Jerry Kramer recounted that with me.
“Ron was also quite the character off the field,” Kramer said. “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 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.”
You can bet that there will be more tears shed if Ron Kramer gets inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Perhaps it will be in 2020, as Gosselin has told me that he trying to get 10 seniors inducted into Canton on the centennial year of the NFL.
When I told Rick that I would be writing a series of articles about Packers who I believe deserve consideration for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he told me to make sure I wrote about Kramer, Dowler and Gale Gillingham.
I have done that now. And it is my sincere desire that at least one of those three players is included among the ten seniors who will hopefully be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2020.