Green Bay Packers: Jerry Kramer’s Message to Aaron Rodgers

Jerry and Aaron at Lambeau

Aaron Rodgers has been with the Green Bay Packers since 2005. That means that the 2019 season will be Rodgers’ 15th season with the team.

That mark will tie Rodgers with legendary Pro Football Hall of Fame middle linebacker Ray Nitschke in terms of length of service with the Packers.

The only two players who served a longer tenure with the Packers were quarterbacks Bart Starr and Brett Favre, both of whom played with the Packers for 16 years and both also have busts in Canton.

Rodgers is on his way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame as well. Like Nitschke, Starr and Favre, he has been able to call himself a NFL champion. He also has put up mind-boggling statistics.

Rodgers has the highest passer rating in the history of the NFL with a 103.1. No. 12 has thrown 338 touchdowns passes versus just 80 interceptions for 42,944 yards in his career.

Over the time when Rodgers has been the starting quarterback of the Packers, the team went to the NFC playoffs for eight consecutive years and won five NFC North titles. Plus, Green Bay also won Super Bowl XLV, as Rodgers was the MVP of the game.

In addition to that, Rodgers has been a NFL MVP twice, has been named to seven Pro Bowl teams and has been a first-team AP All-Pro twice.

Yes, Rodgers will definitely be among the best of the best at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Just like Jerry Kramer, who finally received his rightful due in 2018 after the great 11-year career he had with the Packers.

Kramer understood how Rodgers had to feel after a recent article from Bleacher Report written by Tyler Dunne came out.

And just to give full disclosure, I worked with Dunne for a couple of years at Packer Report before he moved on to cover the Packers for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for a number of years.

I also worked for Bleacher Report for three and a half years.

In the article from B/R, both Rodgers and head coach Mike McCarthy were certainly not put in the best light, due to some comments by ex-teammates like Greg Jennings and Jermichael Finley. The piece also had some not-so-glowing remarks from some anonymous sources.

When Kramer was a player, he also saw some bad press about the Packers, as well as negative articles about his head coach. Plus, like Rodgers and McCarthy had at times, Kramer also had some fiery moments with his coach who went by the name of Vince Lombardi.

Kramer believes that Rodgers has handled the B/R article just fine.

“I think Aaron showed a lot of class in the aftermath of this article,” Kramer said. “God bless him for being angry. God bless him for caring. God bless him for busting his ass and taking people to task who weren’t always serious about the game.

“He’s a leader. That is what he is supposed to do. That’s what leaders do.”

Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers

In terms of how Rodgers responded to the article, he said this in an interview that was aired on ESPN Wisconsin, hosted by Jason Wilde and Mark Tauscher.

“It’s not a mystery,” Rodgers said. “This was a smear attack by a writer looking to advance his career, talking to mostly irrelevant, bitter players who all have an agenda, whether they’re advancing their own careers or just trying to stir old stuff up. What happens is the same, tired media folks picking it up and talking about it, which just emphasizes their opinion about me already.

“The crazy thing is, there’s super-slanted opinions in that piece stated as fact, and then there’s quote-unquote facts that are just outright lies.”

Rodgers also talked about some other things in the article, like when an anonymous source said that president/CEO Mark Murphy told Rodgers “don’t be the problem” on a phone call informing him Matt LaFleur was being hired as the new head coach.

“It’s ridiculous. It is 100 percent, patently false,” Rodgers said. “So it’s either he made that crap up, or what he would probably do as a writer is say, this is my source’s problem. He told me something. I talked to Mark last week, and I said, ‘Mark, did you tell somebody about the conversation?’ He goes, ‘That’s ridiculous.’ And I said, ‘Because that’s not what happened.’ And he told me, ‘Yeah, of course that’s not what happened.’ We had a great conversation like we always do.’”

Murphy also denied the account of that situation in the story. In an interview on Wednesday with Scott Emerich of WXOW-TV in La Crosse during a Packers Tailgate Tour stop, Murphy rejected the part of the story which described a impaired relationship between Rodgers and McCarthy.

“It’s all in the past, a lot of half-truths and a lot of stuff just made up,” Murphy said. “The conversation that allegedly took place between Aaron and I was completely false.

“We had a great conversation. It was very positive. We talked about Matt LaFleur and I said, ‘Aaron, I think the change is going to be great for you and the organization’ and he was very positive.”

Matt LaFleur is gretted by Mark Murphy

In his interview with Wilde and Tauscher on ESPN Wisconsin, Rodgers talked about his relationship with McCarthy.

“This idea that I had this grudge against him for years is absolutely ridiculous,” Rodgers said. “It’s just not true. I mean, where was this grudge when we won the Super Bowl? Where was that grudge when we won 19 games in a row? Because I will tell you this about Mike, and if you look at the comments I’ve made about him over the years, I love Mike McCarthy. Mike has been a huge part of my success in my career, and I’ve had some amazing moments on and off the field with Mike. We have had issues, no doubt about it. Any long relationship has issues, but the way that we dealt with those issues, Mike and I, was face to face.

“We had conversations. Things didn’t fester for weeks, months, years. It’d be up in his office. It’d be after a Thursday night practice down in the big team room, it’d be in the quarterback room. It’d be at my house sometimes, it’d be at his house sometimes. We spent time together. We talked about things. Even at the most difficult moments, when I was stubborn about something, when he was stubborn about something, the conversation ended the same way every time. We came to an agreement and agreed to move forward on the same page.”

Kramer and Lombardi also had their share of moments.

And it was one of those periods in time in which Kramer realized that he could become a great player in the NFL.

“I jumped offsides one time in a scrimmage and he [Lombardi] got in my face,” Kramer said. “Lombardi told me, ‘Mister, the concentration period of a college student is five minutes, high school is three minutes and kindergarten is 30 seconds. You don’t even have that. Where does that put you?’

“So I go into the locker room with my chin in my hand, my elbow on my knee and I’m looking at the floor. I’m thinking, I’m never going to play for this guy. But then Coach Lombardi came into the locker room and came across the room, slapped me on the back of the neck, mussed up my hair and he said, ‘Son, one of these days you are going to be the best guard in football.’ He then turned around and walked away.

“That statement gave me a new feeling about myself. From that point on, I really became a player. That positive reinforcement by him at that moment changed my whole career.

“It was a major turning point for me. Not only in performance, but also in effort. I really went to work at football after that. I believed Lombardi to be an honest man, so I believed what he said. I decided then that it was up to me to prove Coach Lombardi right.”

But there were also some moments with Lombardi when Kramer had just about enough of the criticism by his coach.

It was early in his career under Lombardi, when Kramer vividly recalls a situation that almost became volatile.

“I played a game against the 49ers in San Francisco when I broke some ribs,” Kramer said. ” I saw the team doctor early the next week and he told me that I just had a pulled muscle and not to worry about it. I didn’t tell the doc that his assessment was BS, but I told some of the guys that I knew I had busted a couple of ribs.

“So, I wasn’t going to rock the program, so I continued to practice even with my ribs hurting like hell. Then later that week an article came out in The Chicago Tribune that said that Fuzzy [Thurston] and I were the best guards in the NFL. Well, Fuzz and I were glowing in it pretty good, feeling pretty cool.

“Anyway, we are practicing that week with my ribs hurting and we were running a play when Fuzzy wasn’t in the lineup for this particular play and I believe a rookie was filling in for him. So, we run a sweep to the left and the rookie didn’t belly deep enough on the play and he and the blocking back collided and fell down and I fell over them and the ball carrier fell over all of us.

“Coach Lombardi sees this and he yells, ‘Best guards in the NFL my ass! We’ve got the worst guards in football! The worst!’

“Something popped in my head after he yelled that. We had been standing together on the 40-yard line on the practice field and I’m going after him. I’m walking towards him and my ass is just chapped. Well, Coach Lombardi goes to the area where the coaches normally stand behind our huddle and he walks past that by about 25 yards where he isolated and completely by himself.

“So I stop at the huddle and I’m glaring at him. I’m pretty much out of control. I’m really angry. But Coach won’t look at me. He’s walking back and forth with his head down. I’m standing there with my hands on my hips staring at Coach Lombardi while Bart is calling the play.

“After Bart called the play, the team broke the huddle and went to the line of scrimmage, but I just stood there. Still glaring at him. Finally, I go to the line of scrimmage and just bent over a little bit and didn’t put my hand down like I normally would. We run the play and I didn’t move.

“So I go back to the huddle and I’m figuring out what to do, as Lombardi was still 25 yards back. It was like a barrier that stopped me. So Bart is calling another play and I yell to Fuzzy to get in here as I had just about enough and I go to the sideline and now I’m about 30 yards from everyone. I’m still steaming with my arms crossed over my chest.

“I’m just trying to figure out what I’m going to do. Finally after about three minutes, Coach Lombardi comes over to me and punches me on the shoulder and messes up my hair a little and says, ‘Oh, I didn’t mean you. I wasn’t talking to you!’

“I knew that his line was all BS, but Coach Lombardi was basically apologizing and trying to re-establish communications and I allowed him to do that.”

Vince and Jerry II

In the next game, the Packers played the Rams in Los Angeles and Kramer went up against the great Merlin Olsen. After the game, Olsen asked Kramer what was wrong. Kramer told him that he was playing with extremely sore ribs. Olsen said, ‘Yep, I knew something was wrong.’

The next week Kramer saw his own doctor and not the team doctor. After he had some x-rays done, Kramer’s doctor told him that he indeed had two broken ribs.

Kramer made a point of telling Lombardi about that diagnosis as soon as he saw him.

“I see Coach Lombardi in the locker room and I go over and get right in front of him. I tell him that my sore ribs were actually two broken ribs. Coach Lombardi’s exact quote was, ‘No shit! They don’t hurt anymore do they?’

But that is how it went at times with the players who played under Lombardi in Green Bay. Lombardi knew how to motivate his players and he treated them all differently and knew what the right buttons were to push for a particular player.

It led to five NFL championships in seven years, including the first two Super Bowls. Including in that span was three consecutive NFL titles. That is a mark which has never been duplicated in the playoff era of the NFL.

That success was certainly appreciated the players, as one of the other things that Lombardi preached was love. Love for your God, love for your family and love for your team.

Kramer expressed his love for Lombardi after the legendary “Ice Bowl “ game, which gave No. 64 the platform to discuss some bad press that his coach had received.

“After that game, I was interviewed by Tom Brookshier,” Kramer said. “There had been a negative article about Coach Lombardi that had come out recently from Esquire magazine. The article compared him to Mussolini and a pigeon walking around with his chest thrown out. It was just a hatchet job.

“Tommy asked me about Coach Lombardi. I had made up my mind previously to talk about him, as I heard that Coach’s mother was really upset with the article. She even cried over it.

“So when Tommy asked me about the coach and mentioned the criticism, I said, ‘People don’t understand Coach Lombardi. They don’t know him. But we know him. We understand him. And we love him. And this is one beautiful man.’

“And that still fits today. I still feel that same way.”

After that classic game, Lombardi received a phone call in the locker room from his mentor Red Blaik, who taught Lombardi so much at Army. The words from Blaik to Lombardi can be read in the fantastic book, When Pride Still Mattered by David Maraniss, which to me is the greatest book ever written about Lombardi.

“Vince,” Blaik said. “A great victory, but greater were the words of Kramer, who has stilled those who are skeptical about you as a person.”

Kramer also feels the same way about Rodgers. He likes the fact that he cares about the way his teammates practice or about the way they play during a game. It’s also okay to have squabbles with your coach and it’s also okay to get angry, even during a game.

But it has to be controlled anger. Kramer used that technique when he was a player. It started on Thursday when he would think about his upcoming opponent who he would see in the trenches on Sunday. Kramer would go through an exercise in his mind. That his opponent was trying to hurt his family, take away his home and his job. That served him well during his career.

The first time Kramer used anger to motivate himself was while he was in a state track meet in Idaho while he was in high school. Because of a mishap with a shotgun, Kramer had accidentally shot himself in the lower arm and wrist area. That is not a good omen for a person who has to throw the shot put.

But between hard work and using a different throwing technique which was used by Olympic champion Parry O’Brien, Kramer was able to throw the shot put close to 49 feet heading into the state track meet.

But when he was announced on the loudspeaker just before he was about to throw, Kramer tensed up and threw the shot put around 30 feet. Luckily for Kramer, the throw was not able to be spotted because the judges were back near 49 feet, the distance Kramer had thrown recently. This situation gave Kramer one more chance to make a throw.

But this time, he was pissed. Kramer used that anger and threw the shot put 51 feet, 10 inches, which broke a 20-year state record.

It was the controlled anger that helped Kramer break the state record in the shot put in Idaho. It was also controlled anger that Kramer witnessed from Rodgers in the opening game of the 2018 season, when the Packers played the Chicago Bears on Sunday Night Football on NBC.

That game was also played on alumni weekend, so Kramer and many of the Packer greats from yesteryear were on hand to see the game.

In that game, Rodgers had a 130.7 passer rating, as he threw three touchdown passes without a pick for 286 yards. Most of this came after No. 12 had his season almost ended on one of the two sacks he took that night, as Rodgers suffered what was called a knee sprain, which saw the quarterback leave the field on a cart in the second quarter.

But Rodgers was able to come back in the second half, as he led the Packers back from a 20-3 deficit, as Green Bay roared back to beat Chicago 24-23.

Aaron vs. da Bears in 2018 at Lambeau

But it wasn’t just a sprain, as it was actually a tibial plateau fracture and sprained MCL in Rodgers’ left knee.

Rodgers talked about that knee injury last week on ESPN Wisconsin, as he talked about the play which injured him, when 294-pound Bears defensive lineman Roy Robertson-Harris came crashing down on him for a sack.

“If you watch the hit back,” Rodgers said, “just my two bones are coming together on the outside, just kind of made an indent fracture. Very painful. The good thing was it’s not super weight bearing, like load bearing every single time. but there definitely was some movement and things you do naturally that affected it.”

But you wouldn’t have known that watching Rodgers play in the second half against da Bears, as No. 12 led the Packers back to an unforgettable comeback.

“I don’t know for sure, but I’ll bet Aaron was really mad after the injury,” Kramer said. “To see your season almost end against your most hated rival and on national television, had to have angered him. But in my mind, he used that anger in a controlled way and was almost flawless to lead the Packers back to a great victory.”

Yes, controlled anger is a great asset to have. Ask Tom Brady. How many times have you seen him scream at teammates and coaches on the sidelines? But he doesn’t let that anger affect his play negatively. He uses that anger to enhance it.

That is the credo which Kramer utilized in his Hall of Fame career with the Packers, both with his relationship with coaches and also with his play on the field.

And that is how Kramer believes it should be for Rodgers as well.

“Aaron has always played with a chip on his shoulder, just like Tom Brady has,” Kramer said. “It has served him well in the past and will serve him well in the future. He has to deflect the things in the media that aren’t important to him and his team and just continue to focus on getting the job done.

“There will be times when there will be issues with your head coach or your position coach. That is life in the NFL. But all of that has to put be aside when the time comes and you have to prepare for the game.

“Aaron is a winner and a champion. And that is something which will never change, as long as he keeps that chip on his shoulder.”

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