On May 22, 1969…Jerry Kramer of the Green Bay Packers announced his retirement from the NFL. The 50th anniversary of that occasion is soon coming up.
Thanks to the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame, we have a record of that announcement.
May 22, 1969 – Guard and author, Jerry Kramer announces his retirement from football after an 11-year career that stretches back to 1958. Kramer’s decision is not a surprise as just days earlier an advertisement on the front page of Publishers’ Weekly, a book industry journal, said as much. In promoting Kramer’s soon-to-be-released Farewell to Football, the ad hyped the book as the guard’s “inside look at the frustrating 1968 Green Bay season (and) his personal decision to give up the game he loves so much…” Packers coach and general marnager Phil Bengtson says: “He’s only 33, but apparently he felt he had so many outside interests that he couldn’t devote the time to football.”
Yes, it was true that Kramer did have a number of outside interests. But that was not the main reason that he retired.
The primary circumstance for Kramer’s retirement? The strained relationship between Kramer and offensive line coach Ray Wietecha.
Kramer explained that situation to me.
“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 it’s 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 best-selling book with Dick 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.’
Wietecha became the offensive line coach in 1965, after Bill Austin left to become the new head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Austin had held that position from 1959 through 1964 and the team had great success, especially in running the football.
For instance, Austin had the Packers ranked third in the NFL in toting the rock in 1959, second in 1960, first in 1961, first in 1962, second in 1963 and first again in 1964.
The signature running play for the Packers then was the power sweep which was very successful, as Kramer elaborated to me.
“Bobby, in the first three years we ran that play, we averaged I believe 8.3 yards a carry.”
The play needed the entire offensive line to be in sync. And the line was, as left tackle Bob Skoronski, left guard Fuzzy Thurston, center Jim Ringo, right guard Kramer and right tackle Forrest Gregg blocked for that play magnificently and consistently.
But things changed once Wietecha became the offensive line coach in 1965. The Packers finished 10th in rushing in the NFL that year. The Packers slightly improved that aspect of their game in 1966, as the team finished eighth in rushing.
In 1968, the Packers finished 10th again in running the ball. And that’s when Kramer had just about enough regarding Wietecha’s coaching philosophy.
Kramer wasn’t the only offensive lineman who had issues with Wietecha. Hyland told me that he too had problems with his coach while he played with the Packers. Hyland was traded to the Chicago Bears in 1970.
A year later, da Bears traded Hyland to the New York Giants. Guess who the offensive line coach of the G-Men was then? You guessed it. Ray Wietecha. I think you might imagine Hyland’s reaction when he heard the news.
Somebody was listening to the complaints of Kramer, Hyland and others on the offensive line, as head coach Phil Bengtson made Gregg the offensive line coach in 1969 and moved Wietecha to running game coach.
But by the time that change was made, Kramer had already decided to move on from a life in the NFL, even with a couple other opportunities being offered down the road.