The Primary Reason Jerry Kramer Retired 50 Years Ago

Bart's QB sneak behind Jerry

Photo by John Biever

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.’

Jerry leading the sweep in Super Bowl I

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 1967, the Packers jumped up to second in the league in rushing, as Gale Gillingham had taken over for Thurston at left guard, while Ken Bowman and Bob Hyland split the playing time at center.

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.

Green Bay Packers: Remembering Travis Williams, aka ‘The Roadrunner’

Travis Williams Kickoff Return TD vs. Rams in LA

I was reading a story today by Rick Gosselin of the Talk of Fame Sports Network in which he names his all-time NFL special teams unit.

Now nobody studies NFL special teams units like Gosselin does. Since 1980, Gosselin has studied and ranked all the special teams units in the NFL. That has gone on now for 38 years and his rankings are must-read material.

Back in 1980, Gosselin was covering the Kansas City Chiefs. The special teams coach of the Chiefs then was Frank Gansz. It was by talking with Gansz that Gosselin learned the formula about how to rank special teams units.

Before I read the story on his all-time team, I was wondering if Travis Williams of the Green Bay Packers and later the Los Angeles Rams was on Gosselin’s 53-man unit. It turns out that he wasn’t, as the returners which Gosselin has on his team are certainly worthy of getting that honor.

The three kickoff returners Gosselin has on his team are Gale Sayers, Josh Cribbs and Mel Gray. The three punt returners are Devin Hester, Billy “White Shoes” Johnson and Rick Upchurch.

Everyone of those players were consistently very good at returning kicks throughout their NFL careers, as opposed to Williams, who made a name for himself in 1967, which also happened to be his rookie year in the NFL.

In that season, Williams returned 18 kickoffs for 739 yards, which averages out to 41.1 yards-per-return, which is still a NFL record. No. 23 returned four of those 18 kicks for touchdowns and almost had a fifth against the Chicago Bears.

Travis Wiliams

Williams was never able to replicate that performance again on a consistent basis, but he did score again on returns on two occasions for the Packers in 1969, when he returned a punt for 83 yards and another kickoff for 96 yards.

Also, in 1971 when he was a member of the Rams, Williams returned another kickoff for 105 yards and a touchdown.

Besides flashing outstanding ability as a kick returner, Williams also showed that he could be a game-changer when he played running back.

Never was that more true than in the 1967 Western Conference title game, when the Packers played the Rams at Milwaukee County Stadium. The “Roadrunner” was the star of the game for the Packers.

No. 23 didn’t return a kickoff for a score, but he did rush for two touchdowns and had 88 yards rushing.

Right guard Jerry Kramer talked to me about that first TD run by Williams.

“I remember blocking on Merlin [Olsen] very vividly on one play,” Kramer said. “It’s still crystal clear in my mind. Travis is going outside right on the play. And I’m blocking on Merlin and I’m trying to get outside position on him. And he’s starting to move and I’m chasing him.

“All of a sudden, I see Travis about even with us, but near the sideline and I knew that he was gone.”

Gone he was, as Williams scampered 46 yards for a score.

The 1967 season was a special one for the Packers, as the team won it’s third straight NFL championship under head coach Vince Lombardi. That feat has never been duplicated either. That season was also the last year the Packers were coached by Lombardi.

The Packers also won their second straight Super Bowl that season, which was an outstanding feat based on all the injuries the team had that season.

In 1966, quarterback Bart Starr was the NFL MVP. But for the first part of the 1967 season, Starr was affected by a number of injuries which forced him to miss two games.

In addition to that, when the season started, the Packers no longer had halfback Paul Hornung or fullback Jim Taylor as starters in the backfield. That combination was considered to be the best in the NFL for several seasons.

Hornung was claimed by the expansion New Orleans Saints when Lombardi had put him on the Green Bay expansion list. No. 5 never played with the Saints however, as he was forced to retire due to a neck/shoulder injury.

Taylor did play for the Saints that season, as he played out his option in the 1966 season and signed with the Saints in 1967.

With Hornung and Taylor no longer available, Lombardi made Elijah Pitts his starting halfback and Jim Grabowski his starting fullback. Both were having solid seasons when in Week 8 of the 1967 season against the Baltimore Colts, both Pitts and Grabowski were lost for the season with injuries.

Lombardi then added fullback Chuck Mercein to the team via waivers and Green Bay now had a one-two punch at both halfback and fullback throughout the rest of the 1967 season.

Donny Anderson and Williams shared time at halfback, while Mercein and Ben Wilson shared duties at fullback.

The result? The Packers finished second in the NFL in rushing in 1967.

Travis Williams in the Ice Bowl

When the postseason came around, Lombardi utilized all of his backs, depending on the opponents.

Against the Rams, Lombardi primarily played Williams at halfback and Mercein at fullback. Against the Cowboys in the “Ice Bowl”, Anderson played primarily at halfback, while Mercein received most of the playing time at fullback.

But in Super Bowl II versus the Oakland Raiders, Anderson again was in most of the time at halfback, while Wilson got the start at fullback that game and led the Packers in rushing that day with 65 yards.

In 1967, Williams was part of a rookie class, which included Bob Hyland and Don Horn. I wrote a piece about that class a little over a year ago.

Williams first showed his kickoff return prowess in Week 7 of the 1967 season, when he returned a kick for 93 yards and a score against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Memorial Stadium in St. Louis.

At the time of that kickoff return, the Packers were trailing the Cardinals 23-17 in the fourth quarter. The Packers ended up winning that game 31-23.

Two weeks later against the Cleveland Browns at Milwaukee County Stadium, Williams really put himself on the NFL map. Williams returned two kickoffs for touchdowns that day in the first quarter. The first was 87 yards and the second one was 85 yards. If that wasn’t enough, the “Roadrunner” rushed for 43 yards in just four carries in the game.

Williams returned his fourth kickoff return for a touchdown against the Rams in Week 13 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for 104 yards.

As a running back in the 1967 regular season, Williams rushed for 188 yards (5.4 yards-per-carry average) and one score, while he caught five passes for 80 yards (16 yard average) and another score.

In the postseason, Williams rushed for 137 yards (4.6 average) and had two touchdowns (both against the Rams).

As it was, Williams only showed glimpses of what he did in 1967 throughout the rest of his career in Green Bay and in the NFL.

In 1968, Williams only had a 21.4 average in returning kicks (no touchdowns) and only rushed for 63 yards the entire season.

In 1969, Williams appeared to have bounced back in fine fashion, as he had two return touchdowns and also rushed for 536 yards (4.2 average) and four scores. No. 23 also caught 27 passes for 275 yards and three more touchdowns.

But in 1970, Williams again regressed, as he had just 276 yards rushing (3.7 average) and one touchdown, plus caught just 12 passes, one of which was a score.

In 1971, new head coach and general manager Dan Devine traded Williams to the Rams, where “The Roadrunner” had his last season in the NFL because of a knee injury.

Sadly, Williams died at the young age of 45 in 1991 of heart failure after a long illness. Williams had dealt with homelessness, poverty and alcohol for a number of years leading up to his death.

Williams had battled depression due to the deaths of his wife, mother and sister in 1985.

It was a tragic end to the life of Williams, who had been the brightest of lights for the Packers in the glorious season of 1967.

It was in that season when the “Roadrunner” set a kickoff return record which has yet to be broken. That didn’t get Williams on Gosselin’s all-time NFL special teams unit, but I certainly believe that Williams deserves honorable mention for his kick returning skills.

The 1967 Draft Class of the Green Bay Packers

Bob Hyland about to snap to Don Horn in '68 vs. Bears

Center Bob Hyland prepares to snap the ball to quarterback Don Horn, as the Green Bay Packers played the Chicago Bears at Wrigley Field in 1968.

The 1967 season was a special one in the legacy of Vince Lombardi and his Green Bay Packers. That season tuned out to be the last season that Lombardi would coach the Packers, plus it was also the year that the Packers won their third straight NFL title, as well as their second straight Super Bowl.

The three straight NFL championships has never been duplicated in any era since the postseason playoff system started in the NFL in 1933. Overall, the Packers won five NFL titles in seven years under Lombardi (including Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II), culminating in the glorious season of 1967.

That season was masterfully chronicled by right guard Jerry Kramer of the Packers, as he would recite his thoughts into a tape recorder and then submit those words to Dick Schaap, who edited the words into the final version of the classic book, Instant Replay.

I described how that wonderful book was put together in a piece I wrote last summer.

But before the season began, the NFL held it’s annual draft on March 14, 1967. That draft was 50 years ago last month. How time flies. In those days, the draft lasted 17 rounds.

If you thought 17 rounds seems long compared to the current NFL practice of seven rounds, you should look back when Kramer was drafted in 1958. Then the NFL draft was 30 rounds. Yes, you read that right. 30 rounds! Anyway, that particular draft was the best one the Packers ever had. I documented that in a recent story.

But the 1967 draft brought some very talented players to Green Bay as well. In the first round of that draft, the Packers selected center/guard Bob Hyland of Boston College with the ninth overall pick of the draft.

Lombardi (who was also general manger) acquired that pick from the Pittsburgh Steelers in exchange for defensive tackle Lloyd Voss and tight end/defensive end Tony Jeter.

The Packers also had another selection in the first round in 1967, which was their own pick, and the Packers selected quarterback Don Horn of San Diego State with pick No. 25 in the first round.

In all, the Packers had six players from that draft make the team in 1967. They were Hyland and Horn obviously, as well as linebacker Jim Flanigan of Pittsburgh (second round), cornerback John Rowser of Michigan (third round), running back/kick returner Travis Williams of Arizona State (fourth round) and wide receiver Claudis James of Jackson State (14th round).

Two other draft picks were put on the taxi squad (like the current day practice squad) that season. They were wide receiver Dave Dunaway of Duke (second round) and center Jay Bachman of Cincinnati (fifth round).

Another rookie who was part of that draft class was cornerback Mike Bass, who was selected in 12th round out of Michigan. Lombardi ended up selling Bass to the Detroit Lions that training camp.

Bass ended up having a very nice career with the Washington Redskins (Lombardi coached him in 1969) for several years when he was named to the Pro Bowl twice and was named All-Pro once. Bass had 30 interceptions in his career, with three returned for touchdowns.

The Packers did have a rookie free agent make the team as well. That would be tight end/linebacker Dick Capp of Boston College, who actually was drafted originally in the AFL draft in 1966 by the Boston Patriots.

I had the opportunity to talk with both Hyland and Horn last week to talk about being part of that 1967 draft class of the Packers, plus how special that rookie season was for both of them.

Neither Hyland or Horn had any inkling that the Packers would be the team to select them.

“I didn’t expect to be selected by the Packers,” Hyland said. “I had indications from the Cowboys, the 49ers, the Bears and the Steelers though.

“Also, the previous weekend of the draft, I went to Baltimore, as the Colts had the first pick in the draft and they wanted to interview me and Bubba Smith. They decided on Bubba. But on draft day, I didn’t know if I was going to be picked first or a bit later.”

Horn didn’t expect the Packers to be drafting him either.

“I expected to be drafted in round one because I was told that I was going to be picked in that round by two or three teams if I was still available,” Horn said. “The Lions said that. The Raiders said that. The Chargers said that as well.”

Both players were surprised when they got a call from Vince Lombardi of the Packers.

“At BC (Boston College) they are pretty serious about getting to class,” Hyland said. “I had a 9:00 class and afterwards I went back to where I lived. I had three roommates and we lived in an old mansion on campus.

“We actually had a phone which was kind of unusual back in those days, but between the four of us we could afford it. That was the phone number that I gave the NFL to contact me. They told me to get near a phone by 10:00, which I did.

“About 10 minutes later I got a call from Coach Lombardi. I was thrilled. I really had no idea. I was a Giants fan as a kid and I was very aware of Coach Lombardi. I followed the NFL very closely. You couldn’t help but to be a Green Bay Packer fan as your second favorite team compared to your hometown team.

Bob Hyland snapping the ball to Bart Starr.jpg

Bob Hyland snaps the ball to Bart Starr.

“I was really excited about the possibility going out to Green Bay and being with a championship team.”

Horn had to wait awhile until he got his call from Coach Lombardi, as he sat in the public relation director’s office at San Diego State listening to the draft on the radio.

“So we’re listening to the draft and I hear that the Lions selected Mel Farr with their pick in the first round,” Horn said. “And I’m thinking that those guys [the Lions] didn’t tell the truth about picking me.

“So as we getting near the end of the first round, I’m kind of ticked because all these teams who said they were going to pick me, didn’t. All of a sudden the phone rings and I believe it was Coach Lombardi’s secretary, and she said, ‘Is this Donald Horn?’ And I said yes. She then told me to please hold for Coach Lombardi.

“At first I thought someone was playing a trick on me. Then Lombardi and his distinctive voice gets on the phone. He says, ‘Donald,  this is Vince Lombardi of the Green Bay Packers. The Kansas City Chiefs are picking right now. We are considering making you our next draft choice. Do you have any reservations about playing for the Packers?’ I said no sir.

“Then Coach asked if I had signed any contracts with other leagues like the Canadian Football League. Again, I said no sir. Lombardi then said he would get back to me in about 15 minutes. About 15 minutes later, I get the call and Lombardi says, ‘Don, you are now a Green Bay Packer.’

“I couldn’t believe it. I felt like I was 10 feet tall. It was like walking on water!”

When the veterans and the rookies got together for training camp in the summer of ’67, they were met with important message from their coach.

I also talked to Kramer last week and he related this story to me.

“The biggest thing was the first day of training camp when we had our first meeting,” Kramer said. “Coach Lombardi talked about winning our third consecutive title. He told us that no one has ever done that before and that it will set us apart from everyone else who ever played in the NFL.

“He told us that we had to have a great deal of discipline, perseverance, tenacity, pride, character, all the things that we needed to do to win that third straight title. He told us everyone would be looking to knock us off.

“That was an important message for us. That was to be our focus. Veterans and rookies alike.”

For the rookies, training camp under Lombardi was something they had never experienced before. Certainly Horn didn’t.

“I never experienced anything like we went through in training camp that summer,” Horn said. “Never. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe he worked people that hard. In college, it was pretty easy.

“We didn’t do anything near what we did in Green Bay to get in shape or work out. Or have the dedication to work out like Vince did. Those two-a-days and those grass drills that we went through were incredible. To this day, we still talk about them. He just beat you down physically before practice with these drills. And then you were expected to practice as hard as you could. It was amazing.”

Horn talked about an incident which occurred during that training camp which brought a few chuckles from the team.

The team was running through some drills where the center and the quarterback were go through snap exchanges. It’s important to know that Hyland was about about two inches taller and about 25 pounds heavier than Ken Bowman, the other center on the Packers.

Horn talked about that dynamic played out.

“So we are at practice one day working on some drills,” Horn said. “Bob had a pretty tall stance snapping the ball, compared to Ken.  And it takes awhile for a quarterback to get used to a new center. Especially if he was as big as Bob was. So, it’s two-a-days and Bart’s taking some snaps from Bob. And he fumbles a snap. Then Zeke [Bratkowski] stepped in and muffs a couple of snaps from Bob. I come in and do the same thing.

“So Vince and the other coaches start yelling at Bob and all the quarterbacks. Finally Lombardi says, ‘Let me show you how to do this!’ So Vince goes over under Bob and by now Bob is pretty nervous and he’s shaking. So Vince calls the signal and Hyland snaps the ball to Vince and the football jams his fingers and Lombardi starts cursing in pain. We were all laughing pretty good under our breath.”

It wasn’t always that way for Hyland. In fact, Lombardi went out of his way to compliment the play of Hyland many times in training camp.

Lombardi got so comfortable with Hyland playing center, that the White Plains, New York native started six games at center in the regular season for the Packers, starting with the Week 9 game versus the Cleveland Browns at old County Stadium in Milwaukee.

The rookie class certainly made a mark in that game. Hyland started at center for the first time. Horn played quarterback for half of the fourth quarter in a 55-7 blowout win by the Pack. That was Horn’s first meaningful playing time that season.

But the rookie who made the biggest splash that day was Travis Williams. Williams returned two kickoffs for touchdowns that day in the first quarter. The first was 87 yards and the second one was 85 yards. If that wasn’t enough, “The Roadrunner” rushed for 43 yards in just four carries.

Horn told me a story about how the game ended which will tell you a lot about the class and dignity of Lombardi.

“It’s late in the fourth quarter and I drove the team 50 or 60 yards to the Cleveland seven-yard line,” Horn said. “There’s two minutes to go and we were up at the time 55-7. So I’m think we are going to score. All of a sudden Forrest Gregg comes back into the game, as by then all the backups were in the game. So that was sort of odd.

“So I’m thinking to myself that Forrest brought in a play for me to run and we are going to score. But instead, Forrest grabs me and pulls me aside and says, ‘The old man told me to tell you NOT to score.’ So I ran the clock out just like Coach Lombardi wanted.

“After the game ended, Vince was one of the first guys to see me. He grabbed me and he said, ‘Donald (as he pointed over to head coach Blanton Collier of the Browns), you see that gentleman over there? 55 is bad enough. I’m not going put 62 on him. That man is a gentleman. Do you understand, son?’ And I replied, yes sir. Lombardi then says, ‘Okay. Good.’

Over the remainder of the season, Hyland remained the starter at center for the Packers. No. 50 talked about how the veterans of the offensive line supported him during that time.

“They took me right under their wing,” Hyland said. “Especially when I became a starter. I remember Bob Skoronski asking me to go out to dinner with them a couple of times. The offensive linemen stuck together quite a bit. They wanted me to feel part of the group. Which they did

“I just had a lot of respect for every one of the guys on the offensive line. They were outstanding people. Kenny and I had a difficult situation of course. He was a good player. Coach Lombardi was more in my favor then. Maybe because I was bigger and I could handle guys who played right over me better than Ken could.

“It was a tough thing for Kenny. He earned his way to the first position and then all of a sudden I stepped on his toes. But the one thing was that we all wanted to win. That was the most important aspect. I think we were all able to deal with what ever our personal setbacks might have been for the greater good of the team to help win a championship.”

Another example of that situation was when left guard Gale Gillingham became the starter at left guard after Fuzzy Thurston hurt his knee in a scrimmage early in training camp. Thurston never regained his starting job back from the talented Gillingham.

Kramer talk about how Thurston handled that situation.

“Fuzzy sat besides Gilly for the rest of the ’67 season, ” Kramer said. “He coached Gilly. They sat together in every film session. Fuzzy gave him the benefit of everything he had learned about the defensive tackle that Gilly would be facing that given week.

“Fuzzy told Gilly what he liked to do against that tackle and told Gilly that he should think about doing the same thing. Basically, Fuzzy was Gilly’s personal coach.”

Travis Williams Kickoff Return TD vs. Rams in LA

Travis Williams returns a kickoff for 104 yards and a touchdown vs. the Rams in Los Angeles.

The rookie who really took off starting in Week 7, was Williams. Against the St. Louis Cardinals that week, No. 23 ran his first kickoff return for a touchdown that year. He then returned the two kickoffs for touchdowns against the Browns, plus had another one, for 104 yards, versus the Los Angeles Rams in Week 13.

All told, Williams returned 18 kickoffs for 739 yards and four touchdowns. His kickoff return average of 41.1 yards is still a NFL record.

Williams also received some playing time at halfback, as starter Elijah Pitts was lost for the year with a torn Achilles tendon against the Baltimore Colts in Week 8. In that same game, starting fullback Jim Grabowski was also basically lost for the year with a knee injury.

Williams rushed for 188 yards (5.4 average) during the ’67 season and scored one touchdown.

Williams also had a receiving touchdown, which he caught from Horn in the last week of the season against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Lambeau Field. It was Horn’s first career touchdown pass as a matter of fact.

The Packers ended the 1967 regular season with a 9-4-1 record and were NFL Central Division champs.  Their first matchup in the postseason would be against the 11-1-2 and Coastal Division champion Rams at County Stadium in Milwaukee.

In that game, Bowman surprisingly started the game at center. Hyland talked about how that went down.

“Against the Rams, Coach Lombardi started Kenny Bowman and then put me in after the first series,” Hyland said. “I had a good game. I guess Lombardi’s theory was to take the pressure off the kid and don’t let him know what’s in store for him until after the first series.

“Kenny was obviously disappointed, but I was thrilled to be part of a big win.”

A big win it was, as the Packers whipped the Rams 28-7. The star of the game was Williams. He didn’t return a kickoff for a score, but he did rush for two touchdowns and had 88 yards rushing.

Kramer talked about the first touchdown run by Williams.

“I remember blocking on Merlin [Olsen] very vividly on one play,” Kramer said. “It’s still crystal clear in my mind. Travis is going outside right on the play. And I’m blocking on Merlin and I’m trying to get outside position on him. And he’s starting to move and I’m chasing him.

“All of a sudden, I see Travis about even with us, but near the sideline and I knew that he was gone.”

Gone he was, as Williams scampered 46 yards for a score.

The next week was the legendary “Ice Bowl” game at Lambeau Field, as the Packers hosted the Dallas Cowboys in the 1967 NFL Championship Game on New Year’s Eve.

Bowman got the start a center in that game, while Williams rushed for just 13 yards, as Donny Anderson received most of the playing time at halfback.

Which brings up another point. Lombardi was a bit of a “hunch” coach. He started players based on hunches at times, not because of how a player had been performing recently.

For instance, Hyland played well against the Rams in the playoffs, but Lombardi still started Bowman against the Cowboys the next week. Lombardi also did that with his running back tandems in the postseason that year.

Against the Rams, Lombardi primarily played Williams at halfback and Chuck Mercein at fullback. Against the Cowboys, Anderson played primarily at halfback, while Mercein received most of the playing time at fullback.

But in Super Bowl II versus the Oakland Raiders, Anderson again was in most of the time at halfback, while Ben Wilson got the start at fullback that game and led the Packers in rushing that day with 65 yards.

And this was after Mercein played very well against the Rams and the Cowboys.

Back to the “Ice Bowl” now. The game was an epic battle that was played in brutal conditions, as the game-time temperature was 13 degrees below zero.

Green Bay was down 17-14 late into the fourth quarter. The Packers got the ball back at their own 32-yard line with just 4:50 remaining in the game. Somehow the Packers were going to have to trudge 68 yards across a truly frozen tundra to win the game.

Trudge they did. The game down down to this: there were just 16 seconds to go with no timeouts at the Dallas 1-yard line. Starr conferred with Lombardi on the sideline and called the 31 Wedge play in the huddle, which calls for the fullback to get the ball.  But Starr decided he was going to keep the ball because of the slippery conditions near the goal line.

The decision to call the wedge play under these settings was first suggested by Kramer earlier in the week.

“I saw that Jethro [Pugh] was high, and I actually suggested that play on Thursday when we were studying short-yardage films. I said we could wedge Pugh if we had to. And Coach Lombardi said, ‘What?’ And I said that we can wedge Pugh if we have to. So we ran the film back three or four times, and coach says, ‘That’s right. Put in a wedge on Pugh.’

On the legendary play, Pugh stayed high just like Kramer expected and No. 64 cleared the way for Starr to sneak across the goal line for the game-winning score.

Kramer talked about that block.

“I put my face into the chest of Pugh. That is not the easiest thing to do, but it’s the safest and the surest way to make a block. I felt great personal responsibility to the team on that block. When I came off the ball, I was on fire.”

Kramer also talked about the contribution of Bowman at center on that play.

“I’ve analyzed that play a lot. “Bow” was there, there is no question about that,” Kramer said. “But when Jethro got up like I expected and then I got into him, the rest was a forgone conclusion. Jethro was then out of position and also out of the play. The play was over for him then.”

When Starr scored on that historic quarterback sneak, Lombardi raised his arms to signal touchdown. The first player to congratulate Lombardi after that touchdown was Horn.

Two weeks later, the Packers defeated the Oakland Raiders 33-14 to win Super Bowl II and to cement their third NFL title in a row. A feat that has never been reproduced.

Hyland reflected on how it felt to be part of such a mythical team as a rookie.

“From the standpoint of Coach Lombardi, I think it had to be his greatest year as a coach,” Hyland said. “He had to pull every trick he could out of the hat to put a good team on the field every week.

“Bringing in Chuck Mercein. Bringing Ben Wilson. Guys like that. Those guys did a great job and I think it’s a tribute to Coach Lombardi that he just inspired people to play way over their heads.

“I think it was a real interesting story that year. Jerry captured the situation very well in Instant Replay. With a lot of the behind the scenes going on and a lot of people have read the book many times simply because it was such a great year for the Packers.”

Don Horn with Coach Lombardi in Super Bowl II

Quarterback Don Horn stands next to head coach Vince Lombardi near the end of Super Bowl II. Jerry Kramer is behind the legendary coach.

Speaking of Instant Replay, Horn told me a very interesting story about that book.

“Jerry gave me one of the first editions that he autographed for me,” Horn said. “Jerry personalized for me and I had the book for a couple of years. Then my mother came to visit my wife and I and asked to borrow the book because she wanted to read it.

“So I give her Instant Replay. This is around 1970.  A few weeks later, my mother calls and said that she lost the book at an airport. She felt really bad. I told her not to worry, that I’ll get another one and get Jerry to sign it.

“Well, about 15 to 20 years later, I’m playing in the Vince Lombardi golf tournament up there in Menomonee Falls and this couple walks up to me and hands me Instant Replay. The man says, ‘Mr. Horn, I think this belongs to you.’ And sure enough it was the same book Jerry had signed for me back in 1968. Somebody in their family had found the book at General Mitchell Field and kept all those years until they had a chance to return it to me.”

Talk about a very fortunate set of circumstances.

Which was how the season played out in 1967 for the Green Packers and their rookie class for that season.

But the Packers created their own fortune that year. They did it the same way that Lombardi taught them. Through preparation, commitment, consistency, discipline, character, pride, tenacity and perseverance.

Those principles led to a third straight NFL title and a second straight Super Bowl win.

Not to mention a treasure chest full of great memories for both Hyland and Horn.