Green Bay Packers: Vince Lombardi Wheeled and Dealed in the Months of April and May

Vince Lombardi with coaching cap on.

When the Green Bay Packers hired Vince Lombardi in 1959, he was given two titles. They were, head coach and general manager. Obviously his coaching ability turned out to be fantastic, as his Packers won five NFL titles in seven years, which also included the first two Super Bowls.

Yes, there is a reason the Super Bowl trophy has his name on it.

Lombardi also made some fine acquisitions for the Packers as general manager through the draft and trades. Who knows how history would have been written had super scout Jack Vainisi lived, instead of tragically dying in 1960 at the age of 33 due to a heart attack. Vainisi played a key role in getting Lombardi to come to Green Bay in 1959.

Back in the day, the months of April and May were normally pretty quiet in the days when Lombardi led the Packers. That being said, Lombardi did make a number of notable trades during those two months while he was with the Packers from 1959 through 1968.

Here are some of the notable ones:

April 25, 1959: The Packers trade offensive end Bill Howton to the Cleveland Browns for defensive end Bill Quinlan and halfback Lew Carpenter.

The result? Quinlan started at defensive end for the Packers for four years, while Carpenter was a key role player who excelled on special teams and remained with the team for five years. Also, the trade of Howton opened the door for rookie Boyd Dowler to start at end and he became the NFL Rookie of the Year in 1959, plus had a fabulous 11-year career with the Packers.

Boyd Dowler scores TD in Ice Bowl

May 23, 1959: The Packers trade a third-round 1960 draft pick to the Chicago Cardinals for quarterback Lamar McHan.

The result? McHan starts 11 games in 1959 and 1960 and splits time at quarterback with Bart Starr. The competition drives Starr to become the full-fledged starter midway through the 1960 season when he became the true leader of the Pack, as he led the team to five championships, including the first two Super Bowls, where he was named MVP in both games. Starr also won three passing titles, was the NFL MVP in 1966 and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977.

May 5, 1964: The Packers trade center Jim Ringo and fullback Earl Gros to the Philadelphia Eagles for linebacker Lee Roy Caffey and a first-round draft pick in the 1965 NFL draft which was used on halfback Donny Anderson.

The result? The Packers had to scramble at the center position for the 1964 season, as Bob Skoronski and Ken Bowman split time at center. To add to that issue, right guard Jerry Kramer missed almost the entire 1964 season due to intestinal issues. Caffey became part of the best trio of linebackers in the NFL for five years, along with Ray Nitschke and Dave Robinson. Anderson had a fine career with the Packers, but his biggest moment was his performance in the “Ice Bowl”, as he played a key role in the final drive of that classic game.

Lee Roy Caffey in the Ice Bowl

April 23, 1965: The Packers trade linebacker Dan Currie to the Los Angeles Rams for wide receiver Carroll Dale.

The result? After Currie is traded, Dave Robinson becomes the starter at left outside linebacker and has a Hall of Fame career with the Packers. Dale becomes the starter at flanker for the Packers replacing Max McGee and becomes the deep threat for the Packers in the passing game for eight great seasons. Lombardi also starts to use Dale, McGee and Boyd Dowler at the same time on passing downs, as Dowler took over at tight end for Marv Fleming in those situations.

April 25, 1966: The Packers trade halfback Tom Moore to the Los Angeles Rams for quarterback Ron Smith, defensive tackle Dick Arndt and a second-round draft pick in the 1967 NFL draft.

The result? The trade allows halfback Elijah Pitts to become the main backup to Paul Hornung, who ended up being hurt for most of the 1966 season. Pitts ended up starting seven games in 1966 and 24 games in his career in Green Bay. The trade also allowed Donny Anderson to get more of a role on offense at halfback and No. 44 became the starter in 1967 when Pitts was lost for the season with a torn Achilles tendon.

Donny Anderson in the Ice Bowl

May 2, 1968: The Packers trade linebacker Tommy Joe Crutcher and offensive tackle Steve Wright to the New York Giants for offensive tackle Francis Peay.

The result? Peay plays in 62 games over the next five years, starting 45 of them at left tackle. Crutcher was later traded to the Rams by the Giants, but then returned to Green Bay when head coach and general manager Dan Devine traded a fourth-round pick in the 1973 NFL draft to the Rams.

Only One Player from the Vince Lombardi Green Bay Packers on the NFL 100 All-Time Team? Really???

NFL 100 All-Time Team(1)

I can imagine the response from Vince Lombardi in the spiritual world when he saw the final roster for the NFL 100 All-Time Team.

“What the hell’s going on out here?”

Now I’m sure that Lombardi was pleased that he was included among the coaches who were part of this NFL 100 All-Time Team, but to have only one player from his team when he was head coach of the Green Bay Packers make this illustrious squad, had to be appalling to someone who had as much pride as Lombardi had.

I’m talking about his team in Green Bay (aka Titletown) which won five NFL championships in seven years, which included the first two Super Bowls.

Plus, his teams that won the NFL titles in 1965, 1966 and 1967, became the only franchise to ever win three championships in a row since the playoff era started in the NFL in 1933.

That feat has never been duplicated before or since.

Lombardi’s Green Bay teams were 9-1 in the postseason overall.

Forrest Gregg vs. Deacon Jones

Even with that sparkling track record, only right tackle Forrest Gregg was deemed good enough to make the NFL 100 All-Time Team from those Lombardi teams.

To me, that’s a BIG crock!

Yes, safety Emlen Tunnell was also on the NFL 100 team, but he only played three years under Lombardi in Green Bay and spent the major part (11 years) of his NFL career with the New York Giants.

Now the Packers did get some representation on the all-time team, as Curly Lambeau was also part of the group of coaches.

Plus there were players like Don Hutson, Cal Hubbard, Brett Favre and Reggie White who made the all-time NFL 100.

But you can’t tell me that Bart Starr shouldn’t have been included among the all-time team at quarterback.

Or that Jerry Kramer shouldn’t have been among the group of all-time 100 guards.

Or that Ray Nitschke shouldn’t have been in the group of linebackers who made the NFL 100 team.

Or that Herb Adderley shouldn’t been part of the group of cornerbacks on the all-time 100 team.

I could go on and on.

There is halfback Paul Horning.

There is fullback Jim Taylor.

There is center Jim Ringo.

There is defensive end Willie Davis.

There is defensive tackle Henry Jordan.

There is linebacker Dave Robinson.

There is safety Willie Wood.

There is safety Bobby Dillon.

All of those players are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame for a reason, although it took far too long for some of them to get inducted.

Plus, there are others who played under Lombardi in Green Bay who also most certainly deserve consideration for getting a bust in Canton. I’m talking about wide receiver Boyd Dowler, tight end Ron Kramer and guard Gale Gillingham.

Guard Fuzzy Thurston and kicker/punter Don Chandler also deserve an opportunity to be talked about in the seniors committee room regarding their accomplishments in the NFL.

But for this exercise, I’m just going to focus on why at least Starr, Kramer, Nitschke and Adderley all definitely deserved to be part of the NFL 100 All-Time Team.

Bart's QB sneak behind Jerry

Photo by John Biever

So why does Starr deserve to be on the all-time team? Well, he did lead the Packers to five NFL titles in seven years. No NFL quarterback ever accomplished that type of achievement in a shorter period of time.

No. 15 was also the MVP of both Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II, plus was MVP of the NFL in 1966.

In addition to that, Starr led the NFL passing three times, and is the highest-rated passer of all time (with at least 200 passing attempts) when it counts the most…the NFL postseason. Bart had a 104.6 passer rating, as he threw 15 touchdown passes to just three interceptions in leading the Packers to a 9-1 record in the postseason.

So, how in the hell could Starr be left out of a group of the 10 best quarterbacks of all time? I have no idea, but the fact that he was left out does not bode well for the NFL history education of some of the voters.

The same goes for Kramer. No. 64 was named first-team All-Pro five times and went to three Pro Bowls. Kramer would have won more awards if not for injuries and illness.

Jerry also performed in the big games, much like Starr did. Kramer’s performance in the NFL title games in 1962, 1965 and 1967 put an exclamation point on that criteria.

Jerry was also named to the NFL All-Decade Team in the 1960s, plus was the only guard named to the first team on the NFL 50th Anniversary Team.

But Jerry was left off the NFL 100 All-Time Team. What made that even more outrageous is that two guards who were behind Kramer on the 50th Anniversary Team, Dan Fortmann (second team) and Jim Parker (third team), made the NFL 100 team.

That is a slap in the face to the voters of the NFL 50th Anniversary Team. Voters who actually witnessed the exploits of the players who they voted for. Unlike the voters of today, who seem to think the NFL started in 1980.

Nitschke was also on the first team of the 50th Anniversary Team. No. 66 was also named All-Pro five times, but for some unbelievable reason, was named to just one Pro Bowl squad.

Ray was the face of those great defenses that the Packers had under Phil Bengtson in Green Bay. The Packers were always a Top 10 defense when Bengtson was the defensive coordinator under Lombardi and were Top 5 seven times and were ranked No. 1 twice.

And Nitschke was the leader of that defense, which is why he was named to the NFL All-Decade Team of the 1960s. No. 66 was also named MVP of the 1962 NFL title game.

Ray bloody

But like Starr and Kramer, Nitschke did not make the NFL 100 squad. On the 50th Anniversary Team, Nitschke was first team, while Joe Schmidt was second team, but it was Schmidt who made the 100 team, not Nitschke.

Adderley was also on the 50th Anniversary Team (third team). Dick “Night Train” Lane was first team on that 50 team and was considered the best cornerback of his generation, due to his ball-hawking ability and his tenacious and vicious tackling.

Adderley played a similar style of football and he and Lane were considered high above any cornerbacks in the era in which they played in. Why? They played the pass and run equally well.

Compare that to someone like Deion Sanders, who is on the NFL 100 squad. There is no question that Sanders was the best shut-down cornerback in his day versus the pass, but against the run, Deion often looked like he was looking for a fox hole to dive into, as offensive linemen and running backs were heading his way.

Teams never passed on the side of the field that Sanders occupied, but they almost always ran in his direction.

Anyway, back to Adderley. No. 26 had 48 picks for 1,046 yards and seven touchdowns in his NFL career. 39 of those interceptions came when he was a member of the Packers. All of his touchdowns also came while he played in Green Bay.

Adderley also played on six teams which won NFL titles.

Herb vs. the Colts

Like Starr, Kramer and Nitschke, Adderley was also on the NFL All-Decade Team of the 1960s. No. 26 was named All-Pro four times and went to five Pro Bowls.

No. 26 also came up big in the postseason, as he had five picks, which included a 60-yard interception return for a touchdown versus the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl II.

Bottom line, it’s unfathomable that only one member of those fabulous Vince Lombardi teams put together in Green Bay in the 1960s made the NFL 100 All-Time Team.

It’s actually embarrassing. For some of the voters, that is.

Green Bay Packers vs. Dallas Cowboys: A Historical Perspective

Lombardi celebrates 1966 NFL title

The Green Bay Packers joined the NFL in 1921, while the Dallas Cowboys joined the league in 1960. Since that time, the teams have met 28 times in the regular season, with the Packers holding a 15-13 edge.

The two teams have also met eight times in the postseason, with each team winning four times.

Overall, the Packers have won 13 NFL titles, including four Super Bowls, one of which was won at Cowboys Stadium (now AT&T Stadium). The Cowboys have won five Super Bowls overall.

When the two teams meet on Sunday at AT&T Field, it will be the 15th time that the Packers have played Dallas on the road in the regular season. The Packers were 2-1 at the Cotton Bowl, 2-7 at Texas Stadium and now are currently 2-0 at AT&T Stadium.

The Packers are also 2-4 in the postseason in the Big D area. With the latest game being the 2016 NFC title game, as quarterback Aaron Rodgers led Green Bay to a stirring 34-31 victory.

In Wisconsin, the Packers defeated the Cowboys in their inaugural year 41-7 at then City Stadium (now Lambeau Field) and are now 7-2 overall versus the Boys in Green Bay during the regular season.

The Packers and Cowboys also played five games at County Stadium in Milwaukee in the regular season, with the Cowboys holding a 3-2 edge.

The Packers have also won two postseason games against the Cowboys at Lambeau Field, including the legendary “Ice Bowl” game on December 31, 1967.

The two teams were destined to become quite a rivalry, as Vince Lombardi was head coach of the Packers when the Cowboys joined the NFL in 1960 and their head coach was Tom Landry.

Lombardi and Landry had coached together in New York with the Giants, as the team won the NFL title in 1956. In essence, Lombardi ran the offense for the G-Men, while Landry ran the defense during their tenure in the Big Apple.

Lombardi never lost to Landry while he coached the Packers, both in the regular season (3-0) and in the postseason (2-0).

Both postseason games were NFL title games, with the first being played at the Cotton Bowl on January 1, 1967. The winner of that 1966 NFL championship game would be playing in Super Bowl I.

Bart Starr 1966 NFL title game at the Cotton Bowl

Quarterback Bart Starr was magnificent in that game, as he threw four touchdown passes (including a beautiful 51-yard pass to Carroll Dale) without throwing an interception for 304 yards. No. 15’s passer rating for that game was 143.5.

The game came down to the Cowboys being on the 2-yard line of the Packers with less than a minute to go, trailing 34-27. And on fourth down, quarterback Don Meredith of the Cowboys was pressured by outside linebacker Dave Robinson and with No. 89’s arms draped around him, Meredith threw an errant pass that was intercepted by safety Tom Brown of the Packers to seal the victory.

The Packers then went on to defeat the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10 in Super I two weeks later.

The two teams met again the very next year in the 1967 NFL title game, this time in Green Bay at Lambeau Field. I have written about that classic game a number of times, including a story that has fullback Chuck Mercein, halfback Donny Anderson and right guard Jerry Kramer describing their epic final drive to win the “Ice Bowl” 21-17 with just seconds remaining.

Starr was once again the hero, as he threw two touchdown passes to Boyd Dowler in the game and then scored the game-winning touchdown on a quarterback sneak with just 13 seconds remaining in the game and with his team having zero time outs.

Two weeks later, the Packers beat the Oakland Raiders 33-14 in Super Bowl II, which turned out to be Lombardi’s last game as head coach of the Packers.

Bart's QB sneak behind Jerry

The next time the two teams met in the postseason was after the 1982 season, when Starr was the head coach of the Packers and Landry was still at the helm of the Cowboys.

Quarterback Lynn Dickey threw for 332 yards, while wide receiver James Lofton had five catches for 109 yards and a touchdown, plus had another score on a 71-yard run. Still, that wasn’t enough as the Cowboys, led by the three interceptions of Dennis Thurman, won 37-26 in a second-round NFC playoff game at Texas Stadium.

The next three postseason games would all be played at Texas Stadium in the 1990s, as Jimmy Johnson was now the head coach of the Boys after owner Jerry Jones had fired Landry after the 1988 season.

The Packers were coached by Mike Holmgren during that time.

The Cowboys were led by their triplets, quarterback Troy Aikman, running back Emmitt Smith and wide receiver Michael Irvin. The Pack was led by quarterback Brett Favre on offense and defensive end Reggie White on defense.

In 1993 (27-17) and 1994 (35-9), the Cowboys beat the Packers in NFC divisional playoff games. In 1995, the Boys beat the Packers 38-27 in the NFC title game. Dallas would end up winning the Super Bowl twice after defeating the Packers in the postseason that decade.

In all, the Cowboys won three Super Bowls in the 1990s, while the Packers won Super Bowl XXXI after the 1996 season.

The Packers won Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium (now AT&T Stadium) after the 2010 season, when Rodgers was the game’s MVP, as the Packers defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25.

Green Bay and Dallas again met in the postseason in a 2014 divisional playoff game at Lambeau Field. Rodgers threw three touchdown passes in the 26-21 victory by the Packers, but the game was marked by controversy.

That occurred when quarterback Tony Romo completed a long pass to wide receiver Dez Bryant on fourth down which took the ball to the 1-yard line of Green Bay that was later ruled a non-catch. The Packers than marched down the field and ran out the clock.

The last postseason game that the two teams played was a 2016 NFC divisional game at AT&T Stadium. The Cowboys came into the game as the No. 1 seed in the NFC, but the Packers behind Rodgers got off to a quick 21-3 lead.

But Dallas came roaring back behind quarterback Dak Prescott and tied the game 28- 28 with four minutes left in the game.

The Packers then took a 31-28 lead on a 56-yard Mason Crosby field goal with about 1:30 to go in the game.

Prescott then led the Cowboys to a game-tying 52-yard field goal by Dan Bailey with 35 seconds left.

Aaron vs. the Cowboys

Then, with just 12 seconds left in the game on a third-and-20 from their own 32-yard line, Rodgers completed a 35-yard pass to tight end Jared Cook to set up a game-winning 51-yard field goal by Crosby as time expired.

The last time the two teams met was in the 2017 regular season, when Rodgers once again led the Packers to a late victory, as he completed a 12-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Davante Adams with 11 seconds remaining, as the Packers won 35-31.

Overall in his career versus the Cowboys, Rodgers is 4-2 against them in the regular season, as he has thrown 11 touchdown passes, compared to just one pick for 1,702 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 101.2.

No. 12 has also rushed for 162 yards on 30 carries and had two more scores.

In the postseason, Rodgers is 2-0 against the Cowboys and has thrown five touchdown passes versus one pick for 671 yards. That adds up to a cumulative passer rating of 111.0.

So, what to expect on Sunday? The Packers are banged up a bit and Adams has been ruled out because of a turf toe injury. Still, the track record of Rodgers against the Cowboys has been fantastic.

Plus, the Packers have never lost in AT&T Stadium in four games, with one of them being Super Bowl XLV. That being said, every game against the Cowboys has been very close and in one of the wins, it was backup quarterback Matt Flynn who led the Packers to a victory.

Bottom line, I also expect the game on Sunday to be very close. It may come down to which team has the ball last. And if it’s Rodgers and the Packers, I like their chances.

Green Bay Packers: Clay Matthews and Randall Cobb Have Joined a Legendary Fraternity

Clay Matthews XLV (1)

Packer Nation had a very painful day last week, when they learned that both linebacker Clay Matthews and wide receiver Randall Cobb would be moving on to play for other teams.

Matthews will be going back to his old stomping grounds in southern California, as he signed with the Los Angeles Rams as a free agent. Cobb was a also a free agent and he signed with the Dallas Cowboys.

Both signings occurred on the same day, March 19. It was a double punch to the ribs.

Both Matthews and Cobb left great legacies in Green Bay and gave the Packer faithful many great moments to remember.

In his 10-year career as a Packer, Matthews had 482 total tackles, a franchise record 83.5 sacks, 40 passes defended, six interceptions (two returned for touchdowns), 15 forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries (one returned for a score).

That type of production led Matthews to be honored with six Pro Bowl berths, as well as being named AP first-team All-Pro once and AP second-team All-Pro once.

Matthews was also a terror in the postseason. In 15 games, No. 52 had 53 tackles, 11 sacks, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.

No forced fumble was bigger than the one he helped to cause in Super Bowl XLV in the 2010 postseason.  Matthews forced Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall to fumble on the first snap of the fourth quarter in Super Bowl XLV, with help from defensive lineman Ryan Pickett.

Pittsburgh was driving for a potential go-ahead score at the Packers’ 33-yard line until Matthews’ helmet dislodged the football, popping it into the air.

The Packers took advantage of that turnover with a touchdown drive and went on to win 31-25 and the team’s fourth Super Bowl prize, aptly named the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Clay forces fumble in Super Bowl XLV

Cobb didn’t arrive in Green Bay until 2011, but he had a great career in both the regular season and postseason. In his eight-year career as a Packers, Cobb had 470 receptions (sixth all time in franchise history) for 5,524 yards (11th all time in franchise history) and 41 touchdowns.

No regular season touchdown was bigger than the one Cobb scored in the last game of the 2013 season, when the Packers played the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. The winner of that game would win the NFC North, while the loser would go home without a playoff spot.

Here was the situation: There were 46 seconds to go in the game, with the Packers trailing the Bears 28-27 and Green Bay facing a fourth-and-8 scenario.

In the moment of truth, quarterback Aaron Rodgers (who had returned for this game after missing several weeks because of a broken collarbone) first avoided being sacked by Julius Peppers by sprinting to his left and then getting a chip-block by fullback John Kuhn. Rodgers then delivered a 48-yard touchdown pass on the move to Cobb, as the Packers won 33-28.

Cobb was also money in the postseason. In 11 games, No. 18 caught 47 passes for 596 yards and five touchdowns. No TD was bigger than the 42-yard Hail Mary pass Cobb caught from Rodgers at the end of the first half in the 2016 Wild Card Playoff game between the Packers and New York Giants at Lambeau Field.

In all, Cobb caught three touchdown passes in the game, as the Pack whipped the G-Men 38-13.

Rodgers to Cobb in 2013 vs. da Bears

While there is no doubt that both Matthews and Cobb had great careers in Green Bay, they have also joined a legendary fraternity of players who played with the Packers but finished their NFL careers in other cities.

A number of them were players who ended up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as well.

Most notable was Brett Favre.

After announcing his retirement in March of 2008, Favre later decided he indeed wanted to return to the Packers. But the Packers decided by that time to turn things over to Rodgers at quarterback and instead traded Favre to the New York Jets for the 2008 season.

No. 4 then signed with the hated Minnesota Vikings the following year.  Favre played with the Vikings for two years before really retiring in 2011.

Plus there was Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung.

That tandem was the force of the Packers’ vaunted ground game in the Lombardi era from 1959 to 1966.  Taylor and Hornung won MVP awards and helped the team win four world championships.

However, in 1967, Taylor left as a free agent for the New Orleans Saints, and Hornung was also claimed by the Saints in the 1967 expansion draft but never played because of a neck injury.

Paul Hornung and Jimmy Taylor in 1962

There are many other examples of players who later were given busts in Canton, but who ended their NFL careers in other cities instead of Green Bay.

The list includes Arnie Herber, Jim Ringo, Forrest Gregg, Herb Adderley, Dave Robinson, James Lofton and Reggie White. Another player who will soon be joining that club is Charles Woodson.

Another Hall of Famer who could have been in that fraternity is Jerry Kramer. No. 64 retired after the 1968 season and was doing color commentary for NFL games on CBS in 1969.

But because of injuries at the guard position on the offensive line, both the Los Angeles Rams and the Minnesota Vikings wanted Kramer to join them in the 1969 season. Kramer never seriously considered playing for Bud Grant and the Vikings (although he was flattered by the offer), but he did agree to play for the Rams after conferring with George Allen.

But the Packers refused to relinquish the rights to Kramer to the Rams and No. 64 stayed in the broadcast both.

Plus there are the legendary coaches who both have a place among the best of the best at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Team founder and coach Curly Lambeau left the Packers after a dispute with the executive committee in 1950 to coach the Chicago Cardinals.  Lambeau coached the Packers from 1921 to 1949, winning 209 games with a .656 winning percentage and six NFL championships.

But even with that, Lambeau had issues with the executive committee.

Lambeau’s last two teams in Green Bay were a collective 5-19.  Plus, Lambeau ticked off members by purchasing the Rockwood Lodge north of Green Bay for $25,000 for the Packers to practice at from 1946 to 1949.  The facility burned down on Jan. 24, 1950, and Lambeau resigned a week later to coach the Cardinals.

The Cardinals were considered a very talented team when Lambeau arrived there.  The Cardinals had won the NFL title in 1947, and next to the Bears, were clearly the next-biggest rival to the Packers at the time.  Needless to say, people in Green Bay were not pleased when Lambeau joined forces with the Cardinals.

Then another coaching legend arrived a few years later—Vince Lombardi.  The result of his tenure?  Five NFL championships in seven years, including the first two Super Bowls.

Included in that tenure was three straight NFL titles (1965-1967), something that was never done in NFL history except once, when Lambeau did it from 1929-1931 with his Packers when the NFL did not have a playoff format.

Lombardi left the Packers after the 1968 season (Lombardi was a GM-only that season) to coach the Washington Redskins.  The Packers had stopped Lombardi from leaving a couple of times before, as the New York Giants had tried to get Lombardi back to his hometown and back with his close friend and college buddy Wellington Mara, who owned the Giants.

Lambeau and Lombardi

Together, Lambeau and Lombardi brought 11 world championships to Green Bay, with Lambeau winning six titles and Lombardi five in seven years, including wins in Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II.

Now I’m not saying that either Matthews or Cobb will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame (although Matthews has a much better chance), but there is no doubt that both will be inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame.

There they will join a number of other Green Bay legends who are not in Canton currently, but who also ended up in different locales to finish their pro careers.

People like Billy Howton, Tobin Rote, Ron Kramer, Dan Currie, Boyd Dowler, Elijah Pitts, Lee Roy Caffey, Donny Anderson, Edgar Bennett, Dorsey Levens and Mike Holmgren.

It’s always difficult saying goodbye to a great player or great coach who moves on to another NFL city, but the memories that they have left behind will live on forever.

That is certainly true of both Clay Matthews and Randall Cobb.

Green Bay Packers: Phil Bengtson, the Forgotten Man

Phil Bengtson

Everyone who knows the history of the NFL and the history of the Green Bay Packers, know that under head coach Vince Lombardi, the Packers won five NFL titles in seven years, including three in a row from 1965 through 1967, plus were victorious in Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II.

There were many reasons for that achievement, notably the presence of Lombardi himself, who now has the Super Bowl trophy named after him and is in the NFL Hall of Fame.  The players were very talented as well, as 13 Lombardi era Packers were also inducted into the Hall of Fame, most recently Jerry Kramer.

There are a few more players that probably should be inducted into the Hall as well.  Boyd Dowler, Ron Kramer, Gale Gillingham, Fuzzy Thurston and Don Chandler come to mind.

But there is a coach that rarely gets mentioned, probably because he was the one that took over for Lombardi in 1968 as head coach.

That man is Phil Bengtson.  Most people recall that Bengtson had a 20-21-1 record in his three years as head coach.  Bengtson was also general manager in 1969 and1970 after Lombardi left.

There were reasons for Bengtson‘s head coaching record, but let us take a look first at his record as the de facto defensive coordinator from 1959 through 1967, although he never held that title.

When we look at the Packers in the Vince era, Lombardi ran the offense and Bengtson ran the defense.  Of the 13 Lombardi era Packers that made it to the Hall of Fame, seven were on the defense.  They were middle linebacker Ray Nitschke, cornerback Herb Adderley, defensive end Willie Davis, safety Willie Wood, defensive tackle Henry Jordan, outside linebacker Dave Robinson and safety Emlen Tunnell, who spent most of his career in New York as a Giant, but was with the Pack from 1959 through 1961.

There is no question that the Packers had the best defense in the NFL during that era.  The Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears, Baltimore Colts and Cleveland Browns all had outstanding defenses as well in that period, but no defense was more consistently good than the Packers.

Bengtson was able to plug in players and make them very effective when other players moved on.  Early in the Lombardi era, Bengtson had folks like defensive tackle Dave “Hawg” Hanner, defensive end Bill Quinlan, outside linebacker Dan Currie, outside linebacker Bill Forrester, cornerback Hank Gremminger, cornerback Jesse Whittenton, safety Johnny Symak and Tunnell as starters for periods of time.

Phil with Vince and others

All were very productive.  But over time those players were replaced by players such as defensive tackle Ron Kostelnik, defensive end Lionel Aldridge, outside linebacker Lee Roy Caffey, safety Tom Brown, defensive back Doug Hart, cornerback Bob Jeter, as well as Adderley and Robinson.  The excellence continued.

In the Bengtson era on defense under Lombardi, the Packers were always in the top 10 ranking, including being in the top 5 seven times and were ranked No. 1 twice.  That is quite a résumé, especially when you add the five NFL titles and the two Super Bowl wins.

But a lot of fans think of Bengtson as a head coach only, after Lombardi resigned as head coach in 1968, and stuck around one year as general manager before heading to Washington to become head coach and general manager there for the Redskins in 1969.

If one looks at the 1968 season, Bengtson was hamstrung by a team that was aging, some key injuries, some bad luck and a very poor kicking game as the team had a 6-7-1 record.

In 1968, the Packers had a lot of starters that were over the age of 30.  Quarterback Bart Starr had the second best passer rating of his career at 104.3 in 1968, but he was only able to start nine games because of injuries, most notably a shoulder injury.

The team lost several very close games in 1968, including five by a touchdown or less. Most of those losses came from a very inconsistent and ineffective kicking game.  Chandler retired after the 1967 season and his successors, Mike Mercer (7-of-12), Chuck Mercein (2-of-5), Erroll Mann (0-of-3) and Kramer (4-of-9) were a combined 13-of-29 in terms of successful field goals.  The Packers also missed three extra points that year.

The Minnesota Vikings won the NFL Central in 1968 with an 8-6 record.  The Packers had a chance to repeat again, as Bengtson had his defense ranked No. 3, but the other shortcomings doomed the team to their record.  Bengtson deserved better.

In 1969, the Packers finished 8-6, as Bengtson once again had his defense ranked high at No. 4.  But the Vikings ran away with the NFL Central title on their way to Super Bowl IV vs. the Kansas City Chiefs, the team the Packers beat 35-10 in Super Bowl I.  The Chiefs fared better this time beating the Vikings 23-7.

Starr once again only started nine games because of injury issues in 1969.  The main problem for the Packers once again was their paltry kicking game as the Packers were 6-of-22 in field goal attempts.  Bottom line, just like 1968, with a better kicking game, who knows how the Packers would have finished in 1969.

Backup quarterback Don Horn flashed that season, as he was 4-1 as a starter and ended the season in magnificent fashion, as he threw five touchdowns passes against the St. Louis Cardinals in the last game of the season at Lambeau Field, plus threw for 410 yards.

The wheels sort of fell off in 1970 though, as aging process of the roster was in full bloom and new players were being plugged in.  Starr was a shadow of his former self with a passer rating of 63.9.  Once again the kicking game was mediocre at best, as the Packers were only 15-of-28 in field goals.

Even the vaunted Packer defense failed Bengtson, as the Packers finished 16th in total defense, in the first year of the NFL/AFL merger.  Bengtson resigned in December of 1970 and was replaced by Dan Devine in 1971.

Phil and Vince

Bengtson received his proper due in 1985, as he was named to the Packer Hall of Fame.  Still, Bengtson deserves more recognition for all that he did for those great Packer teams of the 1960’s.

But the very large shadow of Lombardi somewhat concealed Bengtson‘s very successful tenure as the defensive guru of the Packers.  But Lombardi himself knew how important Bengtson was to the Packers.

That is why he named his loyal lieutenant Bengtson as his successor.

If the Pro Football Hall of Fame ever adds a wing where they honor assistant coaches or coordinators, Bengtson would definitely have the track record to get into Canton.

Bottom line, Bengtson is forgotten by some when people reminisce about the legendary success of the Packers of the 1960’s.  But he shouldn’t be.

Jerry Kramer: A Weekend for the Ages in Canton

Bob and Jerry at JK's party.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

Vince and Jerry after Super Bowl II

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.

Green Bay Packers: Heading to Canton for Jerry Kramer’s Enshrinement Ceremony

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Yes, a week from today, I will be witnessing in person Jerry Kramer being enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. What a glorious moment that will be.

I won’t be alone, as my son Andrew will be traveling with me, plus Kramer’s family and friends will also be on hand, as well as a huge throng of people from Packer/NFL Nation.

What really makes this event so amazing and unbelievable is that Jerry first became eligible to get into the Hall of Fame 44 years ago.

That was three years after his head coach Vince Lombardi was given a bust in Canton in 1971, a year after he died from colon cancer. Lombardi had led the Packers to five NFL titles in seven years, including wins in the first two Super Bowl games.

Yes, Kramer became finalist in his first year of eligibility in 1974. That made sense, as No. 64 was named the best player ever at the guard position in the first 50 years of the NFL, when the Pro Football Hall of Fame named their NFL 50th anniversary team in 1969.

Add to that, Kramer was also named to the NFL All-Decade team for the 1960s.

Kramer was also a five-time AP first-team All-Pro and was named to three Pro Bowl squads. Kramer would have had more honors if not for injuries and medical issues that caused him to miss the better part of two-plus seasons.

Plus, not only was Kramer a great player in the regular season for the Packers, he was outstanding in the postseason as well, as his play stood out in the 1962, 1965 and 1967 NFL title games.

No play epitomizes that more that Bart Starr’s quarterback sneak in the 1967 NFL title game between the Packers and Dallas Cowboys at frigid Lambeau Field. That game will be forever known as the “Ice Bowl.”

Kramer led Starr into the end zone with a classic block on defensive tackle Jethro Pugh of the Cowboys.

Bart's QB sneak behind Jerry

Kramer became a finalist for admission to the Hall of Fame on eight other occasions up until 1987. But while other Packers like Jim Taylor (1976), Forrest Gregg (1977), Bart Starr (1977), Ray Nitschke (1978), Herb Adderley (1980), Willie Davis (1981), Jim Ringo (1981) and Paul Hornung (1986) were all inducted during that time period, Kramer never heard his name called.

10 years passed before Kramer was again a finalist in 1997, but this time as a senior candidate.

In that 10 year period between 1987 and 1997, two more Lombardi-era Packers were inducted into the Hall of Fame, Willie Wood (1989) and Henry Jordan (1995 as a senior).

The timing seemed perfect. The Packers were playing in Super Bowl XXXI against the New England Patriots in New Orleans.

The Packers won that Super Bowl 35-21 over the Pats, but Kramer for some unfathomable reason was not inducted.

Kramer recalled being there in New Orleans with his good friend and co-author Dick Schaap awaiting his induction.

“Yes, we planned on it happening,” Kramer said. “Dick had shirts made. We had a big party the night before. Everything seemed to be in place.”

But alas, it didn’t happen for Kramer in the “Big Easy” that year.

In his book Green Bay Replay, Schaap wrote about how Kramer handled the news about not being inducted in New Orleans at Super Bowl XXXI.

“In the afternoon, Jerry Kramer and Willie Davis, once roommates and still friends, encountered each other on Bourbon Street and embraced,” Schaap wrote. “Willie almost cried for Jerry, who smiled and signed autograph after autograph for Packer fans flooding the sleazy street, outnumbering Patriot fans by a huge margin.”

That describes Jerry perfectly. He has remained stoic through all the disappointments over the years of not being rightfully enshrined in Canton.

And all during that time, which continues to this day, Kramer has been an ambassador for the Packers and the NFL.

But all of the frustration over the years of not being inducted into the Hall of Fame were washed away on February 3 in Minneapolis, when Jerry was finally inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2018.

Kramer talked to me shortly after he experienced the gratification of that momentous occasion, as he was hoping for a knock on his hotel door by the President/Executive Director of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, David Baker.

“Yeah, that was a pretty incredible time,” Kramer said. “I was starting to go downhill. I had pretty well gotten myself in a positive frame of mind because they told us that he [Baker] was supposed to be at the door between 3:00 and 4:00.

“I had heard that Rick Gosselin had done my presentation early to the selection committee, so I figured that they were going to do the seniors [knock on the door] first. So I’m thinking it’s good if I get a knock on the door at 3:15 or so, we would have a pretty good shot. But if it’s 3:45 or so, not so much.

“So it’s just about 3:30 and we hear that they were delayed and would be a little late. So about twenty minutes to 4:00, we hear a knock at the door. And everyone there, which was my daughter Alicia, my son Matt, my grandson Charlie, my son Tony and his wife Darlene, Chris Olsen (close friend), Chuck Greenberg (former owner of the Texas Rangers) and a couple other folks there, all started cheering. So we go to the door and it’s the maid.

“So she was like a deer in the headlights. She didn’t know what was going on. So after she left, we settled back down. Now it’s 3:45 and I’m really sliding downhill. I’m thinking that I’m not going to make it. That they would be here by now. All of a sudden there is a thunderous knock on the door. Boom, boom, boom.

“And you knew that was him [Baker]. So I said, ‘Who is it?’, being bit of a smart ass and I open the door and David is standing there with a half a dozen photographers and camera people. He gave me a big hug and I gave him a big hug. He’s 6’9” and 400 pounds. And I said, ‘You’re the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen.’

“I was so wanting to see him. We were all praying for Mr. Baker to knock at the door and he was a lovely sight.”

I chronicled that experience and more in an article I wrote which is in the 2018 Green Bay Packers Yearbook. The piece focuses about the great work done by Jerry’s daughter Alicia, which led to her father’s rightful place among the best of the best in Canton.

Meanwhile, Jerry is doing what he always does. Traveling around as an spokesman for the Packers and the NFL. He just spent over a week in Wisconsin, in which he did a function with the Milwaukee Athletic Club, made an appearance at the Charles Woodson golf tournament, did an Associated Bank commercial, had an interview with ESPN, plus was honored by the Packers Hall of Fame, which included the opening of the Jerry Kramer Exhibit there.

Jerry Kramer Exhibit

(Photo: Adam Wesley/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wi, USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin)

As I often do, I have talked with Jerry as all of this was going on. Yesterday was one of those occasions, as Kramer was resting at home in his “Big Chair” at his home in Boise for a couple of days before he gets on his travel horse again and heads to Canton.

“It’s still a little surreal,” Kramer said. “You see see yourself doing these things because of the induction. You just shake your head, because it’s just one after another after another. Just one would be a sensational event, but there are like a half-dozen of them going on.

“It’s just mind-boggling and overwhelming. I was holding up pretty good and then I started getting weary yesterday afternoon and was anxious to get home. But I had a real good night’s sleep and I probably need a couple more, but I’ll get re-charged.”

No doubt, as the activities in Canton this upcoming week will be fast and furious for Kramer.

But the journey doesn’t end for Kramer after his enshrinement in Canton. Another moment that Jerry is really looking forward to will occur in Week 2 at Lambeau Field on September 16 when the Packers host the Minnesota Vikings.

“Certainly the Hall of Fame itself in Canton in August and all of that will be nice,” Kramer told me. “But another moment which will be awfully powerful for me is getting my Hall of Fame ring and seeing my name on the façade at Lambeau Field in front of those great fans.”

There Kramer will see his name unveiled alongside the other 24 Packers enshrined in Canton, nearly half of them his own teammates, which also now includes Dave Robinson, who was inducted into the Hall in 2013.

Yes, that will be a truly fantastic occasion.

As will being on hand to see Jerry get his appropriate enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame next Saturday.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame: Both Boyd Dowler and Ron Kramer Deserve Consideration

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In my most recent story, in which Jerry Kramer of the Green Bay Packers reflected about being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, one of the things we talked about was the NFL’s 50th anniversary team.

You see, Kramer was the last player on the first team of that half-century team of the NFL to be enshrined in Canton. The other players on the first team are Jim Thorpe, Johnny Unitas, Jim Brown, Gale Sayers, Elroy “Crazy legs” Hirsch, Cal Hubbard, Don Hutson, John Mackey, Chuck Bednarik, Gino Marchetti, Leo Nomellini, Ray Nitschke, Dick “Night Train” Lane, Emlen Tunnell and Lou Groza.

Talk about an impressive list of the best of the best in NFL history!

I mentioned to Kramer that only two other players on that 50th anniversary team were still not inducted and both were teammates of his. Kramer was shocked to hear that the players are Boyd Dowler (second team) and Ron Kramer (third team).

The other players on the second team besides Dowler, are Sammy Baugh, Bronco Nagurski, Harold “Red” Grange, Forrest Gregg, Raymond Berry, Mike Ditka, Danny Fortman, Mel Hein, Len Ford, Ernie Stautner, Joe Schmidt, Jack Butler, Jack Christiansen and Ernie Nevers.

Not a bad group to be associated with, huh?

The other players on the third team besides (Ron) Kramer, are Norm Van Brocklin, Joe Perry, Hugh McElhenney, Lenny Moore, Joe Stydahar, Dante Lavelli, Jim Parker, Alex Wojciechowicz, David “Deacon” Jones, Art Donovan, Clyde “Bulldog” Turner, Herb Adderley, Larry Wilson and Ken Strong.

Another stellar group.

After I told Jerry that Boyd and Ron were the only two out of 45 players from the 50th anniversary team of the NFL not in Canton, No. 64 talked about his two former teammates.

First, Jerry talked about the player 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.

“Ron was also quite the character off the field. 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 Kramer and Vince Lombardi in 1961 NFL title game.

“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.”

When Kramer played tight end for the Packers, they were predominately a running team and that is when the power sweep was most effective, as the tight end played a key role in the blocking scheme.

From 1960 to 1964, the Packers were ranked either first (three times) or second (twice) in rushing in the NFL.

In one of our many conversations, Jerry said of the power sweep, “Bobby, in the first three years we ran that play, we averaged I believe 8.3 yards a carry.”

Ron Kramer was one hell of a run-blocker, but was also very effective in the passing game. In his career with the Packers, which spanned seven years before he played out his option to play for his hometown Detroit Lions, No. 88 had 170 receptions for 2,594 yards and 15 touchdowns.

In the postseason, Kramer had six catches for 105 yards and two touchdowns. Both scores occurred in the 1961 NFL title game, when the Packers beat the New York Giants 37-0 at then City Stadium (now Lambeau Field). That was the first championship game ever played in Green Bay.

Ron Kramer was named All-Pro once and also was named to one Pro Bowl team. Plus, Kramer was also on the third team of the NFL’s 50th anniversary team.

Jerry then turned his attention to Dowler.

“Boyd was so precise and so mature his rookie year,” Kramer said. “He started taking care of business right out of the gate. He rarely dropped a pass. He would catch it over the middle, catch it on the sidelines and catch it wherever the hell you threw it. He was consistent throughout his career.”

I wrote a story about Dowler last year, as Kramer added some more commentary. One of the things Kramer mentioned was how Dowler was very self-assured.

“I think Boyd’s confidence was one of the big reasons why he was accepted so quickly and completely,” Kramer said. “There were no excuses from Boyd. If he screwed something up, he would be the guy to tell you. But he very seldom screwed things up and made very few mistakes.”

In his 11-year career with the Packers, Dowler had 448 receptions for 6,918 yards and 40 touchdowns. In the postseason, Dowler also had 30 receptions for 440 yards and five scores.

In his rookie year in 1959, Dowler was named Rookie of the Year by UPI (United Press International). The former Colorado star was also named to two Pro Bowls in his career.

Boyd Dowler scores TD in 1961 NFL title game

In addition to that, Dowler was named to the NFL 1960s All-Decade team, plus was named to the second-team on the NFL’s 50 Anniversary team.

I had an opportunity to talk with Dowler earlier this week to talk about his being on the NFL’s 50th anniversary team and also about his chances of getting into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The reason I brought up the Hall of Fame, was because Rick Gosselin also noted that only Dowler and (Ron) Kramer are the only players on the NFL’s 50th anniversary team not in Canton.

Here is what Gosselin said about Dowler and Kramer in a recent podcast on the Talk of Fame Sports Network:

“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.”

I certainly concur with Gosselin’s take there.

As I wrote about earlier in the story, the Packers did not throw the ball as often as many NFL teams, because they had such a solid run game behind the likes of Hornung and Jim Taylor. On average, quarterback Bart Starr threw the ball less than 20 times per game.

Dowler talked about one factor which set him apart from a lot of receivers in his day.

“Probably the most significant statistic that I can come up with in my career was the fact that I caught five touchdown passes in championship games,” Dowler said. “The guy who sticks out to me who is sort of similar as far as statistics are concerned is Lynn Swann. He probably got inducted because of his play in playoff or championship games.”

Dowler brings up an excellent comparison.

In terms of regular season numbers in his career, Dowler had 448 catches for 6,918 yards and 40 touchdowns, while Swann had 336 catches for 5,462 and 51 touchdowns.

In the postseason, Dowler had 30 receptions for 440 yards and five scores in 10 games. One of those games was Super Bowl I, when No. 86 missed almost the entire game due to a shoulder injury.

After that injury, Dowler was replaced by Max McGee, who went on to have the best game of his career, as he had seven receptions for 138 yards and two touchdowns.

Swann had 48 catches for 907 yards and nine touchdowns in 16 postseason games.

Dowler continued the comparison between himself and Swann.

“Swann and John Stallworth on the other side, are both in the Hall of Fame,” Dowler said. “Stallworth put up better numbers than Swann. The only argument I can make for myself is that I always seemed to come up with big plays in our championship games.

“The rest of the story in terms of my production was pretty much being consistent. I led the team in catches seven times.

“The other thing that I’ve noticed, is that on our team in the Hall of Fame, there are now three offensive linemen…Jerry, Forrest Gregg and Jim Ringo, two running backs…Jimmy and Paul, and one quarterback…Bart of course.

“But there is no tight end and no wide receiver. I’ve never looked it up or figured it out, but how many quarterbacks are in the Hall of Fame without having one of their receivers in there as well?”

Very few, as a matter of fact. Here is the list of modern-day quarterbacks who are in Canton and who also have had at least one of his receivers/tight ends also in the Hall of Fame.

  • Troy Aikman
  • George Blanda
  • Terry Bradshaw
  • John Elway
  • Dan Fouts
  • Otto Graham
  • Bob Griese
  • Sonny Jurgenson
  • Jim Kelly
  • Joe Montana
  • Joe Namath
  • Ken Stabler
  • Roger Staubach
  • Johnny Unitas
  • Norm Van Brocklin
  • Bob Waterfield
  • Steve Young

Talking about the postseason games he played in, Dowler made a great point.

“We won a lot of championship games,” Dowler said. “In those championship games, there were a lot of big plays made by receivers and tight ends. We kind of flew under the radar.”

Bart looking downfield in the Ice Bowl

Dowler is correct in that assertion. In 10 postseason games as a quarterback, Starr threw 15 touchdown passes, compared to just three picks for 1,753 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 104.8, which is the best in the history of the league.

No. 15 didn’t do all that by himself, as he got some help from his receivers like Dowler as well.

Talking about being a bit unnoticed, Dowler said he is fine with that, even with his Hall of Fame snub.

“I don’t really have a problem with that,” Dowler said. “I’m real happy with the fact that we won five world championships. I never thought throughout my career or since, that I’ve never been nominated. It really doesn’t surprise me. And it doesn’t upset me.

“That’s just the way it is and that’s the way our team was put together. I was happy that they kept putting out there in the huddle for 11 years.”

Talking again about his play in the postseason, Dowler reminisced about the 1967 postseason.

“The highlight for me was the two touchdown catches in the “Ice Bowl” and I got another score in the Super Bowl, the second Super Bowl,” Dowler said.

“I always seemed to come up with something against Dallas. I always seemed to come up with big plays against the Cowboys. I can’t really explain why.  We just kind of operated that way.

“We never went into a game thinking that I was going to get the ball a lot this week. We just never did that. We just went along and Bart ran plays on how the game developed. We didn’t game-plan those things or that I was going to catch two scores in the “Ice Bowl” game.”

The second touchdown pass that Dowler caught in the “Ice Bowl”, was one of the favorite calls for Starr throughout his years in Green Bay. It was third and short and on a play-action fake, Starr hit Dowler on 43-yard post pattern.

Dowler talked about the way Starr liked to use play-action on third and short and also about that particular play.

“It almost always worked,” Dowler said, talking about the play-action calls by Starr. “On the long touchdown pass from Bart in the “Ice Bowl”, I kind of went, ‘oh oh’, because he was throwing into the wind. But I was pretty sure I could get to it and the wind held it up just a little.

Boyd Dowler scores TD in Ice Bowl

“On that play, I was a little bit off the line like I was going to block and my eyes met Mel Renfro about the time we got even. He was still facing the line of scrimmage and I was pretty sure I could get by him, even though he was pretty fast, as he was a world-class sprinter. Renfro was an awful good football player and had a lot of speed, but it was the play-call that got me open.”

Getting back to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I mentioned to Dowler the comments of Gosselin, talking about that fact that he and (Ron) Kramer are not be enshrined in  Canton, even with being on the NFL’s 50th anniversary team.

That, plus the fact that Gosselin has submitted what he calls his “amnesty proposal” which will allow several seniors to get inducted in the 100th anniversary of the NFL, as opposed to the one or two per year as it stands now. That proposal is being considered by David Baker, the President/Executive Director of the Hall of Fame.

“If a guy [Rick Gosselin] is going to take the ball and run with it for a bunch of old guys for the 100th year of the NFL, that’s fine by me,” Dowler said. “If he wants to put me in that mix, I’m all for it. I’m not going to discourage him from doing that. I think that’s a great idea.”

Jerry Kramer Reflects on his Induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Jerry with David Baker

Well, the day that so many of us waited for finally happened. Jerry Kramer of the Green Bay Packers was finally inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday, February 3, 2018.

That epic honor came at last for Kramer, after 45 years of being eligible and on his 11th time as a finalist for enshrinement.

Kramer certainly had the résumé to become a member among the best of the best in pro football history.

In 1969, Jerry was named the best player ever at the guard position in the first 50 years of the NFL, when the Pro Football Hall of Fame named their NFL 50th anniversary team.

Kramer was also named to the NFL All-Decade team for the 1960s.

In addition to that, Kramer was a six-time AP All-Pro at right guard and was also named to three Pro Bowls for the Packers. Kramer would have had even more honors if not for injuries and illness. Kramer missed half of the 1961 season due to a broken ankle and almost all of the 1964 season due to an intestinal ailment which took nine operations to resolve.

Plus there was his performance when the lights were the brightest, when the Packers went 9-1 under head coach Vince Lombardi in the postseason. That led to five NFL championships in seven years, which included the first two Super Bowls.

Kramer was exceptional in three (1962, 1965 and 1967) of those championship games.

In the 1962 NFL Championship Game versus the New York Giants at very cold and windy Yankee Stadium, Kramer doubled as a right guard and as placekicker. Kramer booted three field goals on a very difficult day to kick, as some wind gusts were over 40 mph during the contest. Kramer scored 10 points in the 16-7 victory for the Packers.

In the 1965 NFL Championship Game versus the Cleveland Browns at snowy and muddy Lambeau Field, Kramer and his teammates on the offensive line had a sensational day.

Jim Taylor and halfback Paul Hornung led a rushing attack that gained 204 yards, as the Pack won 23-12. The power sweep was especially effective, as Kramer and fellow guard Fuzzy Thurston kept opening big holes for the backs as the Packers gained big chunks of yardage past the line of scrimmage.

Hornung scored the last touchdown of the game on one of those power sweeps. Kramer pulled left and first blocked the middle linebacker and then a cornerback, as the “Golden Boy” made his way into the end zone.

In the 1967 NFL title game, better known as the “Ice Bowl”, Kramer made the most famous block in NFL history, when with help from center Ken Bowman, Kramer delivered a classic block on defensive tackle Jethro Pugh, as quarterback Bart Starr scored the game-winning touchdown on a QB sneak behind Kramer’s block with just 13 seconds left in the game, as the Packers defeated the Dallas Cowboys 21-17.

Bart's Sneak III

That play was the signature moment of the Lombardi legacy, while the power sweep was the signature play of the Lombardi era. Kramer played a large role in the success of both of those instances.

I tried getting a hold of Kramer after the word came out that he was indeed part of the Class of 2018, but it was near impossible to catch him with all the whirlwind activity Kramer took part in this past weekend in Minneapolis. That included going to the NFL Honors show on Saturday night, Super Bowl LII the next day and also being fitted and measured for a gold jacket and a ring for the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Monday, not to mention getting his likeness studied for the bust which will be made of him.

I finally was able to speak with Kramer on Tuesday night, as he relaxed at his home in the Boise, Idaho area after flying back from Minneapolis.

The first words he uttered were meant for me. “Thank you, thank you and thank you,” Kramer said. “For all of your efforts and all of your time. And also your commitment which I believe worked.

“It was an amazing week. An incredible time. I thank you for all of your input and all your effort. It’s definitely appreciated.”

Yes, there is no question that I have been on a long crusade to get Jerry what he rightfully deserved. Which of course was enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But many others have also played a large part in the success of this journey. None so much as Alicia Kramer, Jerry’s daughter.

Alicia has spearheaded the efforts to get her dad a bust in Canton and has used the social media and other outlets to keep fighting the fight for her dad for several years now. Jerry’s son Dan has also played a prominent role in helping out that cause. It’s been a sincere pleasure of mine to get to know both Alicia and Dan.

Then there is Packer Nation and also Kramer Nation, as I like to call them. The letters from those fans just kept flowing non-stop to 2121 George Halas Drive NW in Canton over the past several years. That is the address for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Joe Horrigan, the Executive Director for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, has told me that one-quarter of his mail came from supporters of Kramer.

From my standpoint, over the past 15-plus years or so, writing for Packer Report, Wisconsin Sports Online (Packer Chatters), Bleacher Report and now on my own blog page (plus LandryFootball.com), I have written over 100 articles about Kramer.

Yes, several were about his ridiculous omission from the Hall of Fame, but many others were about his exploits in big games or seasons. In other stories, Kramer commented about his iconic head coach, Vince Lombardi, or about other teammates/opponents.

Before I became a writer and was just working in sales, I was writing letters on Kramer’s behalf for his induction into the Hall of Fame to publications like Packer Report, a place where I would later become a writer.

I showed one of those letters to Kramer at a golf outing prior to Super Bowl XXV here in the Tampa area. That was back in 1991. Kramer was touched by my letter. Little did he or I know that it would take 27 more years to see No. 64 finally inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Chatting with Kramer is like talking to your favorite uncle. It’s always fun and engaging. Our call on Tuesday night was like most of our other phone conversations. It lasted over an hour.

My first question was about how it felt waiting for the knock on his hotel door by David Baker, the President and Executive Director for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“Yeah, that was a pretty incredible time,” Kramer said. “I was starting to go downhill. I had pretty well gotten myself in a positive frame of mind because they told us that he [Baker] was supposed to be at the door between 3:00 and 4:00.

“I had heard that Rick Gosselin had done my presentation early to the selection committee, so I figured that they were going to do the seniors [knock on the door] first. So I’m thinking it’s good if I get a knock on the door at 3:15 or so, we would have a pretty good shot. But if it’s 3:45 or so, not so much.

“So it’s just about 3:30 and we hear that they were delayed and would be a little late. So about twenty minutes to 4:00, we hear a knock at the door. And everyone there, which was my daughter Alicia, my son Matt, my grandson Charlie, my son Tony and his wife Darlene, Chris Olsen (close friend), Chuck Greenberg (former owner of the Texas Rangers) and a couple other folks there, all started cheering. So we go to the door and it’s the maid.

“So she was like a deer in the headlights. She didn’t know what was going on.  So after she left, we settled back down. Now it’s 3:45 and I’m really sliding downhill. I’m thinking that I’m not going to make it. That they would be here by now. All of a sudden there is a thunderous knock on the door. Boom, boom, boom.

“And you knew that was him [Baker]. So I said, ‘Who is it?’, being bit of a smart ass and I open the door and David is standing there with a half a dozen photographers and camera people. He gave me a big hug and I gave him a big hug. He’s 6’9” and 400 pounds. And I said, ‘You’re the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen.’

“I was so wanting to see him. We were all praying for Mr. Baker to knock at the door and he was a lovely sight.”

The day was just getting started for Kramer, as he was whisked off to the NFL Honors show. There he had some unforgettable moments. First, he was announced to the crowd by Brett Favre.

Kramer stood on stage with the rest of the Class of 2018, which included Randy Moss, Brian Urlacher, Robert Brazile, Brian Dawkins and Ray Lewis. Two other members of the class, Terrell Owens and Bobby Beathard, were not in attendance.

Jerry at the NFL Honors

After the class was announced, the other members of the Hall of Fame who were in the audience came on stage to welcome their new brethren.

“That was a real special moment,” Kramer said. “I think you ought to call Jerry Jones and ask him about me. I suspect there may be a story there, but I’m not sure. He gave me a big hug and I congratulated him for getting into the Hall and also apologized to him for the way I acted several years before.”

I wrote a story about that situation last year just before the Class of 2017 was named for the Hall of Fame, which included Jones.

Kramer was at a function in Dallas in the early-to-mid ’90s when the Packers were playing the Cowboys in the NFC playoffs, which the Packers did for three straight years (1993-1995) in Big D.

Jones was there and he saw Kramer and went up to him to say hello and stuck out his hand, but Kramer just kept walking. Kramer always regretted that moment, which was one of the reasons I wrote the piece about Jerry rooting for Jerry last year.

But this past Saturday, Kramer got the chance to convey his true feelings.

“I told Jerry that I rooted for him last year,” Kramer said. “I told him that he has done a hell of a job as an owner and has made this game better. I said that I didn’t have enough sense to be civil to you back when I was younger back in Dallas, but I sure as hell thought you ought to be here. And that I was glad to be associated with him now.

“Jerry got sort of teared up when I said that and it seemed like it was an emotional moment for him.”

Kramer shook hands and hugged with all of the other members of the Hall of Fame as well.

“That was a special moment,” Kramer said. “That was very, very special. When they came up hugging and saying, ‘welcome to the brotherhood’ and ‘welcome to the family’, it was just wonderful.

“It cleared everything up about how they were going to respond. And how they felt. You never know, but they were really like teammates. It was just special.”

I asked Kramer if there was anyone in particular he was anxious to meet and greet.

“Mike Singletary,” Kramer said. “I saw him and there were a couple of guys in between us, and I made a special effort to shake his hand and Mike did the same for me. It was a pleasant moment. We didn’t talk a lot, but we hugged. I thought he was just a hell of a player.”

I then mentioned to Kramer that it was apropos that one of the members of his draft class included another middle linebacker of the Chicago Bears, Urlacher.

“Yeah, while we were chatting, I said to Brian that he taught me something about the Chicago Bears,” Kramer said. And Urlacher says, ‘What the hell is that, Jerry?’ I said that I finally understood that Bears are people too.”

After the NFL Honors show, Kramer went back to his hotel room to chill out and relax after his exciting afternoon and evening thus far. But his evening wasn’t over, as he received a call from Jeremy Schaap, the son of the late, great Dick Schaap. who co-authored three books with Kramer, including the classic Instant Replay.

Jeremy invited Kramer to dinner and cocktails, so Jerry and some of his entourage met Schaap. Kramer had a great time, plus saw Mark Murphy (President and CEO of the Packers) there and had a nice chat with him.

Plus on Super Bowl Sunday at the game, Kramer went to the Green Bay suite at the stadium and had another chat with Murphy for quite a while. That got Kramer to thinking about a couple of great things coming up.

“Certainly the Hall of Fame itself in Canton in August and all of that,” Kramer said. “But another moment which will be awfully powerful for me is seeing my name on the facade at Lambeau Field and being honored there in front of those great fans.”

at Lambeau Field on October 16, 2016 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

That’s what happens to other Hall of Fame players, coaches or front office people from the Packers who are enshrined in Canton. The names currently on the facade are Earl “Curly” Lambeau, Robert “Cal” Hubbard, Don Hutson, Johnny “Blood” McNally, Clark Hinkle, Mike Michalske, Arnie Herber, Vince Lombardi, Tony Canadeo, Jim Taylor, Forrest Gregg, Bart Starr, Ray Nitschke, Herb Adderley, Willie Davis, Jim Ringo, Paul Hornung, Willie Wood, Henry Jordan, James Lofton, Reggie White, Dave Robinson, Ron Wolf and Brett Favre.

Speaking of Wolf, he sent a nice email to Kramer congratulating him on being inducted, as he was not in attendance at the NFL Honors show.

And like Kramer did with Robinson the night before “Robby” was inducted in 2013, the two of them went out to dinner the night before Kramer was inducted.

“That was a good luck dinner,” Kramer said. “Robby felt that it had worked for him, so he said let’s do it again so it can work for me. And it sure did. We had a nice dinner and a nice time.”

Kramer also talked to another teammate for the first time in over 45 years. That would be his old roommate, Taylor. The two of them have not talked since they had a falling out with each other back in the early ’70s.

“Yes, I talked to him,” Kramer said. “His wife is such a sweet lady and she sat down at the table with us. Someone was between Jimmy and I, but we were almost elbow to elbow. It would have been awkward and asinine to continue the boycott. I wasn’t overly friendly and didn’t slap him on the back or anything, but we did chat.”

After telling me that story, Kramer said that another discussion with Taylor probably won’t happen again.

But you never know.

While we chatted, I reminded Jerry that he was the last player on the NFL’s 50th anniversary first team to be enshrined in Canton. The other players who were on that first team and are now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame are Jim Thorpe, Johnny Unitas, Jim Brown, Gale Sayers, Elroy “Crazy legs” Hirsch, Cal Hubbard, Don Hutson, John Mackey, Chuck Bednarik, Gino Marchetti, Leo Nomellini, Ray Nitschke, Dick “Night Train” Lane, Emlen Tunnell and Lou Groza.

Now that Kramer has rightfully been inducted, there are just two players on that 50th anniversary team, one on the second team and one on the third team, who are currently not in Canton.

Kramer was shocked to hear who they were. They are Boyd Dowler (second team) and Ron Kramer (third team).

I’ll be doing a story regarding that situation in the near future.

I then asked Kramer what is was like getting fitted for a gold jacket and all the other things associated with going into the Hall of Fame.

“It was an incredible time,” Kramer said. “It kind of was the last straw in believing if you were in or not. If they are measuring you for a bust, it’s not because you are President of the United States, it’s because you are in the Hall of Fame. And if they are measuring you for a gold jacket, than you know you are one of the guys. And when they put that Hall of Fame ring on my finger, I had to get out my sunglasses to protect my eyes. So those things solidified the whole thing for me.”

Pro Football Hall of Fame Gold Jacket

When I heard the happiness in Kramer’s voice as he told me about the wonderful weekend that he had because of his induction into the Hall, I told him of a conversation I had with his son Dan the evening he was inducted.

Dan told me that his brother Tony, who was in the hotel room in Minneapolis with his dad, said that his father cried when he saw Baker at the door. I told Dan that I wasn’t surprised.

Jerry had always told me and many others that not being in the Hall of Fame didn’t bother him. Jerry would always say that the game of football had been very kind to him and had given him a number of gifts. If he didn’t receive the Hall of Fame gift, so be it, it still would be fine. If he got in, it would be like a cherry on a sundae.

But I never believed that. Jerry was just being stoic. He wanted this honor badly. When I mentioned that to Kramer, there was silence for a number of seconds. Then with his voice quivering slightly, Kramer replied, “No question, Bob. You are exactly right. Exactly right. All my honors came 40 years or so ago.  And I got the feeling that some people were thinking if you are so hot, how come you are not in the Hall?

“I mean the Commissioner [Roger Goodell] thought I was in the Hall. John Hannah thought I was in the Hall. I had to tell them that I wasn’t. I was thinking maybe I was overrated. So you start doubting yourself. Your emotions are up, down and around and around.

“But the ring day, the bust day and the gold jacket day put all that to rest for me”.

Yes indeed. From now on, Kramer will be forever known as a Pro Football Hall of Famer. He already was in the minds of many of us, but now it’s official.

Jerry Kramer is Near the Goal Line for the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Time to Run the 31 Wedge

Bart's Sneak III

The parallels and the similarities are striking. That is comparing the 1967 Green Bay Packers, especially their 68-yard march for the winning touchdown in the “Ice Bowl”, to Jerry Kramer’s quest for being enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

It’s apropos that the 50th anniversary of the “Ice Bowl” was just a month ago. That 21-17 victory by the Packers over the Dallas Cowboys with just seconds remaining in the game, was an exclamation point on the adversity that the team faced throughout the 1967 season.

That season was chronicled in magnificent fashion by Kramer and the late, great Dick Schaap in the book Instant Replay.

Kramer has also been on a long march to to receive the recognition that many believe should have happened decades ago. That would be getting a bust in Canton, like his coach Vince Lombardi did in 1971, a year after he died from colon cancer.

Kramer first became eligible to gain enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1974. That is 44 years ago folks. Kramer was a finalist in his first year of eligibility and was also a finalist eight other times between 1974 and 1987. But while other Packers like Jim Taylor (1976), Forrest Gregg (1977), Bart Starr (1977), Ray Nitschke (1978), Herb Adderley (1980), Willie Davis (1981), Jim Ringo (1981) and Paul Hornung (1986) were all inducted during that time period, Kramer never heard his name called.

10 years passed before Kramer was again a finalist in 1997, but this time as a senior candidate. The timing seemed perfect. The Packers were playing in Super Bowl XXXI against the New England Patriots in New Orleans.

The Packers won that Super Bowl 35-21 over the Pats, but Kramer for some unfathomable reason was not inducted.

In that 10 year period between 1987 and 1997, two more Lombardi-era Packers were inducted into the Hall of Fame, Willie Wood (1989) and Henry Jordan (1995 as a senior).

The road to Canton was not easy for some of the Packers.

Some players made it into Canton on their first try. This would include Gregg, Starr, Nitschke and Dave Robinson (senior).

For others, it was a little more difficult. Adderley was inducted on his third try. It took four times for Taylor and Jordan (senior) to get enshrined. It took six times for Davis to get a bust, while Ringo had to wait until his seventh attempt to get into the Hall.

Then there are the two double-digit guys. Wood didn’t get into Canton until his 10th try, while Hornung had to wait until his 12th attempt.

But it was especially tough for Kramer. It was tough for all guards in the NFL as a matter of fact. From his first year in eligibility in 1974 up until 1997 when he was a senior nominee, the Hall of Fame inducted just one guard, Gene Upshaw.

This made little sense based on the honors and achievements Kramer compiled in his NFL career with the Packers.

No. 64 was a six-time AP All-Pro and also was named to three Pro Bowl squads. Kramer would have had more honors if not for injuries and medical issues that caused him to miss the better part of two-plus seasons.

Also, in 1969, Jerry was named the best player ever at the guard position in the first 50 years of the NFL, when the Pro Football Hall of Fame named their NFL 50th anniversary team.

The first team consisted of Jim Thorpe, Johnny Unitas, Jim Brown, Gale Sayers, Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch, Cal Hubbard, Don Hutson, John Mackey, Chuck Bednarik, Gino Marchetti, Leo Nomellini, Ray Nitschke, Dick “Night Train” Lane, Emlen Tunnell, Lou Groza and Kramer.

Every one of the members on that legendary team are now enshrined as players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. All except one. That would be Jerry Kramer.

In addition to that, Kramer was also named to the NFL All-Decade team for the 1960s.

Looking back on the players who were named First-Team All-Decade through the year 2000, there were 145 players who were given that designation.

And up until now, 134 of those players have been inducted into the hallowed halls in Canton.

Kramer is one of those 11 First-Team All-Decade players who have yet to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

But Kramer now has another chance to finally be given the honor he so richly deserves, as he is once again a senior nominee finalist, which will be his 11th opportunity to be enshrined. This Saturday, on February 3, the day before Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis, No. 64 can be given the cherry on the cake regarding his NFL career when the Class of 2018 is named for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

In terms of the 1967 Packers, it also was a hard road to travel. But the journey started for Kramer three years before that.

That was because of some intestinal issues that Kramer had starting in 1964. At first, the doctors thought Kramer had cancer, but after multiple medical procedures, the situation was finally resolved.

But it was not resolved as far as Lombardi was concerned. Kramer explained the situation to me in one of my many conversations with him.

Jerry holding the splinters

“I reported to camp at around 220 pounds,” Kramer said. “I nine operations that offseason, which involved removing 16 inches of my colon because of a bunch of slivers that were in there for 11 years.

“So when I went to talk with Coach Lombardi about playing, he said, ‘Jerry, we can’t count on you this year. I just want you to go home and we’ll take care of your salary and your hospital bills.’

“I told Lombardi that I really wanted to play. I knew that I had already missed most of the ’64 season and if I missed the ’65 season, I would probably never get a chance to play again.

“I told Lombardi that I would not go home and that I wanted to play. We went back and forth about this for about 35 or 40 minutes. Finally Lombardi says, ‘Okay, I’m going to put you with the defense.’

“I said, great. I always wanted to play defense anyway.”

Kramer soon found out that his task of getting in football shape would be very difficult.

“We always used to take three laps around the field to start practice. I ran a half of a lap and my lungs seized up. I just couldn’t breathe or get any air. Don Chandler came up to me and asked, ‘What’s wrong, pal?’

“I told Don that I can’t breathe. Don told me that, ‘Between the two of us, we would do what one of the players does in terms of an exercise. If you can only do a half of a lap, I’ll do the other two and half laps.’

“So Don worked out besides me for the next month and we did just that. If the team did 50 sit ups and I could only do 10, Don would do the other 40. If the team did 50 side-saddle hops and I could only do 15, Don would do the other 35.

“So Don kept me in the game and kept me from being embarrassed. That kept me from feeling like a jerk in front of a bunch of world-class athletes. So by doing that procedure with Don, I gradually was able to do more and after a month I was able to do all of the exercises.

“I gained about 15 pounds. I knew that the colostomy was reattached, the hernia was fixed and the intestines were okay. It was just going through the reconditioning which was so difficult.

“Without Don, I really doubt that I could have made it through that camp. So all the books, all the Super Bowls and all the great things that happened to me after that was because of my teammate.”

Vince and Jerry after Super Bowl II

Lombardi knew Kramer was a tough hombre. He said so in his book, Run To Daylight, which was published in 1963. This is what Lombardi said about Kramer:

Jerry Kramer has the perfect devil-may-care attitude it takes to play this game. He not only ignores the small hurts but the large ones, too, and the evidence of his indifference is all over his body.

When Jerry was a high school kid he was sanding a lamp in the woodworking shop one Friday afternoon and a lathe took a couple of inches of flesh out of his side and he played football that night. On a duck-hunting trip he shredded his right forearm with a shotgun blast, and once, when a rotten board split under him, a sliver went into his groin. He pulled that out and two days later they found seven and a half inches of it still in there. He was in the hospital for two weeks, but three weeks later he was playing football. Then there was the night he was in a car doing 100 miles an hour and it went off the road. He was thrown out of the car. It rolled over him , hit a tree and burst into flames. He walked away from it.

At three o’clock one morning at the University of Idaho, Jerry bet somebody that he could ring the bell on the roof of one of the dorms. He threw a rope on a railing around the cupola and while dangling three stories above the ground the railing started to give. If a couple of them looking out the window hadn’t grabbed the rope he probably would have walked away from that, too. In 1960 he suffered a concussion and a detached retina in hi left eye in one of our games and had to undergo a four-and-a-half-hour operation. And in 1961 against the Minnesota Vikings he broke his left ankle and had to wear a 2-inch pin in there for four months.

“But where did you get that big scar on the back of your  neck?” someone asked him once. Because of it they call him Zipper Head.

“Where the hell did I get that?” Jerry said, and he wasn’t kidding. This typifies him. “Oh yeah, I remember now. In my sophomore year in college I couldn’t turn my head and they X-rayed it and found out I had a chipped vertebra.”

I remember our Dallas game a couple of years ago and on our 49-Sweep Jerry got two defenders and picked up a piece of a third. We were playing the 49ers later and they say Red Hickey, their coach, was screening our game and he called his staff and said, “My God! Just look at this guard!’

It took Kramer a few games to get back into the starting lineup for the Packers at right guard in 1965, but by season’s end, he was playing exceptionally well. Case in point, the 1965 NFL title game at snowy and muddy Lambeau Field versus the Cleveland Browns, the defending NFL champs.

Green Bay rushed for 204 yards behind Taylor and Hornung in the game, as the Pack won 23-12. The power sweep was especially effective, as Kramer and left guard Fuzzy Thurston kept opening big holes for the backs, mowing down defenders as the Packers gained big chunks of yardage on the ground.

Jerry in the '65 title game

Hornung scored the last touchdown of the game on one of those power sweeps. Kramer pulled left and first blocked the middle linebacker and then a cornerback as the “Golden Boy” found the end zone.

That wasn’t the first time Kramer excelled in a title game. Three years earlier, the Packers played the New York Giants at frigid and windy Yankee Stadium in the 1962 NFL title game.

Besides playing at a high level at right guard, Kramer was also the placekicker for the Packers at that point due to a knee injury suffered by Hornung.

Kramer had to kick that day under very difficult conditions. It was a bitingly cold day, plus the wind was gusting up to 40 miles per hour. Plus, Kramer played the entire game at right guard as well battling in the trenches.

Kramer ended up scoring 10 points (three field goals and an extra point) in the 16-7 victory for the Packers, plus helped lead the way for fullback Taylor to gain 85 yards rushing and also score the lone Green Bay touchdown. As a team, the Packers gained 148 yards rushing that day.

No. 64 also recovered a fumble by Taylor to keep a drive alive.

When the Packers were up 13-7 late in the fourth quarter, Kramer knew that he had a chance to put the game away with a 30-yard field goal.

“The wind was really blowing hard that day,”Kramer said. “The wind was blowing so hard that at halftime our benches on the sideline were blown 10 yards onto the field. That wind was really swirling that day.

“The ball was being moved pretty well by the wind. On that last field goal, I aimed 10 yards outside the goal post because of the wind. At first, the kick was heading to where I aimed before the wind caught it and brought it back in and split the uprights.

“It was a great relief to me that I had guessed right, because if I missed the Giants still had a chance to win the game.

“After I made the kick, the guys were jumping on me and pounding me on the back knowing that we probably had clinched the game then. I got to feel like a running back or a quarterback for a moment or two and it was a wonderful feeling.”

After the victory by the Packers, Nitschke was named the game’s MVP, as he had been tenacious with his tackling on defense and also recovered two fumbles.

 

Jerry's game ball from 1962 NFL title game

Kramer certainly could have received that honor as well, based on the way he played that day. As it was, the coaches and the players presented No. 64 with a game ball because of the great performance he had in that year’s championship game.

Anyway, after the 1965 season, the Packers won their second straight NFL title by defeating the Cowboys 34-27 at the Cotton Bowl in the 1966 NFL title game. Two weeks later, the Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10 in the very first Super Bowl.

That set up the challenge of winning a third straight NFL title in 1967, as well as a second straight Super Bowl.

Kramer and his teammates overcame a lot during that season. Hornung and Taylor were gone. There were multiple injuries on the team. Quarterback Bart Starr missed a couple of games due to injuries. Both starting running backs, Elijah Pitts and Jim Grabowski, were lost for the season with injuries in the eighth week of the season.

Despite all of that adversity, the Packers still finished second in the NFL in rushing in 1967 with players like Donny Anderson, Travis Williams, Ben Wilson and Chuck Mercein filling the void.

The team also lost a couple of heartbreaking games (one to the Baltimore Colts and one to the Los Angeles Rams) in the last minute during the course of the season.

A couple of weeks after that loss to the Rams, Green Bay whipped Los Angeles 28-7 at Milwaukee County Stadium in the Western Conference Championship Game.

The week after that came the “Ice Bowl” at Lambeau Field. The Packers were down 17-14 to the Cowboys with just 4:50 remaining in the game. It was extremely cold, as the game-time temperature was 13 below zero. The offense of the Packers had to trudge 68 yards across a truly frozen tundra to win the game.

I wrote about that drive recently, as Kramer, along with Donny Anderson and Chuck Mercein recounted that epic drive.

It didn’t look promising, as the Packers had minus-nine yards on 31 plays prior to that drive. But thanks to great efforts by the entire offense, especially Anderson and Mercein, the Packers were in position to win the game in the final seconds.

It came down to a third and goal play from the one-yard line with 16 seconds to go in the game and the Packers were out of timeouts.

After conferring with Lombardi on the sideline, Starr called a 31 wedge play in the huddle, which calls for the fullback to get the ball. However, unknown to anyone in the huddle, Starr decided to keep the ball himself due to the slippery conditions near the goal line.

That wedge play was called earlier in the week when the team was studying the defensive tendencies of the Cowboys. Kramer actually suggested the play to Lombardi.

“Jethro [Pugh] was high, and I actually suggested that play on Thursday when we were studying short-yardage films,” Kramer said. “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.’

So after Starr called the play with just seconds to go in the game, what was going through Kramer’s mind?

“Responsibility. I mean I had suggested the play on Thursday. It seemed like the play was squarely on my shoulders,” Kramer said. “I knew I had to perform. I knew that to be successful as a blocker that I had to keep my head up and my eyes open.

“And also put my face into the chest of the defensive tackle [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.”

Bart's sneak II

Starr followed Kramer’s textbook block on Pugh and happily scored the game-winning touchdown.

It also meant the Packers won their third straight NFL title and two weeks later won Super Bowl II when they beat the Oakland Raiders 33-14.

In this NFL Films video of the No. 1 player not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which is about Kramer, go to 1:38 of the video which shows Starr’s quarterback sneak behind Kramer and you will hear Vince Lombardi say, “Watch that No. 64. That’s Jerry Kramer. The best right guard in football doing his job.”

Which takes me to Saturday. Now it’s time for the 48-person selection committee to do their job and induct Kramer.

I had the opportunity earlier this week to speak with both Rick Gosselin and Pete Dougherty, both of whom are voters.

It will be Gosselin who will be doing the main presentation on Kramer’s behalf to the selection committee on Saturday, as he was part of the Seniors Selection Committee who nominated Kramer. That will be followed up by a presentation by Dougherty, who is the Green Bay representative for the Hall of Fame.

I was privy to some of what both will be presenting to the selection committee during our conversations, plus I was able to share my ideas. Both Gosselin and Dougherty are confident that Kramer will indeed be inducted as part of the Class of 2018 on Saturday.

I share their confidence, as I did an unofficial straw poll of a dozen or so voters about Kramer’s chances of getting inducted, and every one of those voters told me that they support No. 64’s enshrinement.

It would definitely be appropriate. Because just like in the “Ice Bowl”, Starr will be behind Kramer, as a recent story of mine indicates with his endorsement letter for Kramer to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Besides Starr, there are several peers of Kramer who all have a bust in Canton and also support No. 64’s enshrinement.

One of whom is Merlin Olsen, who many consider the best defensive tackle in NFL history. This is what the nine-time AP All-Pro and 14-time Pro Bowl player said about Kramer:

“There is no question in my mind that Jerry Kramer has Hall of Fame credentials. Respect is given grudgingly in the trenches of the NFL and Jerry has earned my respect as we battled eye to eye in the pits on so many long afternoons.

“Jerry Kramer belongs in the Hall of Fame and I hope you will put this process in motion by including his name on the ballot for this coming year.”

Jerry with the 5 NFL Championship rings

So as we come close to the vote for the Class of 2018 for the Pro Football Hall of Fame by the 48-person selection committee on Saturday, just as Kramer and the Packers were close to the goal line in the “Ice Bowl”, the selection of Kramer as one of those who are inducted should be obvious. As obvious as to why Kramer thought the wedge play on Pugh would work, which it did.

So, it’s time for the 31 wedge play (the obvious call) on Saturday for the committee on behalf of Kramer. In this case, Kramer won’t be in the end zone celebrating another championship, but instead will be celebrating his place among the best of the best in the annals of pro football history.

And after the selection committee does it’s job, Kramer will later on get a knock on his Minneapolis hotel door by David Baker, the President and Executive Director for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

After Kramer opens the door, this is what he will hear from Baker, “Jerry, it is my great pleasure to tell you that you will be going into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as one of the greatest players, coaches and contributors to ever play this game.”