Why Clay Matthews Jr. Deserves to be Among the Best of the Best at the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Clay Matthews Jr. tackling Earl Campbell

It’s hard to believe that Clay Matthews Jr. is still in the modern era classification for when voters look at great players to put in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Just think about it. Matthews was a rookie in 1978 with the Cleveland Browns. That was 41 years ago. But when a player, especially a linebacker like Matthews, who played 19 years in the NFL and had such a amazing run of consistency and productivity, it’s truly astonishing.

Matthews played 278 games in the NFL throughout his career. No. 57 played with the Browns for 16 years and then finished the last three years of his career with the Atlanta Falcons.

Those 278 games are 22nd all time in the annals of the NFL. 12 of the players above him in terms of games played were either kickers or punters. George Blanda, who is fifth all time with 340 games played, played quarterback and also kicked.

Blanda is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. As are position players like wide receiver Jerry Rice (303 games played), quarterback Brett Favre (302 games played), offensive lineman Bruce Matthews (296 games played), cornerback Darrell Green (295 games played) and defensive end Bruce Smith (279 games played).

You will note that Clay’s brother Bruce’s name above. Yes, Bruce has a bust in Canton and so should his brother Clay.

Clay went to four Pro Bowls and was named to be on the Pro Football Reference All-Decade Team of the 1980s.

Just look at the stats Matthews put up over 19 seasons. No. 57 had 1,561 tackles, 83.5 sacks, 16 interceptions, 27 forced fumbles, 14  fumble recoveries and 140.5 impact plays.

Let’s compare those stats to other linebackers who are currently in the Hall of Fame.

Junior Seau + Clay Matthews

Derrick Brooks + Clay Matthews

Brian Urlacher + Clay Matthews

To me, there is no question that Clay Jr. belongs among the best of the best in Canton. I felt the same way when I was part of the crusade to get Jerry Kramer his rightful place among the greats at the Hall of Fame for several years.

In 2020, because of it’s centennial year of the NFL, there will be 20 new members to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. There will be five modern era players, 10 seniors, three contributors and two coaches.

Besides Matthews, I’m also promoting LeRoy Butler to be named among the five modern era players going into the Hall of Fame.

As people also know, I’m also promoting a number of senior nominees in 2020 as well, which includes Boyd Dowler, who was NFL All-Decade in the 1960s, plus was on the NFL 50th Anniversary Team, as well as Lavvie Dilweg, who was NFL All-Decade in the 1920s.

I listed three Green Bay Packers above to be part of the Class of 2020. I also believe Jack Vainisi, who was the primary scout of the Packers in the 1950s, also should go in as a contributor.

Clay Jr. has a Green Bay connection as well. I’m talking about his son Clay III, who played with the Packers for nine great seasons. Clay III is the all-time leader in sacks for the Packers with 83.5 and was also named to six Pro Bowl squads.

Clay III currently plays with the Los Angeles Rams, after leaving the Packers via free agency after the 2018 season. Matthews wanted to continue his career in Green Bay, but was never given that opportunity. He also has eight sacks so far this year for the Rams and that has happened with Matthews missing over a month of the season due to a broken jaw.

No. 52 was a big reason why the Packers won Super Bowl XLV over the Pittsburgh Steelers, when he helped to force a fumble by Rashard Medenhall with the Steelers driving into Green Bay territory at the start of the fourth quarter.

Pittsburgh was driving for the go-ahead score when Matthews forced that huge fumble. Eight plays later, Aaron Rodgers threw a touchdown pass to Greg Jennings, as the Packers went up by 11 and never looked back.

Clay Jr and Clay III After Super Bowl XLV

The Matthews family has set a large net over the NFL over the years, starting with Clay Matthews Sr., who played with the San Francisco 49ers for four years. Clay Sr. started his career with the Niners in 1950, then served two years as a paratrooper during the Korean War for the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, and then came back and played with the 49ers from 1953 through 1955.

After that, his son’s Bruce and Clay Jr. both had terrific careers in the NFL.

Bruce was inducted into the Hall of Fame after a great career with the Houston Oilers for 14 years and then with the Tennessee Titans for five years after the team moved to Nashville.

Clay Jr. certainly deserves the same honor after 19 years with the Browns and Falcons.

Plus there are Clay Sr.’s grandsons. We talked about Clay III, who may end up in Canton himself, plus there is his brother Casey, who played with the Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings. Then there are Bruce’s sons, who are Kevin, who played with the Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins and Carolina Panthers and Jake, who still plays with the Atlanta Falcons.

When I was helping to promote Jerry Kramer to get his rightful place in Canton, I forged a great friendship with Jerry’s daughter Alicia, who worked very hard to get her dad the honor he richly received.

I wrote about that endeavor in the 2018 Green Bay Packers Yearbook.

In an apropos manner, I have also become friends with Jennifer Matthews, who like Alicia did, is working hard behind the scenes to help get her father the distinction he truly warrants for what he did in his NFL career.

Clay Jr. and Jennifer

Clay Jr. is also getting endorsements from players now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, just like Kramer did.

When you put up the excellent production that No. 57 put out on the field, people are bound to notice.

Especially the great players who he competed against and who eventually ended up in Canton. Take a look at two of those endorsements.

Anthony Munoz on Clay Matthews

Warren Moon on Clay Matthews

Plus there were his teammates who knew how great Clay Jr. was. The same held true for Kramer, when teammates and Hall of Famers like Paul Hornung, Willie Davis and Bart Starr heartily endorsed No. 64.

The same thing holds true with a Hall of Fame teammate of Matthews with the Browns.

Ozzie Newsome on Clay Matthews

The bottom line is that Clay Matthews Jr. deserves to be inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2020.

In two years, Matthews will fall into the seniors category for the Hall of Fame, which has become an abyss for so many worthy players who deserve a bust in Canton.

That is why Rick Gosselin of the Seniors Committee proposed getting 10 worthy seniors in as part of the Class of 2020, which was approved by David Baker, who is the President/Executive Director of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

That will definitely help, but there will still be a number of worthy seniors who will still be waiting for a place among the best players in pro football history. Players who have fallen through the cracks throughout the years and decades.

That’s why it’s important to induct a great player like Clay Matthews Jr. while he is still a modern era nominee.

That, and because of his steady and prolific play in the NFL for close to two decades, which definitely deserves a place among the best of the best in Canton.

The 2020 Class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Could Add Another Green Bay Packer or More

hall of fame packer logo 2

Although it has to get final approval from it’s board in early August, the Pro Football Hall of Fame is definitely considering expanding it’s Centennial Class of 2020 as part of the NFL’s 100th-anniversary celebration.

Pro Football Hall of Fame President and CEO David Baker made the announcement earlier this month.

“It is extremely elite company, and it’s not the Hall of very, very good. It’s the Hall of Fame, and so it should be difficult to make it,” Baker said. “But there’s a lot of guys through the years (who deserve to be honored but have not). We have several guys who are on all-decade teams who aren’t in the Hall of Fame. And, so, this is an opportunity with the Centennial coming up. And what we’ve looked at potentially and has been approved, at least in concept, by our operating board, but we’re going to have to go through the full board, is that potentially we would have 20 Hall of Famers enshrined for the year 2020.

“Normally, (like) this year, we have eight. So, this would be quite a few guys (added). But it would be the five normal modern-era players elected from 15 finalists, and then 10 seniors, three contributors — like Gil (Brandt) — and two (coaches). But again, I want to stress that that’s got to be something that’s passed by our board at its meeting on Friday, Aug. 2.”

Most observers expect this proposal to pass.

So what does this mean from the perspective of the Green Bay Packers? To me, that means that the team has a chance to add even more members of the organization among the best of the best in Canton. Currently, the Packers have 25 individuals in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame is a hallowed place. I was there in 2018 when Jerry Kramer finally received his rightful enshrinement in Canton. A number of members of Packer Nation were in Canton that weekend, including Glenn Aveni, who is filming a documentary about Jerry, while I am working on a book about No. 64.

Bob and Jerry at JK's party.

In 2020, Kramer has a chance to be joined by others who played in the town where the Fox River runs through it.

Adding 10 seniors in 2020 was spawned by the proposal of Rick Gosselin, who is on the Seniors Selection Committee for the Hall of Fame. Actually, Gosselin wanted even more seniors added, due the backlog of deserving seniors who have fallen through the cracks through the years, but 10 is certainly better than just two or one per year, which has been the process recently.

Gosselin carries a big voice among Hall of Fame voters and when I told him that I would be writing a series of articles about former players from the Packers who I believe belong in Canton, Gosselin made a point of making sure I wrote about three of them.

Those players are Boyd Dowler, Ron Kramer and Gale Gillingham.

I also know that Gosselin is high on Lavvie Dilweg and Bobby Dillon.

I have also written about Packer seniors like Fuzzy Thurston and Don Chandler. Plus there are also former Packer players like Cecil Isbell and Verne Lewellen.

But with only 10 spots available among the group of seniors, I still think the Packers have an excellent chance of getting a least one player inducted, perhaps even two.

As Baker noted in his comments and as Gosselin has written about, there are a number of all-decade players not in Canton. You can also break that down even further, as there are nine first-team, all-decade players through the year 2000 that are not in the Hall of Fame.

Gosselin writes about seven of those players here.

One of those players is Dilweg, who was given that designation in the 1920s when he played under head coach Curly Lambeau, who incidentally also received that same honor as a player that decade.

Another is LeRoy Butler, who was First-Team, All-Decade in the 1990s, but is not considered a senior as of yet. If Butler is part of the Class of 2020, he would go in as a modern-era player.

In terms of getting some seniors in for the Packers in 2020, I believe the best bet after Dilweg is Dowler. No. 86 was also All-Decade in the 1960s (Second-Team), but in addition to that, Boyd was also one of 45 players on the NFL 50th anniversary team. Only Dowler and [Ron] Kramer have not been given busts in Canton from that 50th anniversary team.

Kramer would probably have been All-Decade in the 1960s had the team had more than one tight end.

Plus, Gillingham almost certainly would have been All-Decade at guard in the 1970s had not head coach Dan Devine ridiculously moved No. 68 to defensive tackle in which Gillingham suffered a season-ending knee injury early in the 1972 campaign. Most experts felt that Gillingham was the best right guard in the NFL when Devine made that colossal coaching blunder.

The Packers also have a chance to add another member of their organization into the Hall via the contributor category. To me, Jack Vainisi would be an excellent choice.

Vainisi was the super scout of the Packers from 1950 through 1960. In those years, Vainisi helped to select seven players for the Packers who would eventually get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Those players are Jim Ringo, Forrest Gregg, Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Jim Taylor, Ray Nitschke and Jerry Kramer.

That number could go up to eight if Dowler is part of the Class of 2020.

Lavvie Dilweg(2)

Lavvie Dilweg and Boyd Dowler.

Bottom line, it was the scouting expertise of Vainisi which laid the foundation for the Packers to win five NFL titles (including the first two Super Bowls) in seven years under head coach Vince Lombardi in the 1960s.

I have always been an optimistic person. Add to that, I’m very passionate and persistent regarding my beliefs, especially when talking about former players on the Packers who deserve a bust in Canton.

That was my credo about getting Kramer into the Pro Football Hall of Fame going back almost 30 years ago. I first met Jerry in 1991 when he was at a golfing event prior to Super Bowl XXV in Tampa.

I showed Jerry a letter that I had written to Packer Report about why No. 64 deserved to be in Canton. Jerry was touched. Little did I know that I would actually be writing for Packer Report myself about a decade later at the beginning of my writing career. Since then, I have penned countless articles about why Kramer deserved a bust in Canton.

Then it really happened in 2018.

The biggest breakthroughs from my perspective of getting Kramer his rightful place in the Hall of Fame came from three different areas.

One was getting inside the process by developing a relationship with Gosselin. It was then when I learned how extremely difficult it was to get deserving seniors into Canton. The backlog of seniors who should already be in the Hall is a very difficult task to solve. Why? There are currently over 60 position players who were named on an all-decade team who still don’t have a bust in Canton.

That includes both Dilweg and Dowler.

I was also able to have a nice conversation with Baker about a year before Kramer was enshrined. I learned some very valuable insight from the President of the Hall of Fame during our chat.

Finally, I was also able to talk with Bart Starr Jr. about whether or not his father endorsed Kramer about getting a bust in Canton. I learned that there was no doubt that Bart Sr. wholeheartedly was an advocate for Kramer’s enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Bob and Rick Gosselin

Bob Fox and Rick Gosselin. (Daniel Kramer photo)

And then that special moment came. The day of the enshrinement I went to party thrown by the Packers to honor Kramer. One of the first people I ran into was Gosselin. Rick asked me, “So, what are you going to do now?”

I told Gosselin that there were more deserving Packers who belong in Canton and that I was going to get behind them as well. I told Rick to expect more calls and notes from me over the next year. Which is exactly what has happened.

The optimist part of me tells me that the Packers could get two seniors in as part of the Class of 2020. I believe that Dilweg and Dowler are those two seniors. Dilweg has the better chance if only one Packer senior is named in 2020, but Dowler is also a strong possibility in my opinion.

That means the fight for Gillingham, [Ron] Kramer and the other players to get into Canton will have to continue on past 2020.

In terms of Vainisi and Butler, I’m sort of on the fence (50/50) with them in 2020. Now don’t get me wrong, both will eventually get into the Hall, but it may not be in the centennial year of the NFL.

The bottom line is the Packers have an excellent chance of having some representation in Canton for the 2020 Class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Jerry Kramer and the Packers Were Both Kicked in the Stomach at Lambeau vs. the Vikings

Jerry getting his Pro Football Hall of Fame ring at Lambeau

Evan Siegle, packers.com

Lambeau Field sure looked like the place to be on Sunday. The 1-0 Green Bay Packers were hosting the 1-0 Minnesota Vikings, plus quarterback Aaron Rodgers was cleared to play.

This after the knee injury Rodgers suffered last Sunday night versus the Chicago Bears, as he led the Packers to a thrilling 24-23 victory over da Bears on basically one leg in the second half of the game.

The Vikings are the defending NFC North champs and together with the Packers, the two teams have won the division seven years in a row, with the Packers winning the title in five of those seasons.

The game on Sunday against the Vikings was also the first time Rodgers had played against Minnesota since Week 6 of last season at U.S. Bank Stadium when No. 12 fractured a collarbone. The injury occurred when he was thrown down by linebacker Anthony Barr after he had thrown the ball.

Lambeau was also the place to be for another reason. Jerry Kramer was in town to receive his Pro Football Hall of Fame ring and to see his name unveiled on the facade at the legendary stadium.

Kramer became the 25th member of the Green Bay organization to have his name displayed on the southwest façade inside the stadium.

I had been in Canton for Kramer’s enshrinement and was invited by Jerry to sit with he and his family in his suite for the game. The Packers had arranged that Kramer and his family would be able to sit in the alumni suite, which is normally used by former Green Bay players.

Unfortunately and regrettably, I was not able to attend. But I truly appreciated the kind offer.

Joining Kramer and his family in the suite was one of No. 64’s old teammates, Donny Anderson.

You might recall a game that both Kramer and Anderson had key roles in from 50-plus years ago at frigid Lambeau Field. And unlike Sunday, when the temperature was hovering around 86 degrees, the classic game from New Year’s Eve in 1967 was about 99 degrees colder.

The organization of the Packers did a fantastic job in honoring Kramer, especially during the halftime ceremony. The website of the Packers did a very nice job in terms of filming the ceremony, taking excellent photos and also showing Kramer’s press conference with the media.

Larry McCarren was the emcee for the ceremony, plus both David Baker (President/Executive Director of the Pro Football Hall of Fame) and Mark Murphy (President & CEO of the Packers) also spoke before Kramer talked to and thanked the 78,461 people in attendance.

Jerry being honored at Lambeau

Evan Siegle, packers.com

Kramer was asked about how he felt when he saw his name displayed on the facade when he talked with the media.

“It felt like a kick in the stomach,” Kramer said. “It was a ‘oomph.’ It was a physical reaction and I wondered if I was going to faint or fall over or what I was going to do. It just lasted for an instant, but it was a noticeable shock.”

Very late in the game against the Vikings, the Packers also felt a kick in the stomach, but this one was painful. More on that later.

I had a chance to talk to Kramer today, as he was getting ready to fly out of Wisconsin and get back home to Boise, Idaho where he can relax (in his Big Chair) for a few days after a whirlwind of traveling over the past few months.

When I asked him about what he remembered most from yesterday, he said it was the response from the Green Bay faithful in the stands at Lambeau.

“It was very gratifying and also very humbling to see and hear the reaction that I received from the fans,” Kramer said. “As I was walking, section after section kept cheering for me. Old linemen like me aren’t used to that type of applause.”

Kramer talked about that dynamic at his press conference.

“It’s surreal, I think is the best way to describe it,” Kramer said. “Especially for a lineman. You know, lineman don’t do those kinds of things. Rarely do they do those kinds of things. It was a wonderful day.”

Surreal is a perfect way to describe yesterday, both in terms of honoring Kramer and also the ball game played by the Packers and Vikings.

The Packers were up 29-21 with less than two minutes to go in the game, when quarterback Kirk Cousins of the Vikings threw what looked like the game-clinching interception to Jaire Alexander.

This is when the Packers were kicked in the gut.

Clay Matthews hit on Kirk Cousins

startribune.com

You see, referee Tony Corrente decided to throw a flag. Corrente called a 15-yard penalty on outside linebacker Clay Matthews for unnecessary roughness after Matthews had tackled Cousins to the ground just as he had thrown the ball.

Matthews had used perfect form in tackling Cousins, as he didn’t hit Cousins with his helmet, leading instead with his shoulder. Plus, No. 52 didn’t hit Cousins high, as he tackled at the numbers.

But still Corrente threw the flag and gave no explanation to Matthews as to why he threw the yellow hanky.

After the game, Corrente said he penalized Matthews because he “lifted (Cousins) up and drove him into the ground.”

I don’t know what game Corrente was watching, but Matthews did not lift Cousins up and drive him into the turf at Lambeau.

“I don’t know what else to do,” Matthews said after the game. “Did I put pressure on him? I thought I hit him within from his waist to chest, got my head across, put my hands down.”

That is exactly what Matthews did if you have looked at this play.

But still the flag was thrown and the gut was kicked.

So what should have been a 29-21 win turned into a 29-29 tie and a real nail-biter for Packer Nation in overtime.

Luckily, rookie kicker Daniel Carlson of the Vikings missed both of his field goal attempts in overtime, including a 35-yard chip shot to win the game at the end of OT.

I had a funny feeling Carlson might miss in OT, even though he was considered one of the best kickers in college football.

I saw Carlson play in the 2015 Outback Bowl when his Auburn Tigers took on the Wisconsin Badgers at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.

The Badgers won 34-31 in overtime, as Carlson missed a game-tying field goal in OT to give Wisconsin the victory.

So although the tie against the Vikings wasn’t great and the penalty called on Matthews was a terrible call, it could have been worse. As in a loss, had Carlson made his field goal attempts.

Rodgers played courageously in the game with limited mobility, as No. 12 threw for 281 yards and threw a touchdown pass without tossing a pick. Rodgers was also sacked four times for 28 yards.

Rodgers was obviously very disappointed in the tie.

“Close to an ‘L,’ ” Rodgers said after the game. “Doesn’t feel great.”

Jerry and Aaron at Lambeau

Evan Siegle, packers.com

But was great was seeing Rodgers get with Kramer on the field after the halftime ceremony.

“Yes, Aaron came up to me and congratulated me,” Kramer told me. “He was real cordial to me and we talked for a bit. It was a real classy gesture by Aaron.”

I reminded Kramer that it was against the Vikings at County Stadium in Milwaukee in 1961, when he suffered the most serious injury of his NFL career, when he broke his leg below the knee and separated the bones in his ankle.

I also reminded Jerry that the final score 29-29, which adds up to 58. Talk about surreal or apropos.

1958 was Kramer’s first year with the Packers.  That was the year he was part of the best draft class that the Packers ever had, as three of draftees ended up getting a bust in Canton. I’m talking about Jim Taylor, Ray Nitschke and now Kramer.

“It’s hard to believe that was 60 years ago,” Kramer said. “But what a wonderful journey it has been over all these years.”

When I talked to Kramer shortly after he was inducted, he talked about how much he was looking forward to not only being enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but also about coming back to the stadium at 1265 Lombardi Avenue in Green Bay.

“Certainly the Hall of Fame itself in Canton in August and all of that,” Kramer told me back in February. “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.”

I asked Kramer to describe the events from yesterday at the field he played on from 1958 through 1968.

“It was everything I expected and more. Much, much more!”

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.

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.

The Bart Starr Endorsement Letter for Jerry Kramer

Bart's QB sneak behind Jerry

Back in October, I wrote an article in which Bart Starr, Jr. responded to a perception that his father did not endorse Jerry Kramer’s enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

That viewpoint was out there because of some comments made by Peter King of Sports Illustrated. In fact, this is what King wrote in his MMQB mailbag chat with one of his readers, just a couple of weeks before Kramer was nominated as a senior candidate by the Seniors Selection Committee of the Pro Football Hall of Fame on August 23:

Finally, a few years ago, I asked Bart Starr if there was anyone else he thought had been forgotten unjustly in the Hall process, and he said left tackle Bob Skoronski. He was effusive in his praise of Skoronski. I asked him if he wanted to mention anyone else, and he said no. Did he forget Kramer? I suppose it’s possible. But I gave him his chance, and he didn’t mention Kramer.

This was not the first time King has brought up the conversation he had with Starr either.

When I mentioned that to Bart Jr., he thought that his dad’s comment to King was misinterpreted.

Starr may have mentioned Bob Skoronski, because he felt that No. 76 was one of the unsung teammates of his who he felt deserved a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

In terms of Kramer, Starr had always felt that No. 64 deserved a place in Canton and should have been inducted decades ago, when Starr and many of his teammates were inducted.

Bart Jr. also mentioned that his father had been suffering from some memory loss and dementia issues around the time of this interview with King, which also may explain his response.

Starr was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977, along with teammate Forrest Gregg. Many of his Green Bay teammates followed over the next decade. Players like Ray Nitschke, Herb Adderley, Willie Davis, Jim Ringo and Paul Hornung.

That was the period in which Starr felt Kramer should have been inducted.

Starr was enshrined because of his great career in Green Bay, as he led the team to five NFL titles in seven years, which included the first two Super Bowls. Starr was the MVP in both Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II.

As a matter of fact, Starr is the highest-rated quarterback in NFL postseason history with a 104.8 mark. Starr led the Packers to a 9-1 record in ten games. Starr threw 15 touchdown passes versus just three picks for 1,753 yards in those 10 games.

Starr’s most famous play in the postseason involved Kramer. It was his legendary quarterback sneak in the closing seconds of the 1967 NFL Championship Game (better known as the “Ice Bowl”) versus the Dallas Cowboys at Lambeau Field.

That game was played under arctic conditions that day, as the game-time temperature was 13 degrees below zero. If you added in the wind, it was bone-chillingly cold, as there was a minus-48-degree windchill for the game. But when it counted most, with 16 seconds to go and no timeouts, Starr followed a classic block by Kramer on Jethro Pugh of the Cowboys, as he shuffled happily into the end zone, scoring the winning touchdown in the 21-17 epic win.

Back to my discussion with Bart Jr. now. A day after our conversation in October, he sent me a text which spoke to King’s comments about his father.

Hi Bob- Peter may be pleased to know that today we mailed a letter to the Hall of Fame on behalf of Jerry. Dad’s endorsement could not have been stronger or more sincere. Our entire family has been among Jerry’s greatest admirers for more than 50 years, and we look forward to celebrating with the Kramer family in Canton.

Thank you and very best wishes,

Bart Starr, Jr.

Since that letter was sent, I have received a copy of the note. Here is that heart-felt letter from Cherry Starr writing on behalf of her husband Bart.

Bart Starr letter to PFHOF

With this letter, Starr joins peers who currently have a bust in Canton like Paul Hornung, Willie Davis, Merlin Olsen, Frank Gifford, Bob Lilly, Doug Atkins, Alan Page, Bob St. Claire, Joe Schmidt, Gino Marchetti, John Mackey, Raymond Berry, Mel Renfro, Mike Ditka, Chris Hanburger, Jim Otto, Tom Mack, Dave Wilcox, Lem Barney, Chuck Bednarik and Tommy McDonald, as those who have all written notes on behalf of Kramer for his rightful induction into the hallowed halls of the best of the best in Canton.

On February 3 (the day before Super Bowl LII), the 48-person selection committee will vote on the Class of 2018 for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Later that day after the voting has been finalized, this is what I envision will happen:

Kramer will 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.”

Jerry Kramer’s Nomination for the Pro Football Hall of Fame: ‘A Wonderful Honor’

Vince and Jerry after Super Bowl II

The moment that so many people had been waiting for actually happened on Thursday afternoon, August 24. Yes, right guard Jerry Kramer of the Green Bay Packers was nominated by the Seniors Selection Committee for possible induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Besides Kramer, linebacker Robert Brazile of the Houston Oilers was also nominated as a senior candidate. On Friday, former Washington Redskins and San Diego Chargers general manager Bobby Beathard was named as a contributor nominee.

Kramer, Brazile and Beathard immediately became finalists for enshrinement in Canton. The modern group of finalists is yet to be determined. The entire group will be voted on by the 48 members of the entire Selection Committee of the Hall of Fame on February 3, the day before Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis.

This process has been a long road for Kramer, who is now a finalist for the 11th time, but only the second time as a senior candidate.

I tried to lay out the reasons why Kramer deserved to be a senior nominee this year in a recent story, as I wrote a presentation piece as to why No. 64 should be one of the two senior candidates.

Here is part of what I wrote:

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 Mr. Kramer.

Plus, let’s not forget 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.

Now looking back on Kramer’s career with the Packers, No. 64 was a six-time AP All-Pro 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.

Kramer also played a large role in the success that the Packers had under head coach Vince Lombardi in the postseason. The Packers were 9-1 under Lombardi in the postseason, which included five NFL championships in seven years. That included victories in the first two Super Bowls.

Kramer was a huge component in the NFL title victories in 1962, 1965 and 1967.

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, plus helped lead the way for fullback Jimmy 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.

jerry-in-the-65-title-game

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.

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.

Then came the 1967 NFL Championship Game (better known as the “Ice Bowl”) versus the Cowboys at frigid Lambeau Field. In that legendary contest, Kramer made the most famous block in the history of the NFL.

The playing surface that day was truly a frozen tundra, as the game-time temperature was 13 below zero.

It all came down to 13 seconds to go with no timeouts at the 1-yard line of the Cowboys.

Quarterback Bart Starr called a 31-wedge play in the huddle, which calls for the fullback to get the ball. However, Starr decided to keep the ball after conferring with Lombardi on the sideline about the play.

Starr thought it would be better to try to get into the end zone himself due to the slippery and icy conditions near the goal line. He followed Kramer’s classic block on Jethro Pugh and found a hole behind No. 64 to score the winning touchdown.

When one looks back on the consistent success of those great Green Bay teams under Lombardi, there are two points which certainly have to be made.

The power sweep was obviously the signature play for the Packers under Lombardi. Plus, Starr’s quarterback sneak with just seconds remaining in the “Ice Bowl”, had to be the signature moment of the Lombardi legacy.

Kramer played a prominent role in both of those instances.

Finally, besides being named to the NFL 50th anniversary team and being named All-Decade in the 1960s, Kramer also has the respect and admiration of many of his peers who he played with and against during his era.

Peers who now have busts in Canton.

Kramer has been endorsed by legendary defensive tackles such as Merlin Olsen and Bob Lilly, who were not only All-Decade in the 1960s, but also in the 1970s. Kramer was also endorsed by Alan Page, who was named All-Decade in the 1970s.

Kramer was really honored with the endorsement he received from Olsen, as Merlin was the finest defensive tackle he ever faced. In fact, there are many who believe Olsen was the best defensive tackle in NFL history.

Olsen went to 14 Pro Bowls, plus was named AP All-Pro nine times in his career as well.

In his endorsement of Kramer to the Hall, Olsen says:

“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.”

Kramer has also been endorsed by other contemporaries who are already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 

Kramer has been recommended for the Hall of Fame by teammates like Starr, Hornung and Willie Davis, along with opponents like Frank Gifford, Chuck Bednarik, Doug Atkins, Joe Schmidt, John Mackey, Raymond Berry, Mel Renfro, Mike Ditka, Jim Otto, Tom Mack, Dave Wilcox, Tommy McDonald and Lem Barney.

he absolute proudest endorsement Kramer ever received came from his head coach.

This is what Vince Lombardi said about Kramer in a 1969 article in the Chicago Tribune:

“Jerry Kramer is the best guard in the league,” Lombardi said. “Some say the best in the history of the game.”

Jerry pulling in Super Bowl I

I do know from talking with Rick Gosselin, who was at the Seniors Selection Committee meeting on Thursday, that he along with Bernie Miklasz, were the two people responsible for convincing the other three members of the committee gathered in Canton that day that Kramer deserved to be one of the two nominees.

I also talked with Kramer himself and he shared his thoughts about how this all went down. My first question was where Kramer was when he heard the news.

“I was having lunch,” Kramer said. “Chad Ovitt from Kenosha called me. I had done an autograph session for Chad on Sunday. Chad said, ‘Congratulations!’ And I said, ‘For what?’ He said, ‘The nomination.’

“I was caught a bit off-guard, as I was somewhat aware of this situation, but I made it a point to not focus on it. Not to pay a lot of attention to it. Not to participate. And to not get all worked up emotionally about it.

“When I put my phone down after I hung up with Chad, I saw I missed a couple of calls from David Baker (President/Executive Director of the Pro Football Hall of Fame). And I couldn’t believe it. It really did happen!”

Kramer related his thoughts to me about the conversation he had with Baker about his nomination.

“I had a nice chat with David and others in the room,” Kramer said. “There were congratulations all around. My stomach was doing flip-flops. My heart was pounding a bit. It was sort of surreal setting. Like is this real? Is this my imagination again or am I really on the phone with David Baker, thanking him for selecting me as a nominee?

“I had played that scenario in my head a number of times. Sometimes, I got real nasty and would tell them to stick it in their ear. And sometimes I’m very polite, thoughtful and considerate and all that. I go back and forth depending on my mood I guess.

“But when the moment came, I became all wishy-washy, all gooey and all emotional with them on the phone. I allowed my emotions to come out. I gushed a little bit. It was really a wonderful moment for me. I thanked them and thanked them and thanked them.

“All the bad and the negative stuff I might have said didn’t appear. It was all thank you and I appreciate it. And what a wonderful honor this is. I was just very happy about it all and the negative guy didn’t show up and didn’t even get in the room.”

The people who Kramer talked with included Baker, Gosselin and the other committee members, consultants Art Shell and Carl Eller, plus Executive Director for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Joe Horrigan.

During the conversation, Horrigan told Kramer, “Jerry, this will reduce my mail by 90 percent!”

As we talked, Kramer made it a point to thank all of his fans, especially those in America’s Dairyland.

“Wisconsin fans are absolutely sensational,” Kramer said. “You can’t define them well enough for people to understand how wonderful they are and how wonderful they have been to me. Specifically over the years. We are still having that love affair.”

Kramer also mentioned how his phone has been blowing up with calls of congratulations from so many people.

“There are so many people who have come forward with congratulations, best wishes and all kind of things,” Kramer said. “It’s heartwarming. Especially at this particular point in time in my life.

“To have so many people weigh-in and say, ‘Hell of a job’ or ‘Congratulations’ mean a lot to me. You can feel their happiness. They are pleased just like they were nominated. In a sense, they were. They were part of the process, writing letters and they helped. It is really a state-wide, nation-wide and even world-wide effort on behalf of these people.”

Still, the job has not been completed just yet. Kramer needs to get at least 39 members of the 48-person Selection Committee to vote for him on February 3 so he can get his rightful place in Canton.

That is the second step of this process. But the first step was taken care of on Thursday, when Kramer was nominated.

Jerry's block on Jethro

In terms of where Kramer is, regarding his enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, using an analogy, the ball is now inside the one yard line with just seconds remaining in the game. It’s definitely time to call the 31-wedge play.

It will be very apropos that 50 years and basically a little over a month after that famous play was called on December 31, 1967, that Kramer finds himself in the end zone once again.

But this time the end zone will be an entrance to be among the best of the best in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

My Presentation for Jerry Kramer to the Seniors Selection Committee for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2017

Jerry on a knee

On August 24th, five members of the Seniors Selection Committee for the Pro Football Hall of Fame will meet in Canton, Ohio to discuss and then name two senior candidates for possible induction.

The entire class of 2018 (including two senior nominees and one contributor nominee)  will be voted on the day before Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis.

One of the five members who will be present for the meeting is Rick Gosselin. I’ve have gotten to know Gosselin over the past few years and he has really educated me on how difficult the process is for naming senior candidates.

All that being said, although I will not be in actual attendance, my story below is written like I was doing a presentation for Jerry Kramer of the Green Bay Packers for the committee. Having a background in sales, I have done dozens of presentations to numerous businesses.

I normally would hand out an agenda to the members of the company or corporation I would be presenting to and then do a PowerPoint presentation.

I would do the same with this committee if possible, but for this piece, I will just give you my verbal presentation with some photos.

Good morning. I appreciate you allotting me some time for my presentation today.

I know you folks have to go through a very difficult process before you can name a senior nominee or nominees.

I have been able to become acquainted with one of your committee members, Rick Gosselin, over the past few years and he has explained to me how extremely arduous your course of action is in determining a senior nominee, due to all the many worthy candidates who somehow have fallen through the cracks over the years.

Rick has told me about the proposal he has made to David Baker (President/Executive Director of the Pro Football Hall of Fame) about nominating several senior candidates in the centennial season of the NFL.

I had an opportunity to speak with Mr. Baker earlier this year and we discussed Rick’s proposal. Mr. Baker told me that he was definitely considering Rick’s recommendation. That would be fabulous if that comes to fruition and that a number of deserving seniors get their rightful inclusion into the Hall of Fame.

This morning, I want to talk to you about a very worthy senior candidate…Jerry Kramer of the Green Bay Packers.

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 Mr. Kramer.

As I am a regular reader of Mr. Gosselins’s fine work, I recall a statement by him regarding Kramer’s omission in one of his chats with his readers.

Jerry pulling in Super Bowl I

Rick told his readers,I think Jerry Kramer is the biggest oversight in Canton — if only for the fact that the Hall of Fame selection committee voted him the best guard in the first 50 years of the NFL. Yet he’s gone before that committee something like 10 times and can’t get the votes for induction. It becomes a credibility issue. If you’re going to tell us a player is the best at his position in the first 50 years of the game then not stand behind that selection when it comes time to hand out busts…why even pick an all-half century team?”

In addition to that, Rick recently wrote a story, as he conducted a poll on his fine site, Talk of Fame Network. The poll was about who was the most deserving senior candidate in 2018.

Rick’s candidates in the poll included quarterback Ken Anderson of the Cincinnati Bengals, linebacker Robert Brazile of the Houston Oilers, defensive tackle Alex Karras of the Detroit Lions, defensive lineman Joe Klecko of the New York Jets, defensive end Jim Marshall of the Minnesota Vikings, safety Johnny Robinson of the Kansas City Chiefs, linebacker Andy Russell of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kramer of the Packers.

The poll story ran about a week and Kramer won in a landslide, as he received 86 percent of the vote. I’m sure that doesn’t surprise you, as I’m sure everyone of you have received  hundreds of letters or notes from fans endorsing Kramer’s induction to Canton.

Plus, let’s not forget 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.

Now looking back on Kramer’s career with the Packers, No. 64 was a six-time AP All-Pro 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.

Kramer also played a large role in the success that the Packers had under head coach Vince Lombardi in the postseason. The Packers were 9-1 under Lombardi in the postseason, which included five NFL championships in seven years. That included victories in the first two Super Bowls.

Kramer was a huge component in the NFL title victories in 1962, 1965 and 1967.

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, plus helped lead the way for fullback Jimmy 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.

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.

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.

Then came the 1967 NFL Championship Game (better known as the “Ice Bowl”) versus the Cowboys at frigid Lambeau Field. In that legendary contest, Kramer made the most famous block in the history of the NFL.

The playing surface that day was truly a frozen tundra, as the game-time temperature was 13 below zero.

It all came down to 13 seconds to go with no timeouts at the 1-yard line of the Cowboys.

Quarterback Bart Starr called a 31-wedge play in the huddle, which calls for the fullback to get the ball. However, Starr decided to keep the ball after conferring with Lombardi on the sideline about the play.

Jerry's block on Jethro

Starr thought it would be better to try to get into the end zone himself due to the slippery and icy conditions near the goal line. He followed Kramer’s classic block on Jethro Pugh and found a hole behind No. 64 to score the winning touchdown.

When one looks back on the consistent success of those great Green Bay teams under Lombardi, there are two points which certainly have to be made.

The power sweep was obviously the signature play for the Packers under Lombardi. Plus, Starr’s quarterback sneak with just seconds remaining in the “Ice Bowl”, had to be the signature moment of the Lombardi legacy.

Kramer played a prominent role in both of those instances.

Finally, besides being named to the NFL 50th anniversary team and being named All-Decade in the 1960s, Kramer also has the respect and admiration of many of his peers who he played with and against during his era.

Peers who now have busts in Canton.

Kramer has been endorsed by legendary defensive tackles such as Merlin Olsen and Bob Lilly, who were not only All-Decade in the 1960s, but also in the 1970s. Kramer was also endorsed by Alan Page, who was named All-Decade in the 1970s.

Kramer was really honored with the endorsement he received from Olsen, as Merlin was the finest defensive tackle he ever faced. In fact, there are many who believe Olsen was the best defensive tackle in NFL history.

Olsen went to 14 Pro Bowls, plus was named AP All-Pro nine times in his career as well.

In his endorsement of Kramer to the Hall, Olsen says:

“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.”

Kramer has also been endorsed by other contemporaries who are already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 

Kramer has been recommended for the Hall of Fame by teammates like Starr, Hornung and Willie Davis, along with opponents like Frank Gifford, Chuck Bednarik, Doug Atkins, Joe Schmidt, John Mackey, Raymond Berry, Mel Renfro, Mike Ditka, Jim Otto, Tom Mack, Dave Wilcox, Tommy McDonald and Lem Barney.

Vince and Jerry after Super Bowl II

The absolute proudest endorsement Kramer ever received came from his head coach.

This is what Vince Lombardi said about Kramer in a 1969 article in the Chicago Tribune:

“Jerry Kramer is the best guard in the league,” Lombardi said. “Some say the best in the history of the game.”

In summation, I know that you are going through a very challenging situation here in recommending senior candidates because they are so many worthy ones.

Again, I hope Rick’s proposal about having a number of senior candidates nominated in the NFL centennial year becomes a reality.

But for the Class of 2018, in my humble opinion, there is no senior candidate who can match the achievements, the awards and the success that Jerry Kramer had in his NFL career.

That is why Kramer was named to the NFL 50th anniversary team in 1969 and that is why his head coach called him the best guard in the NFL that same year and perhaps the best of all time.

The bottom line is Jerry Kramer deserves to be one of the two senior candidates who you will nominate this year.

I certainly appreciate your time and your consideration.

Thank you.

A Conversation with David Baker, the President/Executive Director of the Pro Football Hall of Fame

david-baker-pro-football-hall-of-fame

Before David Baker was named President and Executive Director for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in early 2014, he certainly had a very interesting background in sports.

The 6’9” Baker was a power forward and captain of the basketball team at the University of California at Irvine from 1971–75. After his college career was over, Baker also played two seasons of professional basketball in Europe.

In terms of professional sports and having a leadership role, Baker was first an owner for the Anaheim Piranhas of the Arena Football League in 1995. But Baker soon had an even bigger job in the AFL, as he was named Commissioner of the league in 1996 and remained in that position through the 2008 season.

Under Baker’s watch, the AFL experienced unprecedented growth in attendance, TV ratings, revenue, corporate sponsorships, merchandise sales, and profitability.

I was able to witness the love for the AFL in person a few times, as the Tampa Bay Storm won two of it’s five overall AFL titles during that time. The Storm’s current team president is former Tampa Bay Buccaneer great Derrick Brooks, who also was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2014.

Excelling in the world of sports runs in the Baker family, as son Sam was a former three-time All-American left tackle at USC and played six years with the Atlanta Falcons from 2008-14.

Sam was the 21st pick in the first round of the 2008 NFL draft by the Dirty Birds. I was writing for Packer Report at that time and I did an interview and story about Sam before the draft, as the Packers were reportedly interested in perhaps selecting Baker at pick No. 30 in the first round.

Another son Ben, who was also an offensive lineman, played his college football at Duke and is now a Senior Manager of Broadcasting at NASCAR in Charlotte.

Baker and his wife Colleen, also have two other children, daughter Leyla and another son named Michael Ray.

When he wasn’t directly involved in sports, Baker has had an extensive and successful background as a business professional.

After obtaining a Juris Doctorate degree from Pepperdine University School of Law, Baker became an attorney in California, as he specialized in corporate mergers, acquisitions and real estate law.

If that wasn’t enough to keep him busy, Baker also served as a City Councilman and Mayor of Irvine, California from 1984-88.

Starting in 2010, Baker also became a Partner in Union Village, LLC, the largest healthcare project in the United States. Union Village is located in Henderson, Nevada and became the first Integrated Health Village in the world.

It was in during his time at Union Village, when Baker was approached about becoming the President and Executive Director for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“The Hall did a national search,” Baker told me. “A guy named Jed Hughes called me. Jed was the head of the sports division at Korn Ferry. Jed used to be a coach for a long, long time with the Steelers, UCLA and other places. Anyway, Jed called and asked if I would be interested in applying for the job and I told Jed that I love the Hall, that I knew my predecessor (Steve Perry) well and I thought it would be great, but that I was really involved in this thing at Union Village and I told him that I just couldn’t do it.

“Jed told me that he would send me the job description via email anyway and if I changed my mind to call him. At that end of the day, I’m cleaning out my email and I was in Atlanta at the time, and I forwarded the job description note to my wife Colleen, with a another little note saying you’ll never guess what happened today.

“Colleen called me about 15 minutes later and told me that we were going to do this thing with the Hall. And I told her that I had already told them no. Colleen said that I should call them back. I countered by saying that we were involved in this big project at Union Village. Colleen then said it was time to pass the baton there.

“I also told her how cold it was in Ohio and then asked why she wanted to do this so bad. And Colleen said, ‘Have you read this thing?’ And quite honestly I hadn’t. And Colleen said that I have to read it because this job is about what you believe.

“You know, my mom and dad could not read or write. And if it wasn’t for sports, and in my case it was basketball, but I always loved football the most, but sports provided me an education and sports introduced me to people who I never would have met otherwise. And it took me to places I never would have gone to.

“But more importantly, it taught me things about lessons in life. Not only did those lessons help me succeed, but even more importantly when I was knocked on my tail in life by mistakes of my own choosing, it helped me survive and get up again.

“For me now at the Hall of Fame, I call it the church of football. It may not be any particular doctrine of a church, but the things that the game teaches, like perseverance, commitment, sacrifice,  teamwork, love, loyalty and discipline, are all things that are taught every Sunday at some church.”

While Baker was heading the AFL as Commissioner, he  got to know his counterpart in the NFL, Paul Tagliabue. During that association, Tagliabue introduced Baker to his right-hand guy, a fellow by the name of Roger Goodell.

That relationship became quite strong over the years.

“Roger and I had dinner once a month for ten years before he became Commissioner of the NFL,” Baker said.

In the three-plus years that Baker has been the head of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he has been involved in some very emotional moments when he has told a nominee for induction that they had indeed been selected to enshrinement in the Hall.

As President and Executive Director for the Hall, one of Baker’s duties is to inform a nominee whether he was inducted or not.

In Baker’s first year at the Hall, he had such a moment after first informing both Michael Strahan and Derrick Brooks that they inducted into the Hall.

“The third guy was Ray Guy,” Baker said. “Ray had been eligible 29 years and had been a finalist nine times and had not been called yet. When I got a hold of Guy, I said, ‘Ray, this is Dave Baker, President of the Hall.’ Ray said, ‘Yes Sir,’ in that southern drawl he has.

“So I tell him, ‘Ray, it is my great pleasure…’ I got that far and I could hear him drop to the ground with the phone rattling around. I could hear his wife asking him if he was okay. I thought I killed my first Hall of Famer!

ray-guy

“Ray took about two minutes to get up and when he got back on the phone he said, ‘I don’t think I understood it until now how big a thing this is for me.’

Baker also talked about what recently occurred last month when he informed Jerry Jones that he was inducted.

“I’ve known Jerry for a couple of decades,” Baker said. “He was one of the owners in the Arena Football League. Jerry is probably the P.T. Barnum of our time. Jerry had 20 of his family waiting with him to find out if he was inducted. And when I knocked on his door, they were screaming and yelling and every single one of them were crying.”

But the induction announcement which touched Baker the most was when Kurt Warner made it into the Hall last month.

“It is a special moment for each one of them who get inducted,” Baker said. “But for me, it was a little more special with Kurt Warner. I had seen him grow up. I had seen him rise (in the AFL). I saw him overcome the donut in his NFL career when he was with the Giants before he went to Arizona.

“I just have the greatest respect for him. More as a human being. Far more than a football player. We share some spiritual values together. But what was real interesting about that was two years ago when Kurt was eligible for the Hall for the first time, I wanted to make sure that I was the one who call him, as we also call the guys who don’t make it.

“I told Kurt that it didn’t happen that year and that I hoped I could call him next year with better news. And Kurt says, ‘Commish, that’s okay. Don’t worry about it. But you have to tell me, did my friend Orlando [Pace] make it?’ Well Pace didn’t make it that year and Kurt was more upset about that than about the fact that he didn’t get in.

“That speaks to the kind of man he is. The next year Kurt did not make it again, but Orlando Pace did get in. But when I knocked on the door this last time, not only Kurt was there, but Brenda and their eight kids were there as well. It was just a great moment when I was able to let him know that he was in.

“To me, Kurt Warner is not only the kind of football player, but the kind of man who belongs in the Hall of Fame. When I’m introduced at places, sometimes I’m introduced as the President of the NFL Hall of Fame. But it’s the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That includes the Arena Football League and NFL Europe. Kurt won championships in the AFL and NFL Europe, plus in the NFL. The only thing Kurt doesn’t have is a Canadian Football League title. I’m just so proud of him.”

Last year, Baker was able to knock on the door of Brett Favre after he was inducted. Some people may not recall this, but Favre and Warner were teammates for a brief period in training camp with the Packers in 1994. The undrafted rookie was released in camp, as the Packers had a pretty good stable of quarterbacks at the time, which included Favre, Ty Detmer and Mark Brunell.

After Warner was released by the Packers, he went to the AFL, NFL Europe and then the NFL again. We all know what happened after that.

favre-and-warner

Baker had an interesting conversation with Favre, as he told him that he was inducted.

“A year ago, I knocked on the door of Brett Favre,” Baker said. “That particular day we deliberated for about 10 hours, but it took 10 seconds to select Brett Favre. So when I knock on Brett’s door and saw him, I first made a joke. I said, ‘Brett, it’s my great pleasure to tell you, provided you don’t retire, that you will be going into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as one of the 303 greatest players, coaches and contributors to ever play this game.’

“Brett heard the first part, but when I got to the second part about being among the 303 greatest players ever, Brett put his hands in his pockets and hung his head humbly like a kid. Because he knew how big this was.”

Big indeed. As Baker explained to me, there are several hundred million men who have played the game of football in some fashion. Of that group, only 2.2 million played college football. And when you take it to the professional level, there are only 27,000 who been be paid to play, coach or officiate in the National Football League.

So to be among the 300-plus players, coaches and contributors in the Pro Football Hall of Fame is truly an outstanding honor.

As I heard these great stories from Baker, I kept thinking about Jerry Kramer. Why? Because he has all the attributes as a player and also as a man to be among the greats in Canton.

In 1969, 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, Jerry Kramer, Chuck Bednarik, Gino Marchetti, Leo Nomellini, Ray Nitschke, Dick “Night Train” Lane, Emlen Tunnell and Lou Groza.

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

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, 133 of those players have been inducted into the hallowed halls in Canton. Kramer is among the 12 who haven’t as of yet.

The fact that Kramer was not only a First-Team All-Decade player, plus was the lone guard on the NFL 50th anniversary team, make his omission from the Pro Football Hall of Fame truly puzzling.

Kramer was a five-time AP (First-Team) All-Pro and also named as an AP (Second-Team) All-Pro once, plus was also named to three Pro Bowls for the Packers. No. 64 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.

Kramer was an integral part of a great Green Bay team coached by the legendary Vince Lombardi. Those teams won five NFL championships in seven years, including the first two Super Bowls.

In addition to that, the Packers became the only team in the modern NFL to win three straight NFL titles, when Green Bay won it all in 1965, 1966 and 1967.

No. 64 played a key role in a number of those championship contests.

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, plus helped lead the way for fullback Jimmy 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.

Kramer earned a game-ball for his efforts that day in the Bronx.

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.

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.

Then came the 1967 NFL Championship Game (better known as the “Ice Bowl”) versus the Cowboys at frigid Lambeau Field. In that legendary contest, Kramer made the most famous block in the history of the NFL.

The playing surface that day was truly a frozen tundra, as the game-time temperature was 13 below zero.

In the closing moments of the game, down by a score of 17-14,  the Packers had to drive 68 yards down the frozen field to either tie or win the game.

It all came down to 13 seconds to go with no timeouts at the 1-yard line of the Cowboys. The Packers could have kicked a field goal at that point to tie the game at 17-17.

But coach Lombardi decided to go for the win. If the Packers run the ball and are stopped short of the end zone, the game is over.

Starr called a 31-wedge play in the huddle, which calls for the fullback to get the ball. However, Starr decided to keep the ball after conferring with Lombardi on the sideline about the play.

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Starr thought it would be better to try to get into the end zone himself due to the slippery and icy conditions near the goal line. He followed Kramer’s classic block on Jethro Pugh and found a hole behind No. 64 to score the winning touchdown.

When one looks back on the consistent success of those great Green Bay teams under Lombardi, there are two points which certainly have to be made.

The power sweep was obviously the signature play for the Packers under Lombardi. Plus, Starr’s quarterback sneak with just seconds remaining in the “Ice Bowl”, had to be the signature moment of the Lombardi legacy.

Kramer played a prominent role in both of those instances.

Even with all that, Kramer has still not yet been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Between 1974 and 1987, Kramer was a finalist for induction into Canton nine times. Nine times! That in itself tells you that Kramer was a tremendous player.

But as all this was going on, a lot of Kramer’s teammates with the Packers were getting inducted. This included players like Taylor, Starr, Hornung, Forrest Gregg, Ray Nitschke, Herb Adderley, Willie Davis and Jim Ringo.

But Kramer’s name was never called for induction. In 1989, another former teammate was inducted. Safety Willie Wood finally heard his name called, after also being a finalist nine times, just like Kramer.

In all, Kramer has seen 11 of his former teammates get inducted, as well as his legendary head coach.

In 1997, Kramer was a senior finalist, but for some reason he did not get the votes necessary for induction.

Many of Kramer’s peers who either played against him or with him and who were selected to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame have endorsed Kramer to receive that same honor.

I asked Baker about Kramer’s bewildering omission from the Hall.

“There is a huge backlog with the seniors, as I’m sure Rick Gosselin has let you know that,” Baker said. “Whether a player is nominated or not can be very subjective. Sometimes it’s by a razor-thin margin.

“The thing that most defines the men who are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, are the guys who aren’t in the Hall. We are talking about some really spectacular players.”

The senior backlog may get a helping hand in the centennial year of the NFL in 2019. Gosselin, who sits on the seniors and the contributors committees, proposed that a number of worthy seniors be put into the Hall of Fame that year.

Baker talked about that possibility.

“To get into the Hall, it’s really elite and exclusive company,” Baker said. “That’s why I’m considering a proposal to expand the senior section in the NFL centennial to include some more deserving guys.”

Earlier in the story, Baker talked about the various attributes that players learn playing football. Things like like perseverance, commitment, sacrifice,  teamwork, love, loyalty and discipline. These are also things Kramer learned from Lombardi when he played in Green Bay.

“Coach Lombardi had a tremendous impact on my life,” Kramer told me awhile back. “The fundamentals that he taught us were fundamentals for life. They were about football, but also about business or anything else you wanted to achieve.

“You would use the Lombardi principles. He believed in paying the price. He believed in hard work and making sacrifices for the betterment of the team. His principles were preparation, commitment, consistency, discipline, character, pride, tenacity and perseverance.

“Those things are still helping me today.”

Kramer also talked about Lombardi’s background which helped him achieve great success in the NFL.

“Coach Lombardi read ancient Greek and Latin, plus taught chemistry and algebra,” Kramer said. “He was a very bright man. In a lot of ways, he was more like a teacher, as opposed to a coach. He believed that he was a teacher, first and foremost. For him, teaching and coaching were one in the same.”

Yes, Vincent Thomas Lombardi was a great coach and a great teacher. But he was more than that. He was also a great man. A man who molded great football players to be sure, but more importantly than that, he molded great people.

Kramer is certainly a testament to that, both as a man and as a player.

This is what Lombardi said about Kramer in a 1969 article in the Chicago Tribune:

“Jerry Kramer is the best guard in the league,” Lombardi said. “Some say the best in the history of the game.”

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The voters who named the NFL 50th anniversary team in 1969 would definitely agree.

I sincerely hope that the day is coming very soon when Baker will knock on Kramer’s door and say, “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.”

That is a moment that is long overdue in my opinion, but I know the occasion would be very rewarding for not only Kramer, but also for his family and friends as well. Not to mention all the fans who have supported his enshrinement in Canton for all these years.