When Jerry Kramer Knew Bart Starr Would Keep the Ball on his QB Sneak in the ‘Ice Bowl’

Bart's QB sneak behind Jerry

Photo by John Biever

Looking back on the 100 years of history in the NFL, the play is considered one of the most iconic plays in league annals. I’m talking about Bart Starr and his surprising quarterback sneak in the closing seconds of the 1967 NFL Championship Game, better known as the “Ice Bowl” game between the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers at frigid Lambeau Field.

With just 16 seconds remaining in the game and with his team having no timeouts, Starr followed the classic block by right guard Jerry Kramer on defensive tackle Jethro Pugh, as he shuffled to the right of Kramer’s block  and tumbled happily into the end zone, as the Packers defeated the Cowboys 21-17 to win their third straight NFL title.

Before we dissect that play and talk about the many interesting nuances about that call, let’s first look at the arctic conditions the NFL title game was being played under.

The weather in Green Bay on December 30, 1967 was fairly mild as the Cowboys worked out for a while at Lambeau Field the day before the game. The field was soft and although it was cold (high 20s and low 30s), it was not bitterly cold.

That all changed on December 31, 1967, as one never knows what will happen in the region where the Fox River connects to the bay off Lake Michigan in the winter.

Yes, when the NFL title game started between the Cowboys and Packers began, the temperature was -13°. If you added in the wind throughout the game, the temperature plummeted to -50°.

Nice weather if you are a polar bear. But not if you are a professional football player. Making matters worse, as the game wore on, the field became an ice skating rink.

In the game, the Packers jumped out to an early 14-0 lead, thanks to two Starr touchdown passes to Boyd Dowler.

The Packers also had a fantastic chance to increase their lead, when cornerback Herb Adderley picked off a pass from quarterback Don Meredith of the Cowboys and took it to the 32 yard line of the Cowboys in the second quarter. But the Packers squandered that opportunity and didn’t score.

The momentum of the game changed late in that second quarter. Starr fumbled as he was hit by defensive end Willie Townes of the Cowboys going back to pass, and the other defensive end, former Marquette star George Andrie, scooped up the ball in rumbled in for a touchdown from seven yards out with a little over four minutes to go before halftime.

Then with less than two minutes to go in the first half, Willie Wood fumbled a punt from Danny Villanueva at the 17 yard line of the Packers. That led to a 21-yard field goal by Villanueva to make the score 14-10 at halftime.

In the second half, the offense of the  Packers was being throttled the defense of the Cowboys.

Things were so bad, that the Packers had had minus-nine yards in 31 plays in the second half at one point.

Then on the first play of the fourth quarter, the Cowboys took a 17-14 lead when wide receiver Lance Rentzel caught a 50-yard touchdown pass from halfback Dan Reeves.

That was the score when the Packers got the ball back on their own 32 yard line with just 4:50 left in the game.

Somehow the Packers were going to have to trudge 68 yards across the arctic-like football field to win the game.

I wrote a story about that ensuing drive, as Kramer, halfback Donny Anderson and Chuck Mercein provided the commentary.

Here is part of that article:

“I don’t think we ever considered the possibility of losing,” Kramer said. “We didn’t really acknowledge the fact that we didn’t gain any yardage in 31 plays prior to that. We knew where we were when we got in the final huddle. We knew what we had to do.

“I asked Bart about that years later, about what made him think we could go 68 yards and score a touchdown after we had made minus-nine yards on 31 plays prior to that. Bart said, ‘Jerry, I came into the huddle and started to say something. Then I looked in your eyes, I looked at Forrest’s eyes and everyone else in the huddle, and I knew I didn’t have to say anything. So all I said was, ‘Let’s go.’

Kramer said there was calm in that huddle.

“Even at that point of the game there wasn’t any panic with us,” No. 64 said. “There was a sense of urgency however. We still believed that we could do it.

“The beautiful part of that was the contribution by so many different players in that drive. Players like Chuck Mercein, Boyd Dowler and Donny Anderson.”

Anderson concurred with Kramer about what needed to be on that drive.

“I recall that there was no nonsense at all on that drive,” Anderson said. “It represented the discipline that Lombardi had taught us. We knew that we had to execute and we were determined to get the job done.”

The drive started with Starr completing a swing pass to Anderson which gained six yards. On the next play, Mercein ran the ball for seven more yards off tackle to the 45-yard line and near the sideline of the Packers.

Chuck Mercein II

Mercein vividly recalled that moment.

“I remember that play well, as it was the our initial first down of the drive,” Mercein said. “That was a big confidence booster for me and the team. Because at that point, none of us had done anything in the second half. I’ll never forget because I kind of got shoved out of bounds right in front of the Green Bay bench. I could hear Coach Lombardi yell, ‘Atta boy, Chuck!’ That really brought my spirits up. It was wonderful.”

On the next play, Starr completed his only pass to a wide receiver in the drive, as Dowler caught a pass that gained 13 yards and another first down. Dowler ended up having to leave the game for a few plays, as he was shook up a little after his head hit the frozen turf hard after he was tackled.

Even though Dowler only caught one pass in that drive, it was his two early touchdown receptions from Starr which put the Packers in position to win the game on that drive.

After the Dowler catch, this is when Mercein and the Packers had a hiccup in the drive. Townes made another big play, as he broke through and tackled Anderson for a nine-yard loss.

Mercein explained what happened on the play.

“It was the Green Bay sweep and my responsibility was to block the defensive end there,” Mercein said. “I expected Townes to be on my outside shoulder, but he rushed inside instead, and I only was able to brush him with my left shoulder. I didn’t give him a good enough pop and he was able to get through and put us in a big hole.

I felt particularly bad about that because of my bad execution. It was the lowlight of the drive for me.”

That loss put the Packers in a second and 19 hole, but two swing passes to Anderson netted 22 yards and the Packers had a big first down. If you look at those receptions on film, you see some pretty nifty footwork by Anderson. Not easily done on a truly frozen tundra.

Anderson explained.

“I recall that I had to balance myself,” Anderson said. “Not to run like a sprinter, but to balance yourself. Be a little more flat-footed. I also figured that a quicker guy might be better off under those conditions than a heavier guy.”

Donny Anderson in the Ice Bowl

It was at that point when Mercein caught a 19-yard swing pass from Starr after first conferring with No. 15.

“Sure enough, I was open just like I expected and Bart flipped the pass to me that got caught up in the wind a bit and I caught it over my outside shoulder, ” Mercein said. “I was able to outrun linebacker Dave Edwards and took the pass to the 11-yard line, plus was able to get out of bounds.”

The next play was a running play, known as a give play to Mercein.

“Bart saved that give play for the right exact time,” Mercein said. “Bart later said it was the best play call he ever made.”

On the give play, left guard Gale Gillingham pulls to the right, which then opens up a hole as defensive tackle Bob Lilly followed Gillingham down the line. Still, left tackle Bob Skoronski had to seal off defensive end George Andrie to make the play work.

“On that play, if Bob didn’t block [George] Andrie on that play, Mercein would get killed,” Kramer said. “It was a very difficult block, too. So Bart looked at “Ski” and asked if he could make that block before the play. And “Ski” simply said, ‘Call it, on two.’

Mercein vividly recalls that run.

“The hole was great and I can still see that hole,” Mercein said. “I can still hear myself clomping down on the ice with the noise of my cleats hitting the ice. It was very loud. Forrest Gregg was coming down from the right tackle spot and if I could have cut, I think I could have scored.”

As it was, the Packers had a second and two from the three-yard line of the Cowboys. Anderson then took a hand off from Starr and to many it appeared that Anderson scored on the play. But the referee instead placed the ball about 18 inches from the goal line and it was first and goal.

“After the run, I’m laying across the goal line with my waist and the ball,” Anderson said. “Cornell Green of the Cowboys yelled that I scored, while Jethro Pugh told him to be quiet. The ref then picks up the ball and puts it 18 inches back from the goal line.

“Later on as we saw film of the game, Coach Lombardi said to me, ‘Young man, I think they took one away from you there.’

After two two unsuccessful running attempts by Anderson to score after that, as he slipped both times, the Packers called their final timeout. There were 16 seconds to go in the game.

This brings us to a key point of the game just before Starr carried the ball on his own on the quarterback sneak. Kramer has maintained that he knew Starr was going to carry the football.

No. 64 even wrote about that in his classic book, Instant Replay. Kramer wrote, “In the huddle, Bart said, ‘Thirty-one wedge and I’ll carry the ball.’

The problem is that no one else in the huddle heard that from Starr. And I’ve talked to Anderson, Mercein, Dowler and Carroll Dale. They all heard Starr call the 31 wedge play, but nothing about him carrying the football by himself.

That being said, I believe I have pinpointed when Starr told Kramer he was going to carry the ball himself.

If you have ever seen A Football Life – Vince Lombardi from NFL Films, Starr and Kramer talk about what happened after No. 15 called his final timeout of the game just before the sneak.

Kramer: “We take our final timeout and Bart asked me if I could make a block.”

Starr: “Can you get your footing for one more wedge play?”

Kramer: “Yeah, I think so.”

I believe it was at this moment that Starr told Kramer, and no other player on the field, that he was going to carry the ball.

Starr then went to the sideline and told Coach Lombardi that the wedge play was still the right call, but that he would carry the ball himself because the backs were slipping.

Lombardi concurred and replied, “Then run it and let’s get the hell out of here.”

I have mentioned this possible scenario to Kramer and he thought that my take was very plausible.

I can understand the confusion about the play from Kramer’s perspective. For one thing, the crucial wedge play itself was derived from film study by Kramer.

Kramer was watching film on the Cowboys and specifically regarding how they lined up in short-yardage situations.

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

And little did Kramer know that the play of the game would come down to his block and the play he suggested. That’s a hell of a lot of pressure.

So when Starr called the play, first by conferring with Kramer himself, what went through the mind of No. 64?

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

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

Bottom line, one can see how there might have been a little uncertainty from Kramer regarding how Starr called the 31 wedge play knowing the magnitude of the moment.

Speaking of the 31 wedge play, if run the way it is supposed to, it simply means that the 3-back (fullback) goes to the 1-hole (between the center and the right guard).

Which bring us to center Ken Bowman and the role he played on this block.

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

IMAG0498

Plus, Starr did not go in between Bowman and Kramer like the play was designed. Instead, Starr shuffled to Kramer’s right and into a hole between No. 64 and right tackle Forrest Gregg.

And as I have I written about in another article, Starr’s intuitive sense of transferring the ball from his right arm to his left on the game-winning sneak was very timely and extremely important. Especially when one sees linebacker Chuck Howley ripping at Starr’s empty right arm as he crosses the goal line.

Yes, there certainly were a number of significant details about why Starr’s quarterback sneak was successful in the “Ice Bowl” game and is now considered the greatest play in the over 100-year history of the Packers.

The Fantastic Blocking Sequence That Jerry Kramer Didn’t Remember

Jerry on a knee

When it came to making some great blocks in his Pro Football Hall of Fame career, Jerry Kramer of the Green Bay Packers had many. The two most obvious ones occurred in the postseason.

One was in the 1965 NFL title game in Green Bay, when the Packers hosted the defending NFL champion Cleveland Browns. The block occurred in the third quarter when Kramer swept left and first hit the middle linebacker with a block and then went outside to get a cornerback. Halfback Paul Hornung utilized Kramer’s blocks perfectly as he scored his last championship touchdown on a 13-yard run, as the Packers ended up winning 23-12.

The other one is maybe the most famous block in NFL history, as the Packers hosted the Dallas Cowboys in the 1967 NFL title game, better known as the “Ice Bowl” game. Kramer put a classic wedge block on defensive tackle Jethro Pugh, which allowed Bart Starr to shuffle right of No. 64 and score the winning touchdown with 13 seconds left on a quarterback sneak from one yard out, as Green Bay prevailed 21-17.

Earlier in the 1967 season, Kramer had one of the five best blocks of his career, at least according to the former Idaho Vandal star. The block (actually a number of blocks on one play) came against the Chicago Bears in the second game of the season at Lambeau Field.

Kramer knew all about the rivalry with da Bears, as head coach Vince Lombardi always had his team up versus head coach George Halas and his Monsters of the Midway.

Lombardi was always thinking the Halas had some spies watching the Packers practice.

“We would be practicing and Coach would see a lineman on a power pole a couple of blocks away doing electrical work,” Kramer said. “And Coach would go, ‘There’s one of Halas’ spies! Somebody go down there and check out that guy!’

Lombardi also had other ways to help hinder any spy tactics of Halas.

“At practice, Bart would wear No. 75 at times,” Kramer said chuckling. “We would change our numbers and everyone would wear a different number to confuse the spies of the Bears. Like Halas was going to think an offensive tackle is playing quarterback for us.”

Lombardi was always primed to play the Bears and he let his team know about as well.

“We were practicing on day before playing the Bears and Coach Lombardi brought us together,” Kramer said. “Coach said, ‘You guys go out and kick the Bears’ ass. And I’ll go out and kick old man Halas’ ass too.’

So when the Packers hosted the Bears on September 24, 1967, odds were that it would end up being a very physical game, which is exactly the way it turned out to be.

The Packers ended up winning 13-10, but it wasn’t easy. The team rushed for 233 yards, led by fullback Jim Grabowski, who rushed for 111 yards on 32 carries. No. 33 also had a rushing touchdown.

But Starr was obviously playing hurt, which was evidenced by the five interceptions he threw. This came a week after No. 15 threw four picks against the Detroit Lions in the season opener.

The game was so physical that Kramer didn’t even finish out the first half, as he suffered a concussion in the second quarter and was replaced by his old running mate, Fuzzy Thurston.

No. 63 had lost his starting left guard spot to second-year lineman Gale Gillingham after he had suffered a knee injury in an early scrimmage in training camp.

Kramer didn’t recall much about the game, except remembering seeing two or three Bears being carried off the field in the second half.

When Kramer came back to see the film of the game two days later with his teammates under the supervision and prodding by his head coach, he recalled Lombardi coming up to him just before the film study began.

Jerry Kramer Closeup

Lombardi said, “Boy, you came out there on one block and knocked the halfback down and went on and knocked the end down. You were just great. One of the greatest plays I’ve ever seen.”

Kramer had no memory of the play. The first time he saw it was watching film. I talked with Kramer recently and he gave me a rundown of that play.

“I was pulling and got the halfback first,” Kramer said. “I kept heading upfield and and was able to hit two other defensive players before I ended up hitting the left defensive end who was pursuing across the field.

“The block on the defensive end happened about 10 yards downfield. He was coming across the field and I was coming up the field. So his body position was not a position of strength. So as he ran toward me and in front of me, he tried to engage me. His position was very bad for that.

“I ended up knocking him about five yards through the air.”

It’s no wonder that Coach Lombardi was so impressed.

Green Bay Packers: Catching Up with No. 33, Jim Grabowski

Jim Grabowski vs. the Eagles

Jim Grabowski had some nice karma going for him when he played fullback for the University of Illinois from 1963 through 1965. Grabowski created some of the good fortune himself, due to his fabulous play with the Fighting Illini.

In 1963 as a sophomore, Grabowski rushed for 616 yards and seven touchdowns, plus capped a nice season by being named the 1964 Rose Bowl MVP, as Illinois beat Washington 17-7.

In 1964 and 1965, the Chicago native was named Associated Press All-American in both seasons, as he rushed for a combined 2,262 yards and 17 touchdowns. The Chicago Taft High School alumnus also caught 15 passes in his career at Illinois for 144 yards.

Grabowski finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1965.

Because of his exploits, Grabowski, who wore No. 31 at Illinois, now is in the College Football Hall of Fame, as well as the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame.

That set things up quite nicely for Grabowski, as the NFL and AFL were still battling for the rights of the best college football talent before the two leagues finally merged in 1966.

Grabowski was drafted first overall in the AFL draft by the Miami Dolphins, who were about to start their expansion season.  Grabowski was also picked ninth overall in the first round of the NFL draft by the Green Bay Packers.

Grabowski explained to me how it felt to be in that enviable position.

“Yes, that was the last year of the competition between the two leagues,” Grabowski said. “It was wonderful for those players who were drafted then. Up until that time, everyone was sort of an indentured servant of the NFL.

“So I had an attorney who was my agent and our strategy was that we had to listen to both offers. Miami was a brand new team. For a little bit of trivia, the very first draft choice of the Miami Dolphins was me.

“But being drafted by the Packers was certainly a factor in their favor. I grew up in Chicago as a Bear fan and I was always aware of the Green Bay Packers. Plus on top of that, they had Vince Lombardi, the god of gods as head coach. That certainly weighed heavy in my decision.”

Grabowski told me how his contract was finalized with the Packers.

“The Packers sent a plane down to negotiate the contract with my agent and myself,” Grabowski said. ” The Packers wanted to fly us to Green Bay. As a kid then, I didn’t realize all this stuff about the best place to negotiate was on your home turf, not theirs.

“So they brought us up there and you have to remember I’m a 21 year-old kid who had not been around much and was happy to play for anything I could get. But my agent really insisted that we play this out. So he told me that no matter what Lombardi said, to not say anything except that we will get back to you.

“Well, we walk into Lombardi’s office and you see all these trophies, championships and pictures around the room. I remember walking into the office and it seemed like the biggest office that I had ever seen. We didn’t sit at his desk, we sat at what looked like a boardroom table. It was pretty impressive.

“So my agent told Lombardi that Miami offered us a wonderful contract. Coach Lombardi went right to the chase. He gave us a number and he said that only provision with that number was that he couldn’t give us anymore than anyone else.

“So he looked at me and said, ‘Son, what do you think?’ I couldn’t help but nod my head yes.”

Lombardi was going through another set of high-priced negotiations with halfback Donny Anderson of Texas Tech, who the Packers had drafted in the first round of the 1965 NFL draft as a future draft pick, which was allowed in those days.

The Packers were battling the Houston Oilers of the AFL for Anderson’s services.

In the end, Lombardi was able to snare both Grabowski and Anderson and the duo was known as the “Gold Dust Twins” because of the contracts they had signed.

Grabowski and Anderson replace Hornung and Taylor

The big deals that Grabowski and Anderson signed did not sit well with one player on the Packers. That would be fullback Jim Taylor. While Anderson received help and guidance from veterans Paul Hornung  and Elijah Pitts, Taylor did not do the same with Grabowski.

“Jimmy was a real competitor,” Grabowski said. “And he was ticked off about the contracts that were signed by Donny and I. And I understood that. Paul was more magnanimous with Donny and Elijah was one of the best guys on that team, as he was very helpful. Jimmy and I had very few words together.”

I know from talking with Jerry Kramer that he really enjoyed his time with Grabowski and Anderson and had no ill will about the contracts that had signed. As Jerry told me once, “Donny and Jim were at the right place at the right time when they came out of college.”

Another veteran on the Packers, Henry Jordan, said this to Grabowski. “I don’t give a crap how much money you make. If you help put a few more dollars in my pocket, I’m with you!”

In his rookie season with the Packers, Grabowski did not get a lot of playing time, as he rushed 127 yards on 29 carries (a 4.4  yards-per-carry average). The game in which Grabowski first received significant playing time was against the expansion Atlanta Falcons at County Stadium in Milwaukee. I happened to be in attendance at that game.

Grabowski led the Packers in rushing that day with 52 yards on just seven carries, as the Packers blew out the Falcons 56-3. It was after that game that Taylor told the media that he was playing out his option with the Packers. That announcement did not sit well with Lombardi.

The most memorable run that Grabowski had as a rookie occurred versus the Minnesota Vikings at Metropolitan Stadium. No. 33 bounced off two groups of tacklers as he scampered 36 yards for a score. All told, Grabowski rushed for 61 yards on just seven carries in the game which was won by the Pack 28-16.

Grabowski also had a big play in the 1966 NFL title game at the Cotton Bowl versus the Dallas Cowboys. He was assisted on that big play by Green Bay’s other No. 1 pick in the 1966 NFL draft, guard Gale Gillingham, who was the 13th pick of the first round by the Pack.

After the Packers had grabbed a 7-0 lead after scoring on the opening drive that championship game, on the ensuing kickoff, Gillingham forced a fumble by Mel Renfro, which was recovered by Grabowski and returned 18 yards for another touchdown.

Grabowski recalled that moment.

“Yes, I always got a lot of crap from Gilly because he was in on that tackle,” Grabowski said. “He told me, ‘I caused the fumble and you get the glory.’ I was at the right place at the right time. Plus in that game, the difference in the game was one touchdown.

“I was thrilled. I would like to say that it was a real athletic play, but the fumble came right into my hands and what else could I do?”

Jim Grabowski picks up fumble in 1966 NFL title game

The Packers won that title game 34-27, which set up a match up the first Super Bowl, when the Packers played the Kansas City Chiefs at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

The Packers took over the game in the second half and both Grabowski and Anderson got into the game late. Anderson rushed for 30 yards, while Grabowski ran for two, as the Packers won 35-10.

In 1967, both Taylor and Hornung were gone. The new starting backfield for the Packers that season was Grabowski at fullback and Pitts at halfback.

Grabowski got off to a great start that year, both running and catching the football. Against the Bears in Week 2, Grabowski ran for 111 yards on 32 carries and a touchdown, plus caught three passes for 26 more yards.

Grabowski remembered that game well.

“That was a real grinding game,” Grabowski said. “I had a couple carries that were called back. I ended up carrying the ball 36 times overall. I was pretty beat up after that.”

In Week 8, the Packers played the Baltimore Colts at Memorial Stadium. No. 33 was having a great year, as he was third in the NFL in rushing at the time. At that point, Grabowski had 448 yards rushing and had two TDs, plus had caught 12 passes for 171 yards and another score.

But Grabowski and the Packers were struck a cruel blow in the game, as No. 33 went out with a knee injury, while Pitts was lost for the season with a ruptured Achilles tendon.

The injury to Grabowski’s knee was a cartilage issue and he kept rehabbing and working to get back on the field. In fact, Grabowski was able to play in Week 11 against the Bears at Wrigley Field, as he rushed for 18 yards on four carries.

But that would be his last appearance for the Packers that season, even with his efforts to get back on the field. In fact, Grabowski was supposed to start the “Ice Bowl” game at fullback, before he re-injured the knee in pre-game workouts.

Grabowski recalled that moment.

“Yes, I was slated to start,” Grabowski said. “When I had the cartilage injury back then, and I can’t speak for what happens with an injury like that today, but then it just popped and tore everything up and the knee swelled up. So you tried to ice it up and take it easy. I hadn’t done much prior to the “Ice Bowl” for a few weeks, but I was able to practice that week. But before the game I was warming up and I was making a cut on a pass and the knee went out and I was done.”

A lot of people don’t realize that even with the injuries to Grabowski and Pitts that season, the Packers still finished second in the NFL in rushing in 1967, as Anderson and Travis Williams filled in at halfback and Ben Wilson and Chuck Mercein filled in at fullback.

Mercein was a huge factor in the “Ice Bowl”, as he was responsible for 34 of the 68 yards made on that game-winning, epic drive that the Packers made to win the game 21-17.

Mercein told me in one of our conversations that one of his proudest moments came after the game when Grabowski told him that he couldn’t have played any better at FB than Mercein did that day.

With the victory over the Cowboys, the Packers now had won their third straight NFL title and were about to win their second straight Super Bowl, as the Packers beat the Oakland Raiders 33-14 at the Orange Bowl in Miami.

In 1968, Grabowski was once again the starting FB for the Packers and he led the team in rushing with 518 yards and also had three rushing TDs. No. 33 also had 18 catches for 210 yards and another score.

That touchdown catch came in the last game of the season, as the Packers played the Bears and Grabowski’s old teammate at Illinois, Dick Butkus. Going into the game, the Packers were 5-7-1 and were out of playoff contention behind head coach Phil Bengtson, who had taken over for Lombardi that year, as Vince was GM only.

Chicago was 7-6 going into the game and a victory would give da Bears the NFL Central title. But after a Zeke Bratkowski injury, Don Horn came into the game at quarterback for the Packers and had a big game. No. 13 threw for 187 yards and two scores and had a passer rating of 142.4 in the game, as the Packers won 28-27.

One of those TD passes was to Grabowski for 67 yards.

Needless to say, Butkus wasn’t too happy when he shook hands with his old buddy Grabowski after the game.

Dick Butkus and Jim Grabowski

The knee injury that Grabowski had suffered in 1967 continued to plague him throughout the rest of his NFL career. In 1969 and 1970 combined, Grabowski rushed for 471 yards and two scores, but people weren’t aware of all the health trauma that the 6’2″, 220-pound fullback was going through.

“What most people don’t know is that in the 1968 offseason that I had a staph infection and was in the hospital for over two weeks,” Grabowski said. “The recuperative part after that took several months. I lost thirty pounds. As I look back at it, the staph infection was a very serious thing and I could have died from it.

“I don’t really talk about this too much. Then the next year the staph infection returned. I was fighting a number of setbacks with my knee over the years. You get injured, then an infection and then another infection. I’m fortunate that I made it through all that.”

In 1971, Grabowski was in training camp with the Packers under new head coach Dan Devine.

Grabowski vividly remembers what happened next.

“I went through about six or seven weeks of camp under Devine and then I was extremely happy to get out of there,” Grabowski said. “Not because of anything to do with the players or the Packers, but I believe I’m in the majority of the people who I have talked to subsequent to those years about playing for Devine.

“Just when we broke up camp, Devine didn’t have the nerve to call me into his office. He cut me, but he made Red Cochran tell me. That’s how brave he was! I told Red that I couldn’t believe that Devine didn’t have the nerve to face me one on one.  I lost all respect for him then.”

Grabowski played with his hometown Bears in 1971 and rushed for 149 yards before he retired.

“I wasn’t sure I was going to continue to play after I was cut by the Packers, as I was basically running on one leg,” Grabowski said. “I was happy to play for the Bears. If you could have told a kid from Chicago that he was going to go on and play for the University of Illinois, then the Packers and end up playing for the Bears, you would say what a dream!”

After he retired from the NFL, Grabowski became a color commentator for Illinois football games and remained in that role for 26 years years before retiring in 2007.

I asked Grabowski what he was up to now.

“I’ve been retired for a number of years now,” Grabowski said. “An old friend of mine, Tom Boerwinkle, who was a center on the Chicago Bulls some years back, retired before I did and I asked Tom what it was like. And he said, ‘I can’t tell you what I’m doing, but I’m busy.’

“That has kind of been my motto. I have grandkids and I watch them do every sport that they are involved in. My wife and I stay busy. Spending time with friends and family and all that. We do a lot of traveling. We’re going to Alaska next month. We’ve been to a lot of places. I’m enjoying the fourth quarter.”

Finally, with the recent passing of Bart Starr, I had to ask Grabowski to share his thoughts about his old teammate.

“With Bart and I, it was like a general and a second lieutenant,” Grabowski said. “He was like Dwight D. Eisenhower and I was a guy with one bar on his helmet. He was the ultimate gentleman. Even in tough circumstances, he was going to treat you with kindness.

“He has always been like that. I felt a real loss when he passed. I knew he was sick and I had not talked with him since he first became sick, as I didn’t want to intrude upon his privacy. But I felt a real loss when I heard he was gone. He was the heart of the Packers. He was what it was all about.

“Thinking about him right now I’m sad that he in no longer with us. There was only one of those guys!”

Wisconsin Filmmaker is Producing Jerry Kramer Documentary

Glenn, Diana and Jerry II

Glenn Aveni, Diana Kramer and Jerry Kramer.

A number of months ago, while I was chatting with Jerry Kramer regarding the book we are working on, he suggested I call someone.

Jerry told me to call Glenn Aveni, an award-winning filmmaker who was in the process of doing a documentary on Kramer. Jerry thought we might be able to share some information. Before I called Aveni, I checked out his biography and I was very impressed. I also noticed that Aveni was a Milwaukee native, just as I am.

When I called Glenn, I soon found out that we had a lot in common. We both grew up on the northwest side of Milwaukee and we knew a lot of the same people, although Aveni is a couple of years younger than I am.

Both of us agreed that we surely crossed paths at some point because of a mutual friend and also because we had similar interests, like sports and music. And just like I am with Jerry, I was at ease talking to Glenn, just like he was a close high school or college buddy.

One thing that really stuck out for me in my conversation with Aveni was hearing the passion that he had for the Green Bay Packers. Like me, Glenn grew up when the Packers under Vince Lombardi won five NFL titles in seven years, including the first two Super Bowls in the 1960s.

I also found out that at the age of nine, Aveni read Instant Replay, the classic book co-written by Kramer and the late, great Dick Schaap, which was a diary of the magnificent 1967 season for the Packers. A year when the Packers won their third straight NFL title under Lombardi, who was coaching his last team in Green Bay.

The documentary that Aveni is producing about Kramer is called You Can, If You Will – The Jerry Kramer Story. The Kickstarter campaign about the film is going live today. You can pre-order by going to this page.

I talked again with Aveni recently and he told me how this documentary idea about Kramer originated.

“A photographer friend of mine, who had done some photos of Jerry a few years ago, saw him at a signing event here in Milwaukee,” Aveni said. “So my friend called me on the phone and told me that Jerry Kramer was there. He told me that he saw Jerry there and congratulated him on being recently inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“So my friend said to Jerry, ‘Isn’t it about time that somebody does a film on you Jerry?’ And Jerry said, ‘You know, I was just talking about that with my marketing agent, Mark Mayfield.’

“So my friend says, ‘I know the perfect guy to do this. His done films on people like Les Paul, plus he’s from Wisconsin and a huge Packers fan.’ Jerry told my friend to have me call him on his cell phone. So I called him and had short conversation and I told him my background and apparently Jerry had seen my Les Paul film and liked it.

“Jerry cut to the chase and said, ‘How would we do this?’ And I told him that we would basically use the same template I utilized when I did the Les Paul piece. So I told Jerry that my company, Icon TV, would produce the film, handle the distribution and that I would direct the film.

“So Jerry goes, ‘That sounds really good and I think that we could make this work. I’m going to be up at Lambeau tomorrow and perhaps we can meet there for lunch. At least I can look in the whites of your eyes and maybe we can finalize this along with my marketing agent Mark.’

“So we met for lunch and I got us a private table in the back. We had a real nice lunch and I gave Jerry my ideas about how we would do the film. Then he looked at me and says, ‘Let’s do it!’ And then he says, ‘What do you think Mark?’ And Mark goes, ‘I think it’s a great idea. I have checked out Glenn’s background and he checked out great.’ So we shook on it.

“The one thing that was real reaffirming to me, because I’m such a passionate fan of the Packers, was that when we left our table, the entire 1919 Kitchen & Tap crowd stood up and gave Jerry a standing ovation. The place was packed too. Plus, he was mobbed by everyone. Young and old. I knew then that this film was going to be fantastic!”

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So Aveni started working on the film and was in Canton for Jerry’s enshrinement and was able to film Kramer’s acceptance speech. Plus, Aveni and his film crew were able to get a number of interviews with pro football icons like Ron Wolf.

Aveni told me about when he decided to utilize Kickstarter for this film.

“Well, when we started the project, I told Jerry that I would put up my own money to get the film started,” Aveni said. “My business model for all my films is to put up money to get rights for a film.  So I put up enough money to start shooting material to get into production. But I can’t really fund the entire film out of my pocket, as I just don’t have the resources to do that.

“The first goal in my films is to try and get some pre-sale. So I went to the obvious choices, who are NFL Network and ESPN. While both were very interested in the project, because they love Jerry, they really didn’t want to pre-buy, they preferred to wait until the project was done.

“So when I realized there was a high probability that we wouldn’t get pre-sale, I had told Jerry in our very first meeting that would probably crowd-fund the film, like I had done in the past with one of the other films I directed, which was called The US Generation.”

That film was about the Us Festival in 1982, which included musical acts like The Police, Tom Petty, Fleetwood Mac, Santana, Jackson Browne, The Cars, The Talking Heads, The Ramones, The Grateful Dead, Pat Benatar & The B52s.

Aveni worked with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak in getting that film done. Aveni sees a lot of similarities comparing Kramer and Wozniak.

“Steve is very much like Jerry,” Aveni said. “Steve’s whole goal in life is to help other people’s lives. Not enriching himself, but to help other people. I took that project to Kickstarter and it definitely helped us get over the finish line. The film has had a fantastic response as well.”

One of the people who is assisting Aveni with this film is Jerry’s son Dan, who has had also worked with Kickstarter in the past. In fact, I did a story about his project, which was for his Return To Glory book.

Aveni talked about his association with Dan.

“I met Dan in Canton,” Aveni said. “He did some photography work there and he told me a little bit about his background. Dan is a really talented photographer. He’s very savvy about the media, plus he also has a past with the Kickstarter program.

“Dan and I hit it off personally. Jerry’s family is really a warm, loving family, as I’m sure you know. They were very gracious and very kind to me. They were thrilled that I would be doing the film about their dad.

“Once we realized that we were going to go the Kickstarter route, we thought it would be a good idea to bring Dan aboard on the project and be part of the production team. Dan is going to be invaluable.

“We are also working with Mark Mayfield of Mayfield Sports. Mark is an executive producer for the film. Mark has unbelievable contacts within the sports community, the Green Bay Packers community, as well as the NFL community.”

Bart's QB sneak behind Jerry

Aveni summed up to me why Kickstarter is the perfect vehicle to drive this film.

“Kickstarter is the best, as I’ve had a great experience with it,” Aveni said. “They are more suited towards films and documentaries as well. Kickstarter makes you reach your goal. There is no funny business. You can’t raise a third of the money and just not deliver.

“We think that this will give great rewards to people who pledge to be part of this film. The thing I really like about Kickstarter is the unity that it creates. So whatever story that you are telling, you are able to work within a community of people who have a similar love and passion like you do.

“One of things I would like people to know is that we are going to give a tribute to Bart Starr in the film. Packer Nation loved Bart and they love Jerry as well. I know they will love this documentary.

“The people who help out feel like they are making the film with you. People will get a lot of real cool stuff for the money that they pledge. It’s just a unifying enterprise where the  people who are backing you become your biggest cheerleaders. It’s just a fantastic journey.”

Similar to the journey that Kramer and his teammates made on that epic 68-yard drive in the “Ice Bowl” or the 44 years it took for Kramer to get his rightful place among the best of the best, which is being a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

This film will illustrate all that and much more!

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

Jerry and Aaron at Lambeau

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt LaFleur is gretted by Mark Murphy

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

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

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

Kramer and Lombardi also had their share of moments.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vince and Jerry II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aaron vs. da Bears in 2018 at Lambeau

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Green Bay Packers: Being Too Conservative in Big Games Cost Both Mike Sherman and Mike McCarthy

mike sherman and make mccarthy

Since the year 2000, there have only been three permanent head coaches for the Green Bay Packers. Those coaches are Mike Sherman (2000-2005), Mike McCarthy (2006-2018) and currently Matt LaFleur, who was recently hired.

Joe Philbin took over for McCarthy as interim head coach for the last four weeks of the 2018 season after McCarthy was fired and the team went 2-2.

The Packers have been pretty successful in the NFL over the last 19 years with Sherman and McCarthy holding down the fort as head coach.

Sherman was 57-39 in the regular season, with five postseason appearances during that time, which included four straight divisional titles.

However, Sherman was just 2-4 in the postseason, which included the first ever postseason loss in the state of Wisconsin by a Green Bay team.

McCarthy was 125-76-2 in the regular season, with nine appearances in the postseason, which including eight straight seasons at one point and also six NFC North divisional titles.

Although McCarthy and his Packers won Super Bowl XLV, he was just 1-3 in NFC title games and just 10-8 overall in the postseason. Plus, McCarthy was also 0-4 in overtime games in the postseason.

So, how does one read that?

I mean, think about it. In 19 years, the Packers were 184-117-2 in the regular season, went to the postseason 14 times, won 10 divisional titles and a Super Bowl.

I would think any franchise in the NFL, with the exception of the New England Patriots, would be thrilled with those results.

I bring up the Patriots for a reason. The head coach of the Patriots is Bill Belichick, who has been the head coach of the Pats since 2000. Which is exactly when Sherman took over in Green Bay.

In those 19 years, Belichick and the Pats have been 225-79 in the regular season. That also includes 16 appearances in the postseason and 16 AFC East titles, which includes 10 straight times now.

Overall, Belichick is now 28-10 in the postseason with his Patriots after the win on Sunday versus the Los Angles Chargers and have been to eight Super Bowls, winning five of them.

The Patriots will be making an astonishing ninth straight appearance in the AFC title game this upcoming Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Now granted, Belichick has achieved that with Tom Brady as his quarterback.

That being said, Sherman and McCarthy had Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers to work with.

After the Patriots, there are very few teams who have been as successful as the Packers since 2000. The two that are in same area code are the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Indianapolis Colts.

Since 2000, the Steelers have been 197-105-1 in the regular season, went to the postseason 12 times, won nine divisional titles and two Super Bowls.

The Steelers have only had two head coaches since 2000. The first was Bill Cowher, who coached from 1992 through 2006 and now current head coach Mike Tomlin.

Since 2000, the Colts have been 190-114 in the regular season, went to the postseason 14 times, won nine divisional titles and a Super Bowl.

The Colts have been a bit more liberal with their head coaching changes since 2000, starting with Jim Mora (1998-2001), Tony Dungy (2002-2008), Jim Caldwell (2008-2011), Chuck Pagano (2012-2017) and current head coach Frank Reich who took over in 2018.

The common denominator there again is mostly due to the excellent quarterback play, as over that time Ben Roethlisberger had led the Steelers for the most part during that period, while Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck have been under center for the Colts most of the time.

When one looks back on the demise of the Packers under Sherman and McCarthy, I can point to a postseason game that each of them should have won, but instead lost. The main reason was being too conservative.

For Sherman it happened in the 2003 postseason in a NFC Divisional Game versus the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. The Packers were 10-6 in 2003 and won the NFC North. The Packers had back to back 12-4 seasons going into 2003, but the team had a rough start to the season.

But after a strong second half, when the Packers won six out of seven games, including four straight to end the season, Green Bay lucked out and won the NFC North. I say lucked out, because it took a last-second touchdown pass in a game between the Arizona Cardinals and Minnesota Vikings to win the division.

Had the Vikings won that game, they, not the Packers, would be NFC North champs. But instead Josh McCown of the Cardinals threw a 33-yard touchdown pass to Nathan Poole as time expired. The Cards won the game 33-28 at Sun Devil Stadium and the Vikings not only lost the game, but also a spot in the playoffs.

The Packers took that good karma and ran with it in their Wild Card Game against the Seattle Seahawks at Lambeau Field. The Packers string of good luck continued, as an Al Harris 52-yard interception return for a touchdown beat Mike Holmgren and his Hawks 33-27 in OT.

That win led to the divisional game against the Eagles. The winner would be going to the NFC title game.

The Packers started fast in the game and led 14-0. The ground game of the Packers was especially effective as running back Ahman Green rushed for 156 yards in the game. The Packers were leading 17-14 late in the game when Sherman had a difficult decision to make.

ahman green vs. eagles in playoffs

It was fourth down and about a foot to go at the 40 of the Eagles. One more first down ends the game. It’s either go for it or punt.  To me, there was nothing to think about. Run for the first down and get ready for the NFC title game the next week.

Why? Well, not only had the Packers been running wild on the Eagles the whole game, they were also ranked third in the NFL in running the ball in 2003. Toting the rock was a big strength of the team.

Still, Sherman decided to punt. The punt went into the end zone and the ball was placed on the 20. The Packers had a net gain of 20 yards after that punt. Plus, Sherman was putting the game in the hands of a defense that was 17th in total defense in 2003 and was even worse in passing defense, as the team was ranked 23rd.

It all led to the 28-yard completion by Donovan McNabb to Freddie Mitchell on the infamous fourth-and-26 play, which led to the game-tying field goal. The Packers later lost in OT, as the Eagles kicked another field goal after Brett Favre was picked off on a deep pass.

I don’t think that team ever got over that loss. Yes, the Packers went 10-6 in 2004 and won the NFC North again, but the team had a number of holes, due to the bad drafts and free agency miscues that Sherman had been part of, as he was also general manager at the time.

It all led to an embarrassing 31-17 loss to the Minnesota Vikings in a 2004 NFC Wild Card Game at Lambeau Field.

That led to Sherman being stripped of his GM duties, as Ted Thompson was hired for that position. It also led to the Packers driving into the ditch in 2005, as the team went 4-12 and Favre had the worst year of his career.

Shortly thereafter, Sherman was fired. I believe it all stemmed from the postseason game against the Eagles, where had Sherman been proactive instead of be reactive, the Packers probably win.

After Sherman was fired, Thompson hired McCarthy.

McCarthy had a great run as head coach, as I indicated earlier. But when he was one play away from getting his team into their second Super Bowl under him, he decided to play the conservative game, just like Sherman did.

The game I’m talking about is the 2014 NFC Championship Game at CenturyLink Field in Seattle.

The Packers totally dominated that NFC title game for about 55 minutes, but a late meltdown in all phases of the game led to the most agonizing postseason loss in the history of the Packers, as they lost 28-22 in overtime.

The Packers had a number of opportunities where they could have basically ended the game with just one play.

For instance, safety Morgan Burnett went to the ground after an interception, when it looked like he had a good chance to run the pick back deep into Seattle territory (perhaps even a touchdown) which would have clinched the game.

aaron rodgers vs. the seahawks in the 2014 nfc title game

Still, even with that mistake, the Packers could have won on offense by just getting one more first down. Instead of allowing Rodgers, the MVP of the league in 2014 to throw the ball at least one time, head coach McCarthy instead had the Packers run it three straight times when getting a first down basically would have ended the game. The Packers didn’t get the needed first down.

It led to a Seattle touchdown after the ensuing punt.

Then came the onside kick debacle. Instead of blocking like he was supposed to do, so Jordy Nelson could catch the ball, Brandon Bostick tried to be a hero and catch the ball himself. He didn’t and the Seahawks recovered.

Seattle scored again and were now up by three points. The Packers had to drive down the field to tie the game with a Mason Crosby field goal. McCarthy had no choice but to allow Rodgers to throw the ball in that situation and No. 12 quickly got the Packers in field goal position.

The Packers did indeed tie the game but lost in overtime.

Ironically in the 2018 season, at the very same field late in the game facing a fourth-and-2 from their own 33-yard line, McCarthy decided to punt. Yes, the Packers had one timeout left and there was 4:02 left on the clock. But guess what? Green Bay never got the ball back.

The reason was pretty obvious to anyone watching the game in the second half. Because of injuries on their defensive line, the Packers could not stop the running game of the Seahawks. And they didn’t stop them after the McCarthy decided to punt either.

17 days later, McCarthy was fired after the loss to the Cardinals at Lambeau Field.

Now I know what some will say. The Packers did get back into the postseason in 2015 and 2016 after that brutal loss in Seattle in the 2014 NFC title game.

But in 2015, the Packers had to go in as a Wild Card with a 10-6 record, as the team was flat down the stretch and lost the final game of the season to the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field which enabled the Vikings to win the NFC North title.

Then after defeating the Washington Redskins in a NFC Wild Card game at FedEx Field, the Packers had a chance to steal a win in the NFC Divisional round against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium.

The Packers were trailing 20-13 with 55 seconds left in the game. They were facing a fourth-and-20 from their own four. Somehow, Rodgers miraculously was able to complete a 60-yard pass to wide receiver Jeff Janis, which put the ball at the Arizona 36.

Janis and fellow backup wide receiver Jared Abbrederis were only in the game because of injuries to Davante Adams and Randall Cobb. Jordy Nelson was out for the year with an ACL injury he suffered in the preseason.

It came down to five seconds to go from the Arizona 41. Rodgers once again pulled out another miracle as hit Janis in the end zone for a Hail Mary touchdown.

Earlier in the drive, color commentator Cris Collinsworth said that he wouldn’t be surprised if the Packers went for two if they scored a touchdown. I was thinking the same thing.

The Packers were an injury depleted team. They had just shocked the Cardinals with a late touchdown with no time left. On a drive that went 96 yards in 55 seconds. Arizona was wobbling. But alas, McCarthy decided to kick the extra point and tie the game.

Of course, the Cardinals scored on the opening drive of OT and the Packers lost 26-20.

In 2017, the Packers had to win their last six games of the season which won them the NFC North with a 10-6 record. The team also won two postseason games before they were blown out by the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship Game 44-21 at the Georgia Dome.

The Packers were never able to regain their swagger under McCarthy, as they team went 7-9 in 2017, as Rodgers missed several games again with another broken collarbone and were 4-7-1 when McCarthy was fired in 2018.

Bottom line, both Sherman and McCarthy had nice runs in Green Bay. But both could have been even more successful had they been willing to put their foot on the throat of their opponents in key moments to win the game.

The Super Bowl trophy is named after Vince Lombardi. Was Lombardi a conservative head coach? Hardly. He blamed himself for the only postseason loss (against the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1960 NFL Championship Game) he ever suffered by going for it on a couple of fourth and short situations and being stopped in Philadelphia territory at Franklin Field.

The Packers lost that game 17-13, as fullback Jim Taylor was tackled at the Philadelphia 8-yardline as time ran out. The Packers needed a touchdown to win the game instead of a field goal that Lombardi could have kicked earlier in the game.

Plus there is the legendary “Ice Bowl” game, also known as the 1967 NFL Championship game. That classic game came down to the Packers having just 16 seconds to go with no timeouts at the Dallas 1-yard line and trailing 17-14.

Bart's QB sneak behind Jerry

Lombardi could have brought in Don Chandler to kick a short field goal to tie the game then, but he decided to go for it and instead went for the touchdown. It worked out perfectly, as quarterback Bart Starr followed Jerry Kramer’s classic block on Jethro Pugh (with help from center Ken Bowman) and No. 15 tumbled happily into the end zone for the winning score.

The Lombardi of current times is Belichick, based on what he done over the past 19 years. Like Lombardi, Belichick is a confident coach and will try to end the game on his terms.  And also like Lombardi did, Belichick trusts his players to get the job done when the situation calls for it.

Now did all the gambles that Lombardi and Belichick utilized work? No. But many more times than not they did. And together the two coaches won 10 NFL titles.

As a head coach, sometimes the situation calls for trusting your players in big moments in big games. Sherman and McCarthy did not in key situations and it ending up costing them. First in the deflating the spirit of their teams, which led to them eventually losing their jobs further down the road.

Green Bay Packers: Why Boyd Dowler Deserves to be Considered for the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Boyd Dowler in Super Bowl II

When Jerry Kramer of the Green Bay Packers was finally enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame last month, that meant that there are now just two players who were on the NFL 50th anniversary team who do not have a bust in Canton.

Those players just happened to be teammates of Kramer’s on the Packers as well. Those players are wide receiver Boyd Dowler and tight end Ron Kramer.

I’ll be writing a future story about Kramer, the multi-talented athlete who played at Michigan, but this piece is about No. 86, Dowler.

Dowler was on the second team of the 50th anniversary team (named in 1969) and he was joined on that squad by the likes of Sammy Baugh, Bronco Nagurski, Harold “Red” Grange, Forrest Gregg, Raymond Berry, Mike Ditka, Danny Fortman, Mel Hein, Len Ford, Ernie Stautner, Joe Schmidt, Jack Butler, Jack Christiansen and Ernie Nevers.

All but Dowler are now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

When Dowler retired from the NFL after the 1970 season, he was 10th in all-time receptions in the NFL and 12th in receiving yardage.

Those landmark statistical achievements for Dowler have obviously changed over the years. Especially since the rule changes after the 1977 season which has made the NFL a pass-happy league.

Rule changes like allowing defenders to make contact with receivers only to a point of five yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Previously, contact was allowed anywhere on the field, unless the ball was thrown by the quarterback.

Nobody was more physical down the field with receivers than Dick “Night Train” Lane. Dowler matched up against him on several occasions while Lane was with the Detroit Lions.

The NFL also allowed offensive linemen to use extended arms and open hands after the ’77 season.

I’m sure Jerry Kramer would have appreciated having rules like that while he was blocking the likes of Merlin Olsen and Alex Karras in the 1960s.

Besides being named to the 50th anniversary team of the NFL, Dowler was named to the NFL 1960s All-Decade team.

Being named to a NFL All-Decade team usually gets a player strong consideration for getting a place in Canton.

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

Also, in his rookie year in 1959, Dowler was named Rookie of the Year by UPI (United Press International).

The former Colorado star was also named to two Pro Bowls in his career.

So with all the honors that Dowler received, especially being named to the NFL’s 50th anniversary team, as well as being named All-Decade in the 1960s, Rick Gosselin, a Pro Football Hall of Fame voter and a member of the Seniors selection Committee, wonders why Dowler has not been considered for a place in Canton.

Gosselin feels the same way about Ron Kramer.

This is what Gosselin said in a Talk of Fame Sports Network podcast from back in February after Jerry Kramer was named to the Class of 2018 for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“Can you enshrine too many players from one franchise in the Hall of Fame? That’s the question that came up last week when those of us on the Hall of Fame selection committee enshrined the 12th member of the 1960’s Packers. That’s guard Jerry Kramer.

“That’s more than half of the starting lineup, plus the head coach from one team. A team that won five championships in a span of seven years. And went to six title games in a span of eight seasons. No team of any era, has more players in Canton than those 1960’s Packers.

“They have indeed been rewarded for their success. Should the committee now draw the line there with the Lombardi Packers? Well, ponder this. In 1969, this same Hall of Fame selection committee was commissioned to pick the greatest players in the game’s first 50 years.

“There were 45 players selected to that team. And 43 are now enshrined in Canton. Only two are not. They both played for the ’60’s Packers, split end Boyd Dowler and tight end Ron Kramer. Dowler was selected to the 1960’s All-Decade team as well and Kramer would have been had the committee selected more than one tight end.

“Yet neither of those players has ever been discussed as a finalist for the Hall of Fame. If you were chosen as one of the best players in the game’s first half-century, don’t you deserve a spin through the room as a finalist to determine if you are indeed Hall of Fame worthy.

“It took [Jerry] Kramer 45 years to get in. It took teammate Dave Robinson 34 years and Henry Jordan 21. The Hall of Fame is a process. Maybe Dowler and Ron Kramer deserve to be Hall of Famers. Maybe they don’t. But they certainly deserve a few minutes in that room to start the process and have their cases heard, regardless how many teammates have been enshrined.”

I most definitely agree with Gosselin.

Jerry and Boyd

So does No. 64, Jerry Kramer.

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

Plus, Dowler was very confident and also very smart from Kramer’s perspective.

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

Dowler was one of only three rookies on the Packers to ever start for Vince Lombardi. The others were center Ken Bowman in 1964 and center Bob Hyland in 1967.

Dowler’s career in the NFL matches up very well with Lynn Swann of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who played on a team which won four Super Bowls in six years.

Dowler can relate to that, as he played on a Green Bay team which won five NFL titles in seven years, including the first two Super Bowls. Plus, Dowler was part of the only team in NFL history, at least in the playoff era, to win three straight NFL championships.

Dowler brought that comparison up to me during one of our conversations.

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

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

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

After that injury, Dowler was replaced by Max McGee, who went on to have the best game of his career, as he had seven receptions for 138 yards and two touchdowns, as quarterback Bart Starr looked for No. 85 early and often in the first Super Bowl.

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

So if you compare the two, Dowler and Swann each caught three passes per game in the postseason. Plus, each caught a touchdown pass in every other playoff game they played in.

The only real difference between the two is that Swann is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, while Dowler is not.

The best postseason Dowler had was after the 1967 season.

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

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

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

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

Boyd Dowler scores TD in Ice Bowl

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

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

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

Bottom line, in the 1967 postseason, Dowler caught nine passes for 183 yards (20.3 yards-per-catch average) and three touchdowns.

When I mentioned to Gosselin that I would be writing a series of articles about former Green Bay players who deserve consideration in terms of having a bust in Canton, he made sure that I mentioned Dowler, Ron Kramer and Gale Gillingham.

None of those players have received their due in terms of being considered for a place among the best of the best in Canton.

That doesn’t bother Dowler though.

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

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

But something might soon change for players like Dowler. Gosselin has put out his  “amnesty proposal” which will allow several seniors to get inducted in the 100th anniversary of the NFL, as opposed to the one or two per year as it stands now. That proposal is strongly being considered by David Baker, the President/Executive Director of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

When I talked to Gosselin in Canton when Kramer was being enshrined on August 4, he told me that he believes he can get 10 seniors in on the centennial anniversary of the NFL.

Perhaps one of those players might be Dowler.

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

One Forgotten Aspect on Bart Starr’s QB Sneak in the ‘Ice Bowl’

IMAG0498

It’s one of the most iconic plays in NFL history. I’m talking about Bart Starr’s legendary quarterback sneak in the 1967 NFL title game, better known as the “Ice Bowl”, as the Green Bay Packers defeated the Dallas Cowboys 21-17 in the final seconds of the game.

That touchdown gave the Packers their third straight NFL championship, a feat that has never been duplicated in the playoff era of the NFL dating back to 1933.

Two weeks later, the Packers won their second straight Super Bowl as well, as they defeated the Oakland Raiders 33-14.

But it was Starr’s QB sneak that made all of that possible.

It was most definitely the signature moment in the legacy of Vince Lombardi during his time in Green Bay as head coach and general manager.

That play was set up by one of the most fabulous drives in the history of the Packers.

Here was the situation:

The Packers trailed 17-14 and had not done a thing in the second half offensively. “We had minus-nine yards in 31 plays in the second half at one point,” right guard Jerry Kramer told me.

The Packers got the ball back at their own 32-yard line with just 4:50 remaining in the game. Somehow the Packers were going to have to trudge 68 yards across a truly frozen tundra to win the game.

“I asked Bart about that years later, about what made him think we could go 68 yards and score a touchdown after we had made minus-nine yards on 31 plays prior to that,” Kramer said. “Bart said, ‘Jerry, I came into the huddle and started to say something. Then I looked in your eyes, I looked at Forrest’s eyes and everyone else in the huddle, and I knew I didn’t have to say anything. So all I said was, ‘Let’s go.’

I wrote about that mythical drive in December, just two days before the 50th anniversary of that historical NFL game. Kramer, halfback Donny Anderson and fullback Chuck Mercein shared their thoughts about that improbable trek across the ice.

The play which won the Packers their fifth NFL title in seven years was called earlier in the week when the team was studying the defensive tendencies of the Cowboys. Kramer actually suggested the play to Lombardi.

Bart's QB sneak behind Jerry

Photo by John Biever

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

The do-or-die situation in the game came down to the Packers having just 16 seconds to go with no timeouts at the Dallas 1-yard line.

Starr called a 31 Wedge play in the huddle (the same play discussed on Thursday), which calls for the fullback to get the ball. However, after conferring with Lombardi, Starr decided to keep the ball due to the slippery conditions near the goal line.

Starr followed Kramer’s classic block on Pugh (with help from center Ken Bowman) and No. 15 tumbled happily into the end zone for the winning score and NFL immortality.

But history might have been different had Starr tried to cross the goal line with the football in his right arm and not his left.

I mentioned that scenario to Boyd Dowler when we talked recently and he said, “I didn’t realize that.”

IMAG0500

The reason why that was so important is because Chuck Howley, who was the left outside linebacker of the Cowboys, quickly dove into Starr just as he was about to get into the end zone. Howley tried to rip the football from Starr’s empty right arm. Had Starr carried the football in that arm, who knows what may have occurred?

Starr had fumbled earlier in the game during the second quarter, which led to a George Andrie touchdown after he recovered the fumble by No. 15.

The bottom line is that Starr not only called the right play (31 Wedge) and the right way to score on that play (via his sneak), but also the correct way to handle the ball as he made his way triumphantly into the end zone.

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

Travis Williams Kickoff Return TD vs. Rams in LA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Travis Wiliams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Travis Williams in the Ice Bowl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jerry Kramer Talks About Dick Schaap

Dick Schaap

When it comes to authors who write about sports and the star athletes who play in those sports, there was no one better than the late, great Dick Schaap.

Schaap wrote autobiographical books about stars like Hank Aaron, Joe Montana, Joe Namath, Tom Seaver, Bo Jackson and Mickey Mantle.

Schaap also wrote that same type book about Jerry Kramer, called Instant Replay. More about that book a bit later.

The Brooklyn native also wrote books about golfing events like the Masters and the U.S. Open.

It wasn’t just sports that Schaap wrote about either, as he wrote about Robert Kennedy in his 1967 book called RFK, plus he also wrote about the Son of Sam, along with Jimmy Breslin, in a book called .44 Caliber.

Schaap also wrote about comedian/actor Billy Crystal in the 1986 book called Absolutely Mahvelous.

Schaap was a well-rounded author who also excelled on TV, as he hosted The Sports Reporters on ESPN for several years, plus had a show called Schaap One on One on ESPN Classic.

Schaap also had a show on ESPN radio called The Sporting Life with Dick Schaap. In that show, Schaap discussed the sports stories of the week with his son Jeremy.

Sadly, Schaap died in 2001 at the young age of 67 due to complications from hip replacement surgery.

In 1961, Schaap wrote another book called, Paul Hornung: Pro Football’s Golden Boy. Schaap spent a number of weeks covering the Packers that season, which also turned out to be the year the Packers won their first NFL championship under head coach Vince Lombardi.

That was also the first time Schaap got to know Kramer. Schaap was walking through the dorm of the Packers at St. Norbert that training camp. As he passed by the room shared by Kramer and fullback Jim Taylor, he heard Kramer reciting poetry to Taylor.

Schaap found that situation somewhat unusual, so he stopped for a few seconds to listen to the poetry.

I had a chance to talk with Kramer this week about his great relationship with Schaap, which basically blossomed due to that encounter and he recalled the poetry he was reading to Taylor.

“I was reading some work by Robert Service,” Kramer said. “Things like Spell of the Yukon and Dangerous Dan McGrew.”

That episode stuck in the mind of Schaap and in 1966, he asked Kramer about doing a book together.

That book turned out to be Instant Replay. I wrote about how that iconic and wonderful book was put together back in 2016.

“Dick asked me if I wanted to write a book,” Kramer said. “I said, ‘What the hell do I know about writing a book?’ He says, ‘Well, you talk into a tape recorder and record your day, your activities, your observations, your stories, your team, your coach, things that are happening that might be interesting and then send me the tape and I’ll transcribe it and I’ll organize it into a book.’

“I then asked Dick, ‘Who gets final say?’ And he told me that I did. And I said, ‘Let’s talk.’

After they had put together a game plan, Kramer and Schaap met with the publisher in New York.

“We went to our first meeting with the publisher with our agent Sterling Lord,” Kramer said. “I don’t know if that was his real name, but it sure was memorable. So we get to the meeting and it’s a large boardroom table with around seven or eight folks there.

“I asked the publisher how many books did we have to sell to do good. And he says, ‘Jerry, if we sell 7,500 to 10,000 that would be good. Sports books just don’t sell, Historically they have never been a big seller. This is kind of a niche deal, so if we sell 10,000 books, we would do real well.’

“So in the end, I think we sold 440,000. That was pretty stunning that the head of a publishing company missed the mark that badly. But Dick and I traveled and promoted the book like crazy. There was no internet back then, so you would go to San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Dallas, Miami, Detroit or wherever you could get on a show to promote the book.”

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All that promotional work paid off, as did the book itself, which is widely considered a sports masterpiece, as it told the story of the historical 1967 season for the Packers.

Green Bay won it’s third straight NFL title that season with the legendary “Ice Bowl” win, as well as it’s second consecutive Super Bowl win. In the book, Kramer also gives an insightful glimpse of Lombardi, the team’s storied leader. The 1967 season turned out to be Lombardi’s last year as head coach of the Packers as well.

Kramer and Schaap were somewhat shocked by the success of the book.

“I was stunned by the reception,” Kramer said. “Just to see it on the best seller list. It started at 16 or somewhere like that. But even there that was pretty exciting. Then it got to No. 2. And I believe it stayed there for like 15 or 16 weeks.

“Dick told me, ‘Those SOBs, they won’t put a sports book No. 1.’ He thought it might be a literary bias or something. Finally, the book did make it to No. 1 for about four weeks.”

That success led to another book written by Kramer and Schaap called, Farewell to Football,  which was a story about Kramer’s last year in the NFL (1968), which was just a year after the magical 1967 season.

One of the main reasons Kramer retired was due to his differences with his offensive line coach.

“I was struggling with Ray Wietecha, my line coach” Kramer said. “I’m having a difficult time with him because I thought he was doing some things which were stupid. And that year, Lombardi was not head coach anymore, he was just general manager.

“For instance, we are getting ready to play the Bears, and Chicago has an odd-man line. They had a defensive tackle named Dick Evey, who went about 245 pounds. They also had a middle linebacker named [Dick] Butkus, who also went about 245 or 250.

“On an odd-man line, Evey, who would normally play on my outside shoulder, moves over and plays head up on the center, where normally Butkus would line up. But on an odd-man, Butkus lines up over me. So, normally if we want to run in the hole where I am, I would block Butkus. And the center would block Evey.

“But the fullback is also in that blocking assignment. So Wietecha wants Jimmy Grabowski, who was 220 pounds with a gimpy knee, to block Butkus one on one and he wants me to double-team with the center on Evey.

“So I go up to Ray and say, ‘Why don’t you let me have Butkus and let [Ken] Bowman and Grabo take care of Evey? It’s a much stronger play that way. And Ray goes, ‘I’m the coach. I’m the coach. We are going to do things my way.’ So I tell him that it’s stupid. And he yells, ‘I’m the coach!’

Vince and Jerry after Super Bowl II

“So, the next day I’m in the sauna before practice and so is Lombardi. He says, ‘Jerry, how are you running that 53?’ And I told him that Ray had me on Evey and he’s got Grabo on Butkus. Lombardi says, ‘Go talk to him.’ And I said, ‘Coach, I talked with him yesterday and got my ass chewed.’ So Coach goes, ‘Go talk to him again,’ and he pushes me on the shoulder.

“So I try to communicate with Ray and ask him about the play. I said, ‘Coach are you trying to set something up with this particular call?’ And Ray goes, ‘I’m the coach and that’s the play we are running!’ That was the end of the conversation.”

In addition to that situation, Kramer had issues with Wietecha about the spacing between the linemen on the offensive line. Spacing which had worked for Kramer and the offensive line for over a decade that Wietecha wanted to change.

The spacing changes Wietecha made did not work. By then, Kramer was about fed up.

“The whole situation was so demotivating, especially when it’s so hard to win,” Kramer said. “You can’t give things away. You can’t let the opponent know what you were going to do, whether it’s a drive block or if you are going to pull. You try to not give the defense a clue about anything. But we were telling people what we were going to do by the way we would line up.

“It just made the whole situation that much more difficult. It was just very defeating. It was hard to get your heart going and playing with conviction when we were doing something stupid. So I decided it was time for me to move on leave football.”

Besides writing another book with Schaap, Kramer also did color commentary for NFL games for CBS in 1969. But in that season, Kramer got two invites to come back and play in the NFL.

The first offer came from the Los Angeles Rams and their head coach George Allen.

“I was doing television work for CBS in 1969, and George Allen called me to see if I wanted to play for the Rams,” Kramer said. “Apparently they had lost two guards to injury. So I flew out to LA and had a chat with George. He told me that he would pay me whatever I made the year before on a proactive basis, as it was the middle of the season.

“So I agreed to the thing and I went back home, but the Packers wouldn’t release me. They didn’t want the Rams to have me because they had been to the playoffs and they thought I might tell them something about the team, which might be a detriment to the Packers. So the deal never happened.”

Readers of Instant Replay may recall something which Kramer mentioned in the book.  Kramer says that as a high school senior at Sand Point, Idaho, he wrote in his yearbook that his ambition was to play professional football for the Los Angeles Rams.

After being asked to play again by the Rams, Kramer received another offer.

“I got a call from the Minnesota Vikings,” Kramer said. “Bud Grant and I always got along.  I did some television stuff with him and I liked him a lot. Bud called and said, ‘Jerry, we would love to have you come to Minnesota and play for us.’ And I said, ‘Shoot, Bud. Hollywood would have been pretty exciting. Minnesota, not so exciting. I think I’ll just stay in the booth.’

Something else happened in 1969, as the second book (Farewell to Football) by Kramer and Schaap was published. Jeremy Schaap was born. Jeremy was named after Kramer, plus is also his godson.

Kramer and Schaap continued writing and had another classic book published as co-authors.

The book was Distant Replay, which was published in 1985, as Kramer reminisced with his teammates who had won Super Bowl I. Kramer traveled to many landscapes across the country to meet and talk with his former teammates whom he had played with almost 20 years before.

I personally have all of the books that Kramer and Schaap have co-written, plus I have a number of books written by just Schaap, which includes RFK, Green Bay Replay and Flashing Before My Eyes.

From my many discussions with Kramer over the years, I always knew that Schaap was very close to his heart. And when we talked earlier this week, he confirmed my suspicion.

“I consider Dick to be among a handful of close friends,” Kramer said. “I’ve had a lot of friends and acquaintances along the way, but there are only a few that I really felt close to. One was Art Preston, who recently passed on. Willie Davis is another. As is Claude Crabb. And Dick Schaap is the other.

“Dick was like family to me. When we would be working on books, he would tell me that we may not want to go there about this subject or that. And he was always right. I remember one time we were supposed to write a letter to one of the major publications at the time.

“He told me that he would mock it up and that I could correct it. The first one he did, I made four or five changes. The second one he did, I made two or three changes. The third one he did, I made one change. And the fourth one he did, I didn’t make any changes. He truly understood me and knew what I liked and didn’t like.

“He got to know me awfully well and I go to know him awfully well. The more I know him, the more I loved him as a human being. He was extremely bright, aware and thoughtful. He was just a great guy and we became really good friends. He guided me gently and intelligently along the trail.”

Speaking of writers, Kramer received a congratulatory note from Mike Lupica about being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this past February. In the note, Lupica said, “Schaap is smiling somewhere.”

How true that is. Back in 1997, when the Packers played the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI, Kramer was a senior nominee for the Hall of Fame. Just about everyone thought that No. 64 was a shoe-in for Canton.

Kramer recalled being there in New Orleans with 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 1997.

Jerry with David Baker

But it did happen for Kramer in 2018. And yes, there is no doubt that Schaap smiled broadly with the news. I’m sure Coach Lombardi did as well, along with former teammates and close friends like Fuzzy Thurston, Max McGee, Don Chandler, Henry Jordan, Ray Nitschke, Tommy Joe Crutcher, Lee Roy Caffey, Dan Currie and others.

But few knew Kramer better than Schaap. In 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.”

Kramer handled that omission into the Pro Football Hall of Fame with dignity and grace. And Schaap was there with Kramer in New Orleans lending support to his good friend.

Now 21 years later, Dick Schaap is in another place applauding the great achievement of getting to Canton by his good friend Jerry Kramer.