Green Bay Packers: The Very Promising Career of Nelson Toburen was Stopped Short Due to a Career-Ending Neck Injury

The Green Bay Packers of the 1960s under head coach Vince Lombardi always seemed to have a great set of linebackers on the field. Under the tutelage of defensive coordinator Phil Bengtson, the linebackers for the Packers were always good, no matter who they were. Just take a look…

  • Ray Nitschke was named to one Pro Bowl squad and was a two-time First-Team All-Pro. Also named to the NFL All-Decade Team for the 1960s. Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1978.
  • Dan Currie was named to one Pro Bowl squad and was a First-Team All-Pro once.
  • Bill Forester was named to four Pro Bowl squads and was a three-time First-Team All-Pro.
  • Dave Robinson was named to three Pro Bowl squads and was a First-Team All-Pro once. Also named to the NFL All-Decade Team for the 1960s. Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2013.
  • Lee Roy Caffey was named to one Pro Bowl squad and was a First-Team All-Pro once.

There was another linebacker who played for the Packers for just a brief period who had the potential to be as good, if not better, than any of the linebackers named above.

I’m talking about Nelson Toburen. The Packers selected Toburen in 14th round in the 1961 NFL draft out of the University of Wichita. The draft took place a month after super scout Jack Vainisi had passed away. In the ’61 draft, the Packers also selected Herb Adderley in Round 1, plus also selected Ron Kostelnik in the second round, Lee Folkins in the fifth round and Elijah Pitts in the 13th round.

Another rookie made the team in 1961 as well. I’m talking about defensive lineman Ben Davidson, who Lombardi had acquired from the New York Giants. The G-Men had selected Davidson in the fourth round of the ’61 NFL draft.

That’s six rookies who made the first team which won a NFL title for Lombardi in 1961.

I had a chance to talk with Toburen earlier this week and I asked him about his expectations regarding the NFL draft.

“Bob, I had no concept about playing pro football,” Toburen said. “Nobody contacted you prior to the draft like they do now. I was told by the coach that I had been drafted.”

Like a lot of players back in college football then, Toburen played both ways. He was both an offensive end and a defensive end. But Toburen knew what side of the ball he would be playing in the NFL.

“There was absolutely no question that I was going to play defense in my own mind and I’m sure in theirs too,” Toburen said. “That was my forte.”

In the 1961 season, the year the Packers became Titletown, Toburen played in all 14 games and was a special teams demon.

Before the 1962 season started, Toburen went face to face across the desk with Coach Lombardi (who was also general manager) to talk about his contract for 1962.

“You were just totally at Lombardi’s mercy,” Toburen said. “We had no power. What he said was it. The only time I ever negotiated with him was after my rookie season. I kept telling him that I wanted to make five figures. Which was $10,000. Coach just grinned and said I’m giving you a big increase, which was from $7,500 to $9,000.

“From a percentage-wise outlook, that was a nice raise. But finally he agreed that if I started or played so many minutes that I would get a bonus of $1,000 which would take me to $10,000.”

In the 1962 season, the 6’3″, 235-pound Toburen was a terror on special teams for the Packers again and finally got a chance to start in Week 10 of the season when Currie couldn’t play. It was an exciting time for Toburen and his family.

“My wife was with all the Packer wives who got all dressed up with their high heels and fancy clothes for that game,” Toburen said. “My dad took his first airplane flight in his lifetime from Denver to Green Bay for that game. Plus, dad was on the sidelines, as Vince made sure he got him a sideline pass for the game.”

But all of that excitement and happiness turned into a very scary moment for Toburen and his family in the game against the Baltimore Colts and quarterback Johnny Unitas.

The Packers were undefeated going into the game against the Colts and were fortunate to get a win in the first game (and last game) that Toburen ever started. The Packers won 17-13, even though the team only had 116 total yards. Special teams and defense were the reason the Packers won that day. Adderley returned a kickoff for 103 yards for a score, plus picked off a pass. Toburen also caused a Unitas fumble on what turned out to be the last play of his NFL career.

Toburen talked to me about that play.

“I tell people the story about my career that has been told multiple times was not about my playing football, but about my injury,” Toburen said. “I believe it was mid-4th quarter and it was a close game. The Colts were across the 50 and Unitas went back to pass and then started to run. I’m thinking to myself that we have to stop this guy.

“I set out to make Unitas fumble. I was in the flat and Nitschke was more in the center of the field when Unitas started running. Quarterbacks in those days didn’t slide and I got to Unitas well ahead of Nitschke and I hit him hard enough to cause him to fumble, which Nitschke recovered.

“But at that moment, I was done. I just dropped to the ground and my arms were on fire. I hurt like nothing I could ever explain. Obviously the brachial plexus area, the nerves that run up to your neck were being pinched. So the trainer came out and saw me and said, ‘Pinch nerve, get him up.’

“But about that time, Dr. James Nellen arrived. I was conscious all this time. And Nellen said, ‘No, no no. Don’t touch him.’ So Dr. Nellen asked me what was going on and he held my head in what was a traction position. And that relieved the pain in my arms somewhat. Back then, they just had the old Army stretcher in those days, the two sticks with canvass, so they put me on the stretcher.

“They might have given me some pain medication. I can’t remember how they got that helmet off of me. I don’t remember that stuff. Maybe I passed out. I just have a vague memory of Dr. Nellen holding my head all the way to the hospital. They finally got me in traction in that same position to relieve that pain. They spent two or three days trying to figure out what happened. I was told later that they were trying to get an X-ray, but they needed to get in from the side, but my shoulder bones were in the way.

“The injury was in the fifth and sixth cervical vertebrae of my neck. Dr. Nellen told me later that that the fifth fractured in half and the sixth moved completely out of position. The only reason that my spinal cord wasn’t cut was because the break came out at an angle. That saved my bacon. And Dr. Nellen did as well. I credited him for saving my mobility. I’m sure had I been lifted up after my injury, that my spinal cord would have been cut or severely injured.”

The tackling form by Toburen on the play is what basically caused the injury. When making a tackle, players are coached to keep their head up when hitting an opposing ballplayer. That did not happen when Toburen hit Unitas.

“The top of my head hit the hip of Unitas,” Toburen said. “It hit a the most solvent point of Unitas’ body. It was a bad hit, no question.. Bad position hit, anyway.”

At one point, Toburen was going to be sent to the Cleveland Clinic to have a procedure done for his neck fracture, as the doctor goes in from the throat to do a bone graft to fix the issue.

I had the same procedure done in 2007 when I fractured my neck in an auto accident. But fortunately for Toburen, he didn’t need the procedure.

“My system was such that it started to heal and calcify on it’s own,’ Toburen said. “Thank goodness they didn’t have to do that. All the repair is what is called a closed reduction. They didn’t have to cut on me at all.”

It wasn’t easy for Toburen as he was recovering from his injury.

“I was in a body cast for a few weeks,” Toburen said. “My head was push way up in the air and the cast went down to my hips.”

While he laid in the hospital recovering from his injury in a body cast, Toburen got a visit from Lombardi.

“Vince and Marie came to visit me at the hospital,” Toburen said. “Lombardi saw me in that cast and immediately chocked up and left the room.”

Still, Toburen planned to return to the Packers and play again in the NFL. That was until he heard from Dr. Nellen about six months after his injury in 1963 when he told him his playing career was over. That was devastating news for Toburen.

“Yes, up to that moment, I was optimistic that I was going to be coming back,” Toburen said. “That news just crushed me.”

Lombardi and the Packers paid Toburen his salary for the 1963 season, which they did not have to do.

Toburen stayed in Green Bay from the time of his injury in November of 1962 to May of 1964.

“It took me some time emotionally and physically to get back on my feet,” Toburen said. “It took me a while to get my emotional state back together. I was going to be a ballplayer and then I had to change course.”

After that, Toburen moved back to Topeka, Kansas where he went to law school and got a degree. Toburen then was invited to join a law firm in Pittsburg, Kansas where he practiced law for 20 years, mostly as a trial lawyer. Then Toburen was appointed to the bench to become a judge by the Governor of Kansas. Toburen then spent 15 years on the bench before he retired.

When I have talked to teammates (like Jerry Kramer) of Toburen who played with him with the Packers, they all have said Toburen was as talented as any linebacker on the team. There is no doubt that without having the career-ending injury, Toburen would have had a fabulous career in Green Bay at linebacker.

“If I hadn’t been hurt in that game, I would have been a starter for the rest of my time in Green Bay,” Toburen said. “There is no question in my mind. I had the position down. Both Forester and Currie were at the end of their careers.”

The Packers drafted Robinson in the first round of the 1963 NFL draft most likely due to the injury suffered by Toburen. The Packers then traded for Caffey in 1964, because the team was in need of additional help at outside linebacker.

“Yes, I have talked to Dave Robinson,” Toburen said. “And he told me that he probably wouldn’t have been drafted if I hadn’t been hurt.”

Toburen has some other memories of his time with the Packers.

“I also remember that everyone smoked cigarettes,” Toburen said. “The light from those old fashioned cameras had to get past that smoke. Everybody smoked it seemed. I remember Paul Hornung distributing Marlboros around the locker room.”

Toburen then reflected back on the beginning of his career in Green Bay.

“Although I never met Jack Vainisi, I read about about all the great players he helped draft for the Packers,” Toburen said. “He was quite a wizard at picking out good ballplayers. Not necessarily the best known players either. Like me for instance. He found players that weren’t All-Americans.”

A great example of that is Bart Starr, who was selected in the 17th round of the 1956 NFL draft after not playing much quarterback at all his senior year at Alabama. All told, Vainisi helped the Packers select eight players in the 1950s who later were inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The bottom line is that Toburen’s time in Green Bay is something he will never forget.

“I tell people that it was the most exciting time of my life,” Toburen said. “I don’t think I ever had enjoyed anything more than that period of my life. You just can’t compare it to anything else. I just loved it!”

Green Bay Packers: Five Teammates Pay Tribute to Herb Adderley

Pro Football Hall of Fame cornerback Herb Adderley passed away on October 30. Adderley’s death was yet another loss over the past two years that has seen a number of players who played with the Green Bay Packers under head coach under Vince Lombardi pass on.

Hall of Famer Jim Taylor passed away on October 13, 2018. Bob Skoronski died 12 days later.

In 2019, the Packers saw two Hall of Fame players who were in the same 1956 draft class pass away. Forrest Gregg passed away in April and Bart Starr passed on in May.

Later in November of 2019, Zeke Bratkowski, who was the capable backup to Starr at quarterback and Bart’s best friend, also passed away.

2020 has been a tough year for the Lombardi Packers. It started on New Year’s Day when Doug Hart passed on. Less than a month later, Allen Brown also passed away. A week later, Hall of Famer Willie Wood died.

In April, the captain of those great defenses in the Lombardi era, Hall of Famer Willie Davis, passed away.

And just recently, Adderley passed on.

That’s nine players in just a little over two years. And six of those players have busts in Canton, which obviously includes Adderley.

In his career, the former Michigan State Spartan star had 48 picks for 1,046 yards and seven touchdowns. 39 of those interceptions came when he was a member of the Packers. All of his touchdowns also came while he played in Green Bay.

Adderley was also a very good kickoff returner with the Packers, as he had two return touchdowns.

No. 26 finished his career in Dallas with the Cowboys in 1970, 1971 and 1972.

Adderley was part of six teams which won NFL titles and three teams which won the Super Bowl.

In 1980, Adderley was rewarded with a bust in Canton.

I talked to five of Herb’s teammates on the Packers to get their thoughts and insights about No. 26.

Boyd Dowler remembers when Adderley was drafted out of Michigan State in the first round in 1961 as a halfback and practiced on offense with the flankers most of his rookie year.

“When Herb was drafted, Coach Lombardi thought of him as a flanker,” Dowler said. “I was a starter at that position at the time and Vince thought of Herb as a wide receiver then and that’s where he played most of his rookie year.”

An injury to cornerback Hank Gremminger late in the ’61 season caused Lombardi and defensive coordinator Phil Bengtson to rethink where to play Adderley. No. 26 started the last game of the year at cornerback.

“It was in Los Angeles,” Dowler said. “I remember that very well. At one cornerback, we had Jesse Whittenton, who was All-Pro that year and went to the Pro Bowl and on the other side we had Hank Gremminger. As I recall, Gremminger must have been hurt and after Herb played that game against the Rams at corner, he came back the next year and was put at cornerback permanently.”

The Packers beat the Rams that day 24-17 and two weeks later would win their first NFL championship under Lombardi when the Packers shut out the New York Giants 37-0 at new City Stadium (now Lambeau Field).

Even when he was practicing as a flanker as a rookie, Dowler sensed that Adderley wanted to become a defensive back.

“I think Herb, all along, wanted to be a defensive player,” Dowler said. “He definitely had the temperament, the aggressive nature and the attitude of a defensive back.”

When Dowler practiced against Adderley, he knew he would be going up against great competition.

“I remember one day at training camp coming back to the huddle not having not caught the ball because Herb had batted it down,” Dowler said. “I remember saying that Herb was tough to beat. And Vince who was right there near our huddle nodded his head and said, ‘I know.’

Lombardi definitely knew.

When I talked to Jerry Kramer, he mentioned a story that he had heard from Herb about some glowing words that Lombardi told Adderley after a game.

“Herb had heard about the time Coach Lombardi had cussed me out in practice one day and then later in the locker room told me that I could be the best guard in football,” Kramer said. “Those words from Vince changed my career and made me the player I became. The same thing happened to Herb.

“Herb told me about the time when he came off the field after a game early in his career, Coach Lombardi came up to him on the field and said, ‘Herbie, you have played the finest game I have ever seen a cornerback play. Take that with you and keep ahold of it.’

“Herbie told me that for the rest of his career, he tried to play the best game a cornerback could ever play.”

Speaking of Lombardi, there was another time when a number of his players were playing golf at the Lombardi Classic to raise money for cancer research after their coach died of colon cancer in 1970.

“A bunch of us were at a bar on Wisconsin Avenue past Highway 100 after playing in the Lombardi Classic,” Kramer said. “Paul [Hornung], Max [McGee], Ron [Kramer] and Fuzzy [Thurston] were there with me.

“I looked across the bar and it was kind of dark in the bar and I saw an African American man over there, but I couldn’t clearly see who it was. I asked Fuzzy if that was Herb, and Fuzzy said no, because Herb would be with us. I told Fuzzy he was right.

“About 10 or 15 minutes later, I get a tap on my shoulder. And I turn around and it’s Herb. And he’s got his arms open. So I stood up and wrapped my arms around him and he did the same to me. And Herb says to me, ‘It’s still there JK. It’s still there.’ I told Herbie that it would always be there. It would be there forever.”

Dave Robinson played on the left side of the defense of the Packers. In front of him was Davis at left defensive end. Behind him at left cornerback was Adderley. Robinson considered Adderley the very best at his position.

“Herb Adderley was the best. You talk about shutdown cornerbacks, that’s what Herb was,” Robinson said. “He just shut people down. Herb is very proud of the fact that in the entire year of 1965, from the opening gun to the end of the season, not one receiver beat Herb for a touchdown.

“You have to remember that most quarterbacks in the NFL were righthanded, which means the those teams would load up the right side of the offense. So that meant Herb would be facing the best receiver on that team. But no receiver in that 14-game season of 1965 beat Herb for a touchdown.”

Robinson played with a lot of talented players in his 10-year career in Green Bay with the Packers and also in the two years he spent with the Washington Redskins. Robinson considers Adderley the best he ever played with.

“Herb was the most complete football player I ever played with,” Robinson said. “I played with a lot of cornerbacks, in Pro Bowls and championship games. Herb was head and shoulders above everyone else. The only one who came close to Herb was “Night Train” Lane.

“Both of them could cover very well. Both of them played the run very well. Both of them could knock you out if you were a running back. And they would. I saw Herb lay some wood on some people that was amazing. He played like a linebacker the way he could hit.”

Robinson also recalls the Herb was a leader for the Packers.

“Herb was more than just a cornerback, he was a team man,” Robinson said. “He always had a friendly thing to say and he always had a smile on his face. He would also say he was going to do something in the game and then challenge you to do something. I knew I better do what he asked me to do.”

Adderley also had a way to fire his teammates up.

“Herb was not a rah-rah guy. He would say, ‘I’m going to pick one today. Maybe two.’ Herb would lift up that whole defense, including the secondary. Willie Wood ran the secondary, but Herb was the example. Herb was the guy!”

Robinson also believes that Adderley’s presence in Dallas with the Cowboys is what finally brought them a win Super Bowl VI.

“When Herb arrived in Dallas, they couldn’t win the big one,” Robinson said. “Mel Renfro said he knew that Dallas would never win a championship until Herb got there. Herb taught them to win.”

In 1966, the Packers brought in a rookie running back by the name of Donny Anderson. Like Adderley was in 1961, Anderson was the No. 1 pick of the Packers in 1965 as a future pick.

For much of his rookie season, Anderson would return kickoffs and punts. When he returned kickoffs, he teamed with Adderley to return the kicks.

“When I was a rookie, I was put back there with Herb on kickoffs,” Anderson said. “Herb would tell me that between the goal posts if we were standing on the goal line, that anything that was to the middle or the right would be his and anything to the middle and the left would be mine.

“I said okay. I had returned kicks at Texas Tech. I recall a kickoff that was right to Herb’s goal post and he said, ‘Donny, you got it. You got it.’ That was kind of the way we started off. It wasn’t quite what he explained to me, but he later told me that it was easier to block than to return.

“You find out later on kickoffs that it’s pretty much a suicide mission, because if somebody misses one block you get clobbered pretty well. Then when Travis [Williams] came on in ’67, Herb was lucky he got off the kickoff team and Travis set all sorts of records.”

Anderson knew right away what a outstanding teammate and player Adderley was when he became a Packer in 1966.

“I always though Herb was a perfect gentleman,’ Anderson said. “He was classy and I recall that he dressed extremely well. And he played the position like it was supposed to be played. He was a running back at Michigan State and then tried out at wide receiver for a while, but when he became a cornerback, I can’t see how one could accomplish more than Herb did in his career.”

I also talked to Anderson about the many losses the the Packers family has gone through over the past two years losing nine of his teammates.

“It’s very close to all of us,” Anderson said. “Jerry and Boyd were there at the beginning. I was there six years and played most of the time in five of those years. You had a kindness and togetherness there that will never be replaced. You talked together. You practiced together. You played together.

“Coach Lombardi formed the personality of the team. We knew how great we were. That’s something in your lifetime on earth, I don’t know of anything other than your children, grandchildren and my family that can even touch that. So it’s sad. It’s very sad,”

Don Horn was able to practice against Adderley on a number of occasions, especially in 1969, when Horn started five games and won four of them.

“Herb had an uncanny knack for baiting people,” Horn said. “He would bait the quarterback and receiver. Herb did his homework and he knew how the pattern would develop and what the receiver’s tendencies were. He would act like he would play soft and then step right up and pick the ball off.”

Like Anderson, Horn knew right away what type of person Adderley was when No. 13 became a Packer in 1967.

“Herb was just a quiet leader,” Horn said. “I practiced against him a lot, especially in ’69 when Bart was hurt and I started a few games. From my perspective, I think Herb raised the bar for others in the secondary to play at a higher level. Especially Bob Jeter and Tom Brown. Herb and Willie [Wood] sort of set the bar.”

Horn was also able to reconnect with Adderley before Herb passed on.

“Herb and I stayed in touch the past few months,” Horn said. “Herb and I sort of had a special relationship. I don’t know why, but he helped me a lot. We stayed good friends over the years. About five or six months ago I reached out to him because I hadn’t heard from him in a while.

“We started some correspondence and it was really nice. The last time I was in touch with Herb was about six weeks ago. The news of his passing kind of caught me off guard.”

You can tell by the comments from Dowler, Kramer, Robinson, Anderson and Horn what a special person and player Adderley was.

Rest in peace, Herb. May God bless you and your family, as well as your close friends and former teammates.

Jerry Kramer and Dave Robinson Talk About the Legacy of Willie Davis

Willie and Jerry

When Willie Davis passed away on April 15, Jerry Kramer lost one of his best friends. They had a close relationship which spanned close to 60 years. A number of the great memories that the two of them had will be shared in this story.

Thanks to the heartwarming and also heartbreaking movie Brian’s Song, people became aware that Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo were the first black and white NFL players to room together. But what a lot of people don’t realize is that Willie and Jerry were the second black and white roommates in the NFL. That happened in 1968.

That strong friendship happened due to just a brief comment that Davis made to Kramer late in the 1962 season.

“We were in Los Angeles at the practice facility,” Kramer said. “We were getting to play the Rams. Back then, we always played the last two games of the season in Los Angeles and San Francisco. We had finished practice and I was getting ready to take a shower.

“So I had a towel around my waist and I was heading to the shower. Anyway, I stopped to chat with one of the guys and Willie was in that area.  So I’m talking to the guy and Willie came by and said, ‘J, you had a hell of a season and I think you are going to make the All-Pro team.’ I thanked him, as it was a nice compliment. It was a big moment for me, because I had been named All-Pro once before, but you were never certain you might make it a second time.

“Willie then walked on and headed into the shower. After I finished my conversation, I went into the shower. I kept thinking to myself that was a nice thing for Willie to say to me. But I thought beyond that and I remembered that Willie had a hell of a year as well. He should have been All-Pro too. So I told him that. Willie had never made All-Pro up to that point and he was very pleased to have me say that to him. He thanked me for the compliment.

“Both of our comments were genuine too. When didn’t judge each other because of our color. We judged each other based on our contribution to the team. It was just a case of two guys playing on the same team who were making a difference and recognizing that fact.”

When the 1962 season was over, not only did the Packers win their second straight NFL title in a game in which Kramer received a game ball because of his play, but also Kramer and Davis were indeed named Associated Press first-team All-Pro along with eight of their teammates on the Packers.

In 1963, the Packers first-round draft choice was Dave Robinson out of Penn State. In his first two years in the NFL, Robinson saw spot duty at right outside linebacker and started seven game there. But in 1965, Robinson was moved over to left outside linebacker, where he would play behind Davis at left end.

Robinson commented about the left side of the Green Bay defense then.

“I want to tell you something. I felt that we had the strongest left side defense in the history of the NFL,” Robinson said. “Our leader was Willie Davis! Willie was the defensive end and I was behind him at linebacker. Behind me was Herb Adderley at cornerback. Sometimes middle linebacker Ray Nitschke would shade to the left, as did safety Willie Wood.

“That means that when we lined up in that formation, we had five players on the left side of the defense who were future Hall of Famers. Willie Wood was the one who kept the entire defense together, but it was Willie Davis who kept our left side strong. Nobody could run the same play on us twice successfully. ”

Robinson remembered a time when that happened against the Cleveland Browns.

“I remember very distinctly that we were playing Cleveland,” Robinson said. “Willie always had big games against Cleveland because they were the ones who traded him. On this one play, the tight end tried to hook me, while the tackled pulled to the outside. Willie went with the pulling tackle naturally and what happened was the Browns then brought the off guard behind him who blocked Willie in the back. It wasn’t a clip. You could do that then on a play tackle-to-tackle.

“So Willie got knocked down and Leroy Kelly gained like seven or eight yards. Willie was mad and he yelled to the Browns, “You can take that play and throw it in the shit can because it won’t work no more.’ So in the huddle, Willie tells me if they run that play again, that I have to take the tackle and the tight end, because he was going to close on that guard. I said okay. I’m thinking to myself, how can I handle two men? But you didn’t argue with the “Doctor” when he told you something.

“Sure enough, three or four plays later, they called the same play again. So Willie took one step like he was going to chase the tackle and then stopped and waited for the guard. He put the guard on the ground with a forearm and then picked up Leroy Kelly and just slammed him to the ground. And Willie says to Leroy while he was stuttering a bit, ‘I…I…I told you not to run that play no more!’

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In the 1965 NFL title game at Lambeau Field against those same Browns…Davis, Robinson, Nitschke and company held the great Jim Brown to just 50 yards rushing in a game which turned out be his last ever in the NFL.

Meanwhile, the running attack of Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor combined for 201 yards and a score behind the blocking of Kramer, Fuzzy Thurston and company, as the Packers won 23-12.

Another play which involved Davis and Robinson occurred when the Packers were playing the Baltimore Colts at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore late in the 1966 season.

A win would clinch the Western Conference title for the Packers, while a win by the Colts would give them a slight chance to still win the title. Quarterback Bart Starr started the game at quarterback for the Packers, but after an injury, was replaced by the best backup quarterback in the NFL at that time, Zeke Bratkowski.

Bratkowski led the Packers to a touchdown drive in the 4th quarter which gave the Packers a 14-10 lead. But quarterback Johnny Unitas had the Colts driving late in the game and a touchdown would win the game for Baltimore.

Robinson remembered that moment well.

“Yes, Johnny had them on the move,” Robinson said. “I saw Unitas running with the ball and he looked at me and I looked at him and he tried to give a little rooster move, the old head and shoulders fake. When he did that, he held the ball away from his body a bit and I saw big Willie’s hand come out and hit right on the ball and it came out and hit the ground.

“It popped up and I picked it up. I knew all I had to do is hold on to the ball and we would win the game.  I ran about five yards or so and a bunch of Colts were trying to pry the ball out of my hands before I finally went down.”

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The Packers won their second straight NFL title in 1966, plus won Super Bowl I, when Davis had two sacks in the game, as Green Bay defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10.

In 1967, which was Vince Lombardi’s last year as head coach of the Packers, the Packers won their third straight NFL title by beating the Dallas Cowboys in the “Ice Bowl” game, plus also won their second straight Super Bowl, as they defeated the Oakland Raiders 33-14 in Super Bowl II. Davis had three sacks in that game, which gave him five sacks in two Super Bowl games.

That storybook 1967 season was chronicled by Jerry in the classic book Instant Replay, which was edited by the late, great Dick Schaap.

Kramer, Davis and Robinson had put together quite a legacy for themselves up to that point going into the 1968 season.

Kramer had been named AP first-team All-Pro five times and he been on three Pro Bowl teams. Davis had been named AP first-team All-Pro five times himself, plus had been on five Pro Bowl teams. Robinson, who got his first chance to start full-time in 1965, had become part of the best group of linebackers in the NFL, along with Nitschke and Lee Roy Caffey. Robinson was named AP first-team All-Pro in 1967 and had been on the Pro Bowl teams in both 1966 and 1967.

Heading into training camp in 1968, Kramer knew he would be without his old roommate, Don Chandler, as No. 34 had retired.

“Willie and I knew that we were both in the latter portion of our careers at that point, Kramer said. “So we would talk about what happens after retirement. I asked Willie what his plans were, as he had been doing a lot of studying, because he had gotten his MBA at the University of Chicago. So we would talk about the radio business, communications and restaurant franchises.

“I mentioned to him that there was a new steak house in town and that it was a franchise and it looked pretty hot. I said that we ought to go look at it. Willie agreed to do so. I was thrilled. So we did that after practice. When we were done and heading back to the dorm, we were flapping our gums about the possibilities.

“My room was fairly close to the door and so we walked down to my room while we were still chatting. We were continuing that conversation and at some point Willie said that he better get back to his room. And I said to him why don’t you room with me or something like that. I told him that my roomy wasn’t coming back. Willie looked at me like he was considering it. He thought about it for a minute and he said, ‘Okay. Let me get my stuff.’ So that was how we became roommates. It was just casual. It wasn’t a big deal. We had a lot in common and it just made a lot of sense.”

Robinson remembered when Kramer and Davis became roommates too.

“it was a monumental moment for the team when Jerry and Willie became roommates,” Robinson said. “They were the first interracial couple so to speak in our team’s history. But you know what, the way they did it, it wasn’t a big issue. It was just two guys rooming together that got along fine.

“We never thought of them as black and white roommates. They were just two guys who get along. They were a great blend. Color never came up. It wasn’t a big issue. It could have been with somebody else, but not with Jerry and Willie.

“In fact on our team, color was never an issue. Coach Lombardi saw something in Willie. Coach wanted Willie to be the liaison between himself and the rest of the club. Primarily the black ballplayers. If anything did come up, regarding any issues for the players, trainers, equipment guys, what have you, we would go to Willie and say that this is wrong.

“After that, Willie would go to Vince and the problem was fixed quickly. And if Vince saw a problem with one of us, he would go to Willie. And Willie would call the player into his room and that matter would be settled quickly as well.”

Kramer concurred with with Robinson said.

“Willie had the respect of the players,” Kramer told me. “Not just the players of color, but all the players.

“When there was a problem when black players were having trouble getting decent housing accommodations at one time, Willie would talk to coach Lombardi about it, and then coach would chew some ass and straighten it out.”

Davis also had a great sense of humor. He told his teammates that his nickname was Dr. Feelgood. Why? Because he made women feel so good.

“Willie was always chatting with the guys,” Kramer said. “He would always get the fellas cracking up with his jokes and humor.”

Kramer retired after the 1968 season and his last game was against the Chicago Bears at Wrigley Field, while Davis retired after the 1969 season and his last game was against the St. Louis Cardinals at Lambeau Field. The common denominator in each one of those games was the performance of quarterback Don Horn.

In Jerry’s last game in 1968, when Horn came into the game for an injured Zeke Bratkowski, Kramer saw Horn and yelled, “What the hell are you in here for? Where’s Zeke?”

But Horn soon had Kramer and the other players on the Green Bay offense at ease, as No. 13 threw for 187 yards, plus had two touchdown passes without throwing a pick, as the Packers won 28-27.

In Davis’ last game in 1969, one in which Davis spoke to the crowd at Lambeau Field, Horn had a masterful performance, as he threw for 410 yards and also threw five touchdown passes, as the Packers beat the Cardinals 45-28.

Late in the game on the sideline, Davis came up to Horn laughing and said, “You stole my thunder!”

Robinson played with the Packers through the 1972 season and then was traded to the Washington Redskins where he spent the last two years of his NFL career playing under head coach George Allen.

It was in Washington when Robinson played with another Hall of Fame defensive end, Deacon Jones.

“I played behind Willie Davis for five years,” Robinson said. “And in Washington, at the end of his career, I played behind Deacon Jones. After playing with Deacon, I said to myself that he could not carry Willie’s jock strap. Now I’m not trying to say Deacon was a lousy football player, he was a great football player, but he was different from Willie.

“Deacon was the type of player who could execute. Willie was the type of player who could improvise and execute. That was a big difference. You sometimes could fool Deacon. Willie on the other hand, could sense what was coming. Both Deacon and Willie were great players, but Willie could improvise. He could analyze, improvise and then execute.”

After each of them retired, both Kramer and Davis became very close friends and were often in each other’s company.

“I was always comfortable with Willie,” Kramer said. “It didn’t matter where the hell we were. I could take him anywhere and he could take me anywhere. We were just comfortable with one another.”

Jerry and Willie by Dan

One of those times occurred in 1969. But before that happened, Kramer was invited to the inaugural ball for President Richard Nixon, who had just been elected in November of 1968. Jerry was there with some friends, including former NFL player Claude Crabb, attorney John Curtin and Jay Fiondella, the owner of the famous restaurant in Santa Monica, California called Chez Jay.

Jerry’s new book Instant Replay was doing very well and was on the bestseller’s list and was No. 2 at the time. There were some photographers there and a number of people wanted to be photographed with Kramer.

“So I’m trying to be as pleasant as possible and accommodating,” Kramer said. “One of the photos was with an African-American lady who was a beauty queen. She was just gorgeous. Plus she was very nice.

“So while this is going on, a photographer from Jet Magazine also took a few photos. Jay, who was standing next to the the photographer from Jet Magazine, decided to add a little spice to the evening. He told the photographer that the black lady I had just taken a picture with was my fiancée. And sure enough, the guy publishes the photos in Jet the next week.

“At the time, I was going through a divorce. So my wife was pissed, my girlfriend was pissed and I was pissed when this came out. I called a lawyer to see what we could do and the guy told me to leave it alone. That the story would go away. I was still pissed, as was the lady in the photo, but the story did go away eventually.

“But about three weeks later, I was going to be speaking at the Milwaukee Athletic Club as the Man of the Year, probably due to the book. There were going to have a dinner for me and the room held around 400 to 500 people. It had a stage and everything. Like a movie theater. So I get there early to check things out like the microphone and the setting in the room. I was there about 15 minutes doing that when Willie comes in.

“So Willie comes in the door which is quite a distance from where I was at. Willie starts laughing. He was laughing so hard he could hardly talk. He is just laughing his ass off. Finally he points at me and me and says, ‘Don’t ever let the white man say I can’t communicate. I room with the guy for a year and he’s ready to cross the road on me!’ Willie had obviously seen the photos in Jet and he was just jerking my chain.”

Yes, since they started rooming together in 1968 moving forward to when Willie passed, Jerry and Willie were very close. How close? Jerry told me that Willie was among his five closest friends in the world.

Another memory that Kramer will never forget was when he and Willie were on a fishing trip in Idaho in the Hell’s Canyon region.

“Yes, we were probably a couple hours from Boise,” Kramer said. “We went up over the mountain there over to a guide’s arrangement there with rooms, boats, fishing equipment and things. We stayed with him a couple of days and did a lot of fishing.

“One day we went about 15 miles upstream. The area was wild ass country because the river was only able to accessed by jetboat. We did a lot of lot of laughing and giggling, as we were doing something that Willie had never done. So we were fishing and Willie catches a carp. Of course they aren’t edible and they are basically a garbage fish.

“So Willie reels it in and the guide looks at it and says, ‘I’ll take care of that son of a bitch!’ He then reaches for his knife which had about an eight or nine inch blade on it and he just slits the fish from stem to stern and throws him in the water. Willie’s eyes became huge and he says, ‘J, what did that man do to that fish? What is that fish guilty of?’

“I know I was surprised, so I know Willie was. So we catch a couple more fish. Then Willie catches another carp and had it almost in the boat, but it’s hanging off his pole. The guide says once again, ‘I’ll take care of that son of a bitch!’ He reaches in a compartment in his boat and he has a 12-gauge there. In one motion he just blows the fish to hell and back with the shotgun. The empty hook and the sinker on Willie’s pole are just hanging there and Willie is just looking down at the water.

“Then Willie looks at the shotgun. Then he looks back at the water where the fish has been vaporized. Then he looks back at the gun. But we just had a great time out there and we came back to the cottage with our fish haul and Willie started cooking them. It was just a great time with a great friend!”

Resized_21

When Jerry would get together with Willie and his wife Carol in California, Jerry always knew he had a great setting during his visit.

“I had the Kramer suite at the Davis home in Marina del Ray,” Kramer said. “It was the big bedroom upstairs looking out at the ocean.”

Besides being teammates, plus being together on various All-Pro teams and Pro Bowl squads, Davis, Kramer and Robinson were all on the Pro Football Hall of Fame All-Decade Team of the 1960s. The three of them were joined on that team by teammates Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Jim Taylor, Boyd Dowler, Forrest Gregg, Jim Ringo, Ray Nitschke, Herb Adderley, Willie Wood and Don Chandler.

Everyone of those players I just mentioned have busts in Canton. All except for Dowler and Chandler.

Speaking of Canton, Kramer and Robinson were good luck charms to each other when they were each inducted in the Hall of Fame, a place where Davis received a bust in 1981.

“Yes, the night before I was inducted in 2013 in New Orleans, Jerry joined me for dinner and we had a couple of bottles of wine,” Robinson said. “We did the same thing in Minneapolis in 2018 the night before he was inducted.

“The weird part about being in New Orleans, is that was where Jerry didn’t get in as a senior in ’97. I kept thinking, I hope this isn’t déjà vu. I was a bit nervous. But Jerry settled me down. Jerry told me that our dinner would be good luck for me and it was. So when he came up in 2018 in Minneapolis, my son and I went to dinner with Jerry and some people at Ruth’s Chris and had a great steak dinner. Plus we had our wine, too! I was so happy when Jerry got in. Almost as happy when I went in!”

The legacy that Davis, Kramer, Robinson and so many of their Green Bay teammates have created all stems from the guidance of Coach Lombardi. I have talked with many of the players from those championship teams in Green Bay under Lombardi and all have shown exceptional class and humility.

I talk to Kramer more than anyone and it’s a relationship I truly cherish. I first got to meet Robinson at Jerry’s party in Canton before the induction ceremony and when we talked again recently, it was like we were old buddies. I was only able to chat with Willie once and that was when he was on the phone with his wife Carol talking to me, but what an honor that was.

Getting back to Vince Lombardi now. Obviously, he was a great coach and a great teacher. But he was more than that. He was also a great man. A man who molded great football players to be sure, but more importantly than that, he molded great people.

Davis, Kramer and Robinson are a testament to that!

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

Vince Lombardi with coaching cap on.

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

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

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

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

Here are some of the notable ones:

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

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

Boyd Dowler scores TD in Ice Bowl

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

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

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

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

Lee Roy Caffey in the Ice Bowl

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

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

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

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

Donny Anderson in the Ice Bowl

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

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

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

NFL 100 All-Time Team(1)

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

“What the hell’s going on out here?”

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

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

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

That feat has never been duplicated before or since.

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

Forrest Gregg vs. Deacon Jones

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

To me, that’s a BIG crock!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I could go on and on.

There is halfback Paul Horning.

There is fullback Jim Taylor.

There is center Jim Ringo.

There is defensive end Willie Davis.

There is defensive tackle Henry Jordan.

There is linebacker Dave Robinson.

There is safety Willie Wood.

There is safety Bobby Dillon.

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

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

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

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

Bart's QB sneak behind Jerry

Photo by John Biever

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ray bloody

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adderley also played on six teams which won NFL titles.

Herb vs. the Colts

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

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

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

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

Green Bay Packers: Phil Bengtson, the Forgotten Man

Phil Bengtson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phil with Vince and others

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phil and Vince

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ron Kramer

Now that Jerry Kramer (first team) of the Green Bay Packers was finally rightfully inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame after over four decades of waiting, that means that there are just two players who were on the NFL 50th anniversary team who do not have busts in Canton.

Those players are Boyd Dowler (second team) and Ron Kramer (third team).

I wrote about why Dowler deserves to be considered to have a place among the best of the best in pro football about a month ago. Today I am going to state the case for Kramer.

But before I do that, I want you to see the words that Rick Gosselin, who is on the Seniors Selection Committee for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, said about both Dowler and Kramer in a podcast on the Talk of Fame Sports Network shortly 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.”

Both Jerry Kramer and Dowler were on the NFL’s All-Decade team of the 1960s, as well as being on the 50th anniversary team. And as Gosselin stated in his comments above, Ron Kramer would have been on the All-Decade team of the 1960s if the team would have had more than one tight end.

That in itself makes a compelling case why both Dowler and Ron Kramer deserve to be in Canton.

Besides Jerry Kramer, Dowler and Ron Kramer, there were also a few of their teammates on the 50th anniversary team. They were Ray Nitschke (first team), Forrest Gregg (second team) and Herb Adderley (third team).

Nitschke, Gregg and Adderley were also all on the NFL’s All-Decade team of the 1960s. Plus, like Jerry Kramer, all three have busts in Canton.

The thing that voters need to realize is that the NFL was a different game back in the 1950s and 1960s. It was a much more violent game and the running game was still the main staple of most offenses in the NFL.

Originally, when the tight end position morphed into play in the NFL, it was mainly a position that helped out the running game by blocking. Catching the ball was almost an afterthought.

In fact, on the NFL’s All-Decade team of the 1950s, there isn’t even a tight end listed.

That was the state of the NFL when Ron Kramer was drafted in the first round by the Packers in 1957, thanks to the great scouting work done by Jack Vainisi.

Also selected in that draft was Paul Hornung, who was the first overall selection that year by the Packers, as teams were awarded bonus picks (the No. 1 overall selection) from 1947 through 1958.  Once a team was awarded a bonus pick, they were eliminated from further draws.

Ron Kramer didn’t win the Heisman Trophy like Hornung did in 1956, but he he did finish in the top 10 in Heisman voting, both in 1955 (eighth) and 1956 (sixth), when he was a consensus All-American at Michigan.

Kramer earned nine letters at Michigan, as he was also a talented basketball player who averaged 17 points a game and almost nine rebounds a game, as well being an excellent track athlete.

Kramer was so good at Michigan, that his No. 87 was retired after his senior year. Plus, Kramer was also inducted into the University of Michigan Athletic Hall of Honor, as well as the College Football Hall of Fame.

In one of our many conversations, Jerry Kramer talked about the tight end from Michigan who shared his last name.

“Ron was a 260-pound runaway truck,” Kramer said. “He was an outstanding athlete at Michigan. He high-jumped 6’4”. He threw the shot put around 60 feet. Ron was also very good in basketball, was the captain of the team and at one point was the all-time leading scorer in team history at Michigan.

“He was an All-American in football for two years running. Overall, Ron won nine letters in sports at Michigan, three each in football, basketball and track.”

Kramer had a nice rookie year in 1957 under then head coach Lisle Blackbourn, as he was second on the team in receptions to Billy Howton, as No. 88 had 28 receptions.

Kramer missed the 1958 season due to military service in the Air Force, which was probably for the best, as the Packers had their worst season ever that year finishing 1-10-1 under Scooter McLean, who took over for Blackbourn that season.

Kramer was back in 1959 with the Packers and also their new head coach and general manager Vince Lombardi.

In 1959 and 1960, Kramer did not start a lot of games, as Gary Knafelc was the starter at tight end most of the time. Because of his athleticism, Kramer played in every game in both 1959 and 1960 (mostly on special teams), but only started four games at tight end.

Ron Kramer and Vince Lombardi in 1961 NFL title game.

That all changed in 1961. Lombardi recognized that he had an immense talent in Kramer. Not only a receiver, but as a blocker. In fact, the power sweep was the signature play of the Packers under Lombardi, and Kramer was a key attribute on the success of that play due to his great blocking.

From 1961 through 1964, Kramer became the first of the great tight ends to ever grace the NFL. Kramer led the way for players like John Mackey and Mike Ditka, who were also on the NFL 50th anniversary team, plus also have busts in Canton.

I talked to Dowler recently and he talked about Kramer, who was his roommate in Green Bay for five years.

“You should talk to somebody who can talk about the tight end position and tell you who he thinks the best at that position was,” Dowler said. “Give Mike Ditka a call. Ditka has said, and he and Ron were pretty close friends, that the best of the bunch was Ron.”

In 1961, Kramer had 35 receptions for 559 yards (16 yards per catch) and four touchdowns.

In the 1961 NFL title game against the New York Giants at City Stadium (now Lambeau Field), No. 88 caught four passes for 80 yards (20 yards per catch) and two touchdowns, as the Packers won 37-0.

That was the year Titletown was born.

In 1962, Kramer caught 37 passes for 555 yards (15 yards per catch) and seven touchdowns. He later caught two passes in the 1962 NFL title game at Yankee Stadium, as the Packers won 16-7, as the other Kramer (Jerry) was the star of the game.

In 1963, Kramer caught 32 passes for 537 yards (16.8 yards per catch) and four touchdowns. And in 1964, Kramer caught 34 passes for 551 yards (16.2 yards per catch).

Ron Kramer in 1961 NFL title game

As you can see by the yards per reception average, Kramer made a lot of big plays down the seam, as quarterback Bart Starr scanned the field. And besides being a big receiving threat, he was also considered the best blocking tight end in football.

While he was in Green Bay, Kramer was named first-team All-Pro by AP in 1962, plus was named second-team All-Pro by various media sources like AP, UPI, NEA (Newspaper Enterprise Association) and the New York Daily News six times in 1962 and 1963.

Kramer was also named to the Pro Bowl in 1962.

Kramer played out his option in the 1964 season, which allowed him to sign with another NFL team. Kramer wanted to go back to Michigan to be with his family, so he signed with the Detroit Lions.

Back then, if a player played out his option like Kramer did, the team he played for would get a first-round draft pick. The Packers did receive one from the Lions and used that pick on fullback Jim Grabowski in the 1966 NFL draft.

The player that was probably the closest to Kramer was Hornung, who entered the NFL and Green Bay with No. 88. Hornung has as much fun as anyone in the NFL did off the field when he played. Kramer was with No. 5 on a number of those occasions.

Jerry Kramer recounted that with me.

“Ron was also quite the character off the field,” Kramer said. “He and Paul Hornung were very close. Ron was a unique human being. He was a bit wacky at times. He loved to put a drink on his head because he had a flat spot up there, and he would dance with it up there.

“Ron also like to mess with you. He would kiss you in the ear or some silly-ass thing. Just to irritate you. He would do that just for aggravation and he would giggle and laugh.

“So when Ron died, Hornung goes to his funeral up in Detroit and Ron’s son Kurt picked up Paul at the airport. When Kurt sees Paul, he gives him a big kiss right on the lips. And Paul yells, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ And Kurt said, ‘Dad told me about three months ago that if he didn’t make it and if you came to his funeral, I was supposed to give you a big kiss on the lips and to tell you it was from dad.’

“Paul started crying like a baby after that.”

You can bet that there will be more tears shed if Ron Kramer gets inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Perhaps it will be in 2020, as Gosselin has told me that he trying to get 10 seniors inducted into Canton on the centennial year of the NFL.

When I told Rick that I would be writing a series of articles about Packers who I believe deserve consideration for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he told me to make sure I wrote about Kramer, Dowler and Gale Gillingham.

I have done that now. And it is my sincere desire that at least one of those three players is included among the ten seniors who will hopefully be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2020.

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

Jerry getting his Pro Football Hall of Fame ring at Lambeau

Evan Siegle, packers.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jerry being honored at Lambeau

Evan Siegle, packers.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kramer talked about that dynamic at his press conference.

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

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

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

This is when the Packers were kicked in the gut.

Clay Matthews hit on Kirk Cousins

startribune.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rodgers was obviously very disappointed in the tie.

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

Jerry and Aaron at Lambeau

Evan Siegle, packers.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Green Bay Packers and Jerry Kramer Have a Couple of Big Weekends Upcoming

Jerry in 2017 at Alumni Day

Both the Green Bay Packers and Jerry Kramer have a couple of big weekends coming up.

The Packers are preparing to open their 2018 NFL season (the 100th anniversary of the Packers being formed) on Sunday night at Lambeau Field versus the Chicago Bears and their newly acquired pass rusher Khalil Mack.

The following week the Pack will host the defending NFC North champions, the Minnesota Vikings.

The upcoming game against da Bears also marks the annual alumni weekend, as Kramer and many of his former teammates, as well as other former Green Bay players will be on hand.

And when the Packers play the Vikings the following week at Lambeau, Kramer will receive his Pro Football Hall of Fame ring, as well as seeing his name unveiled on the facade, along with the other 24 Packers enshrined in Canton.

The Packers and Bears have been playing each other since 1921 when the NFL was called the American Professional Football Association. When Green Bay defeated Chicago 35-14 last September at Lambeau Field, that victory put the Packers ahead in the series against their long-time rivals for the first time in 85 years.

The series now stands with the Packers holding an edge with a 95-93-6 mark. Kramer knows all about this heated rivalry, as No. 64 talked about that story line in a piece I wrote a couple of years ago.

It was an era when Vince Lombardi coached the Packers and George Halas coached the Bears. In the nine years that the two coached against each other, the Packers held a 13-5 edge in the series.

During that period, the Packers won five NFL titles in seven years under Lombardi, which included three NFL championships in a row (which has never been duplicated in the playoff era of the NFL), as well as winning the first two Super Bowl games.

Da Bears won the 1963 NFL title under Halas.

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.’

One of Kramer’s teammates who will be at the alumni weekend get-together is Zeke Bratkowski. The former Georgia Bulldog was the backup to Bart Starr for the Packers in the 1960s, but he started his NFL career with the Bears in the 1950s.

Bratkowski had the honor of playing under both Halas and Lombardi and Zeke talked about that scenario in a story I wrote last summer.

Besides Kramer and Bratkowski, there will be several other former Packers who played under Lombardi at the alumni function this weekend. The list includes Paul Hornung, Jim Taylor, Boyd Dowler, Dave Robinson, Marv Fleming, Doug Hart, Don Horn, Carroll Dale and Donny Anderson.

Dale and Anderson are the featured alumni this weekend and they will be signing autographs and visiting with fans on Saturday, Sept. 8, from 11 to noon in the Lambeau Field Atrium.

Other former Packers who are expected to attend are LeRoy Butler, John Brockington, Lynn Dickey, Paul Coffman, Jan Stenerud, Johnnie Gray, Ezra Johnson, Mark Lee, Al Matthews, Karl Swanke, David Whitehurst, Gerry Ellis, Gary Ellerson, Tiger Greene, Ron Hallstrom, Perry Kemp, Don Majkowski, Ron Pitts, Blaise Winter, Vince Workman, Don Beebe, Bucky Brooks, Mark Chmura, Earl Dotson, William Henderson, Ryan Longwell, Bryce Paup, Bill Schroeder, Frank Winters, Nick Barnett, Kevin Barry, Colin Cole, Brad Jones, Aaron Kampman, Buddy Aydelette, Craig Nall and Jason Spitz.

At halftime on Sunday night, the Packers will be introducing all of those players.

I talked to Kramer earlier this week and he talked about how great it is to see his former teammates. Plus, this will be the first time he has seen most of them since he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Jerry with his Gold Jacket hugging his bust.

“It’s always great seeing the fellas,” Kramer said. “But I’m going to bust my ass to make sure that they know I haven’t changed. I want to show that I’m the same guy I have always been the past 40 years.”

From my perspective, having known Kramer for several years now, I can honestly say that Jerry has not changed one iota since he was inducted among the best of the best in Canton.

The game itself will be a big test for the Packers against the Bears, who are definitely a team on the rise. Chicago added a defensive force with the addition of Mack.

Mack and company will be trying to stop Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offense, which will not be an easy task, based on the way Rodgers has historically played versus Chicago.

In his career against da Bears, Rodgers is 15-4 in the regular season. In those 19 games, No. 12 has thrown 42 touchdown passes, compared to just nine interceptions for 4,596 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 107.2.

Rodgers and the Packers also beat the Bears 21-14 in the 2010 NFC title game at Soldier Field.

The defense of the Packers, which is now headed by new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, will be trying to force some mistakes by second-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky.

When the Packers go up against the Vikings, Rodgers will definitely keep his eye peeled for linebacker Anthony Barr, as it was Barr who broke the collarbone of Rodgers last season when he took No. 12 down hard to the ground after Rodgers had thrown the ball.

And as good as Rodgers is against the Bears, he is almost equally as good against the Vikings historically. In 19 regular season games, Rodgers is 12-7 against the Vikes, plus has thrown 39 touchdown passes compared to just six picks for 4,571 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 111.7.

And like he did against da Bears, Rodgers has defeated the Vikings in the postseason as well, as the Green Bay beat Minnesota 24-10 in a 2012 NFC Wild Card game at Lambeau Field.

I like Rodgers and the Packers to go 2-0 after their games against da Bears and the Vikings.

Aaron Rodgers 2018.jpg

At halftime of the Vikings game, Kramer will have his cherry on top of the sundae moment, as he receive his Pro Football Hall of Fame ring, as well as seeing his name unveiled on the facade at Lambeau Field in front of the great fans he played in front of for 11 seasons.

Kramer will see his name unveiled along side of the coach who made this all possible, Lombardi, along with several of his Hall of Fame teammates, which include Taylor, Starr, Hornung, Robinson, Forrest Gregg,  Ray Nitschke, Herb Adderley, Willie Davis, Jim Ringo, Willie Wood and Henry Jordan.

“That is going to awesome,” Kramer said. “I’ll never forget the reaction of Jim Ringo when he saw his name on the facade. It was back in 1984, when I was writing Distant Replay with Dick Schaap. We had an alumni get-together at Lambeau and Ringo was there.

“A bunch of us went to Fuzzy’s [Thurston] bar, Shenanigans. Then at the game, we were introduced and had some photos taken of us. Jim was a little unsteady at the time and I helped him down the ramp heading to the field before we were introduced.

“We got about three-quarters down the ramp and then Jim saw his name on the facade. And Jim goes, ‘Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!’ He just kept repeating that over and over. Jim was just stunned and awestruck by that honor.

“I have a feeling that I’ll have similar emotions.”

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

IMG_6352

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bart's QB sneak behind Jerry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jerry Kramer Exhibit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, that will be a truly fantastic occasion.

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