Jerry Kramer Talks About Tommy Joe Crutcher

Tommy Joe Crutcher blocking on an extra point

Far left is No. 56, Tommy Joe Crutcher, as he blocks on an extra point in the 28-7 victory by the Green Bay Packers over the Los Angeles Rams in the 1967 Western Conference Championship Game at Milwaukee County Stadium.

When the Green Bay Packers drafted Tommy Joe Crutcher of Texas Christian University in the third round of the 1964 NFL draft, the Packers already had a number of talented linebackers on their roster. The group included Ray Nitschke, Dan Currie, Lee Roy Caffey and Dave Robinson.

Still, Crutcher had some talent himself. In high school at McKinney, the 6’3″, 230-pound Crutcher was considered one of the best players in Texas because of his speed and athleticism, which he showed at both fullback and linebacker.

At TCU, Crutcher again played both fullback and linebacker. In his senior year, Crutcher was named first-team All-America at fullback, plus was a team captain for the Horned Frogs.

In his rookie year of 1964, Crutcher played fullback for the Packers and wore No. 37. But for the rest of his career, Crutcher was strictly a linebacker and wore No. 56 with Green Bay.

In ’64, the Packers started Nitschke, Currie and Caffey at linebacker. The following year after Currie had been traded to the Los Angeles Rams for Carroll Dale, Robinson replaced Currie as a starter.

Crutcher’s good friend and teammate Jerry Kramer talked to me recently about that situation.

“It was interesting to be Tommy Joe, as he had to sit behind Nitschke, Robinson and Caffey,” Kramer said. “Maybe the best set of linebackers to ever play on one team. Certainly among the tops.

“But Tommy was a very bright kid. He used his wits a lot. He played well when he got the opportunity.”

One of Crutcher’s favorite activities was to tease fellow Texan linebacker Caffey about where he played football in high school.

Kramer recounted that story.

“Tommy Joe used to love to bust Lee Roy’s ass,” Kramer said. “Tommy Joe went to McKinney High School, which was not too far from Thorndale High school, which was Lee Roy’s school.

“The school mascot at Thorndale was the Little Red Rooster. Tommy Joe would get Lee Roy going in the locker room or on the bus when he would sing, ‘Little Red Rooster sitting on a fence. Root for Thorndale, he’s got sense.’

“Lee Roy would then shout out to Tommy Joe, ‘Damn you Crutcher! Knock that off!’

texas-contingent-of-the-packers

The Texas contingent of the Packers. From left to right, Max McGee, Doug Hart, Forrest Gregg, Donny Anderson, Lee Roy Caffey and Tommy Joe Crutcher.

Crutcher was part of quite a Texas contingent on the Packers which included Caffey, Max McGee, Forrest Gregg, Doug Hart and Donny Anderson.

Kramer used to hang with Crutcher quite a bit off the field, especially when the guys got together to play cards.

Kramer talked about that experience.

“We loved to play cards,” Kramer said. “Tommy Joe was a really savvy guy. He was just aware about everything, especially in poker. We would have Ski [Bob Skoronski], Doug [Hart], Kos [Ron Kostelnik], Tommy Joe and some other guys at times.

“Often times, Tommy Joe and I would end up as the last two guys at the table.  Everyone else had lost their money or needed to go home.”

One of the other guys who would play poker every now and then was Max McGee. As I wrote in a story about him recently, Max and his roommate in 1967, Zeke Bratkowski, often played golf with Kramer and his roommate, Don Chandler.

For money of course.

One of those golf outings became quite the experience for Kramer and his teammates.

“One day Max and Zeke are taking on Don and I,” Kramer said. “On the surface, it was an uneven match, because Max was a good player and Zeke was a very good player. So, we come down to the 18th hole and we were ahead by three shots.

“Max tries to get in our heads as he was teeing off, by saying, ‘Press, press, press, press, press.’ He proceeded to knock the ball out of bounds. I probably got the biggest kick of my life after Max did that after trying to put the pressure on us. But it backfired that day for Max, so Donny and I won $75 from he and Zeke.

“I enjoyed the hell out of that. We didn’t win very often and Max and Zeke won most of the time, but that victory was special.”

That takes us to the next part of that story which involves Crutcher. Kramer explained what happened next.

“So after the golf game, we all go to Max’s Left Guard restaurant in Manitowoc,” Kramer said. “So we go upstairs and play a little gin. We having a pretty good time celebrating. It’s our day off. And Tommy Joe is there as well.

“So later in the evening, we decided to leave as it was getting late. Well, I had been over-served and as we started down the stairs, I lost my footing and I tumbled head over heels. My ring came off and my shoes came off.

“Don Chandler looked at me and said, ‘Jerry, you better ride with me. Let Tommy Joe drive your car.’ I had Lincoln convertible that had suicide doors, one opens backwards and one opens frontwards. It was an absolutely beautiful car. I think the most beautiful car I ever had. It was sea green with a tan top. I had the top down and it looked like it was a half mile long. I was “Mr. Cool” when I drove it.

“So I let Tommy Joe drive it back to St. Norbert. Anyway, the next morning I’m out in the parking lot and I see the car. The top is still down and there is a light rain. So I go to Tommy Joe’s room and he’s still asleep. I asked him where the keys were. As he’s looking through his clothes for the keys, he says, ‘Jerry, that’s really a great car. It really holds the road well. I’d go around a corner and it would slide a bit, but that’s really a nice driving car.’

“So then I asked him why he didn’t put the top up. Tommy Joe asks, ‘Was the top down?’

Crutcher initially played with the Packers from 1964 through 1967, which meant he was on the teams which won three straight NFL titles, along with the first two Super Bowls.

In those four years, Crutcher played in 14 games each year, plus picked off two passes in a reserve role.

Crutcher also played in each one of the seven victorious postseason games that the Packers played in from 1965 through 1967.

Tommy Joe on game-winning kick vs. Colts

Far right is No. 56, Tommy Joe Crutcher. He and his teammates are about to celebrate the game-winning field goal by Don Chandler in the 1965 Western Conference Championship Game at Lambeau Field.

In 1968, general manager-only Vince Lombardi traded Crutcher and offensive tackle Steve Wright to the New York Giants for offensive tackle Francis Peay.

Crutcher started two seasons for the Giants before being traded to the Los Angeles Rams in 1970, where he spent the year on injured reserve.  In 1971, Crutcher returned to Green Bay via another trade, as Dan Devine acquired No. 56 for a fourth round pick.

Crutcher played with the Packers in 1971 and 1972 before retiring and was part of the team which won the NFC Central in ’72.

After he retired, Crutcher had a very successful business career, as he was part owner and manager of the Southwest Grain Company in McCook, Texas.

The farm that Crutcher operated was not far from the Mexican border. Once when Kramer was visiting, Crutcher drove Kramer around part of the farm which was larger than the island of Manhattan. The overall spread of the farm was around 25,000 acres.

Sadly, Crutcher died at the way-too-young age of 60 in 2002.

Kramer talked some more about his buddy Crutcher.

“Everything Tommy Joe did on the field, he did well,” Kramer said. “When he got an opportunity, there wasn’t much of a fall off from the way Lee Roy or Robby played.

“Tommy Joe was really damn smart and he rarely made a mistake. He understood our defense and he understood the game plan of the offense he would be facing if given the opportunity.

“He was just a real bright kid. Plus, he was a lot of fun to hang with off the field as well.”

The Green Bay Packers 1958 Draft Class: Jerry Kramer vs. Ken Gray

Jerry-Ken 2

A couple of months ago, I wrote about the greatest draft class the Green Bay Packers ever had in their history.

That would be the 1958 draft class. In the first round, the Packers selected Dan Currie. In the second round, the Packers selected Jim Taylor. In the third round, they selected Ray Nitschke, and in the fourth round Jerry Kramer.

All four of those players had excellent careers in the NFL, with two of them (Taylor and Nitschke) getting inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In my opinion, Kramer should most definitely be in Canton as well.

Currie was named All-Pro three times and was selected to one Pro Bowl.

Taylor was named All-Pro six times and went to the Pro Bowl five times, plus was named NFL MVP in 1962.

Nitschke was named All-Pro six times and for some reason only went to one Pro Bowl. No. 66 was also MVP of the 1962 NFL Championship game against the New York Giants, as he deflected one pass for an interception and recovered two fumbles.

Kramer was first-team All-Pro five times, was also named second-team All-Pro twice and was additionally named to three Pro Bowl teams. No. 64 was also on the All-Decade team of the 1960s. Finally, Kramer was named to the NFL’s 50th Anniversary team. Kramer is the only member of that first team not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

In addition to that, in the 1962 NFL title game in which Nitschke was named MVP, Kramer kicked three fields goals and an extra point in windy (40 mph gusts) and chilly Yankee Stadium, as the Packers won 16-7.

That wasn’t the only time Kramer shined under the bright lights of a championship game, as No. 64 played a big role in the Packers winning the 1965 NFL title, as well as the 1967 NFL championship.

Bottom line, that was quite a talented quartet that Jack Vainisi scouted and brought to the Packers.

currie-taylor-nitschke-kramer

Vainisi always had an eye for talent, as he was the scout for the Packers from 1950 through 1960.

In those 10 years, Vainisi picked six players for the Packers who would eventually be selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Sadly, Vainisi died of a heart attack in 1960 at the young age of 33, just prior the championship run of the Vince Lombardi-era Packers.

But in 1958, there was another member of the draft class who never got the opportunity to shine in Green Bay. That player was guard Ken Gray, who the Packers selected in the sixth round.

In fact, Gray was the last player cut by head coach Scooter McLean in 1958 just before the season began.

Gray ended up signing with the Chicago Cardinals shortly after the Packers released him. Gray had a great career with the Cardinals (the team moved to St. Louis in 1960) for 12 years before finishing his NFL career in 1970 with the Houston Oilers.

While he was with the Cardinals, Gray was named to six Pro Bowl squads, plus was named first-team All-Pro four times.

I had another opportunity to talk with Kramer recently and he gave me the rundown about what transpired in training camp that summer as he and Gray basically battled for one job.

Gray got a head start on Kramer, as he was already in camp for the Packers, while Kramer was in Chicago for the annual college all-star game.

“I was on the college all-star team and Otto Graham was the head coach,” Kramer said. “John Sandusky, who was one of the coaches on the team, had recently played with the Packers as an offensive tackle.

“Sandusky told me that the Packers were loaded at the guard position. He told me that I wouldn’t make that Green Bay team, but I could definitely play somewhere in the NFL.

“So I had that type of mindset when I got up to Green Bay. I was basically just waiting to be traded and my mind was certainly not on the job. Finally, Scooter McLean says to me, ‘What the hell is wrong with you? I mean, one day you look great and you work your ass off and take care of business, the next day you are looking over the fence, giggling and laughing. What the hell is going on?’

“I told Scooter that I was waiting to be traded. And Scooter goes, ‘You’re what?’ And I told him what Sandusky had told me at the college all-star game. So Scooter says, ‘I didn’t draft you to trade you. You are starting Friday night!’

That game was the second-to-last preseason game for the Packers versus the Washington Redskins.

“I played against a kid who had good size, but wasn’t real quick,” Kramer said. “I handled him pretty well and had a good game. The following week the Packers traded two guards (Al Barry and Norm Amundsen) to the Giants.

“Then the last player they cut was Kenny Gray. I knew then that I had made the team and was really excited, so I called home. So I’m telling my wife, ‘I made the final cut! I made the team!’ But right then Hawg Hanner and Jim Ringo came walking by. They hear me celebrating, plus they weren’t happy that the two guys who had been traded were pals of theirs.

Jim Ringo

“So Hawg and Jim take me out for a beer. I’m drinking a beer in a small beer glass, smaller than a usual beer glass. Meanwhile, Hawg and Jim are chewing my ass pretty good, telling me how close they were to the two guys who were traded. I’m standing there at the bar, kind of taking it with my mouth shut and nodding okay, as I’m massaging the beer glass with my left hand.

“I’m squeezing the glass letting my anger and emotions go out that way. All of a sudden the beer glass shattered and the glass flew every which way. Once Hawg and Jim saw that, they figured the ass-chewing was over and it was time to move on from that subject.”

Later on, Kramer was in downtown Green Bay at a cigar/newspaper shop getting some magazines. As he walked out of the shop, he could see Gray across the street.

“So I’m waking to the curb and Kenny sees me and yells, ‘You son of a bitch. You had a no-cut contract didn’t you?’

“And I yell back, ‘What’s a no-cut contract?’

Kramer did not have a no-cut contract and obviously McLean thought that Kramer had a better camp than Gray before making the decision about who was going to be cut.

In an article by Jennifer Fierro of The Picayune from December of 2015, Gray talks about being cut by the Packers.

“Green Bay said, later on in my career, the worst personnel mistake they made was cutting me, which made me feel really good,” Gray said. “(Ray) Scooter McLean was the head coach when I was drafted. ‘I hate to tell you this, (the coach told Gray one day), but I’m going to let you go. You’re a great prospect, and you’re going to play somewhere in this league.’ My heart went to my feet, but what could I say? They fired him at the end of the year.

“Those experiences make you a better person and better player,” he added. “You know what it is to be rejected. It makes you work hard. You’re not so cocky and sure of yourself.”

Based on the talent of both Kramer and Gray, McLean should have kept both players. They would have made quite a tandem at guard over the next decade. As it was, McLean was fired after 1-10-1 season.

Jerry and Fuzzy III

When Vince Lombardi took over in 1959, he saw that the Packers needed another guard, which is why the first trade he ever made was to acquire Fuzzy Thurston from the Baltimore Colts for Marv Matuzak.

Instead of the Kramer/Gray tandem, the Packers had a Kramer/Thurston tandem. So while Gray had a terrific career with the Cardinals, Kramer and Thurston became the best set of guards in the NFL for several years.

Thurston would tell anyone who would listen, “There are two good reasons the Packers are world champions. Jerry Kramer is one of them, and you’re looking at the other one.”

Thurston won his fair share of individual awards as well. No. 63 was named first-team All-Pro twice, plus was named second-team All-Pro three times.

In addition to that, Thurston played on six championship teams (one in Baltimore and five in Green Bay), while Kramer played on five Green Bay championship squads. Included in that were victories in Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II.

Unfortunately for Gray, he never played in postseason game with the Cardinals in his career there.

That being said, Gray was with the Cardinals in 1964 when they played the Packers in what they called the Playoff Bowl for the second-place teams in each conference in the NFL. The game was played at the Orange Bowl in Miami, as the Cards beat the Packers 24-17.

The Packers also played in a Playoff Bowl in 1963, when the Packers beat the Browns 40-23 in Miami. But Lombardi never cared for those second-place games.

“Winning is not a sometime thing here,” Lombardi often told the team. “It’s an all-the-time thing; you don’t win once in a while. You don’t do things right once in a while; you do them right all the time. There’s no room for second place here. There’s a second-place bowl game, and it’s a hinky-dinky football game, held in a hinky-dinky town, played by hinky-dinky football players. That’s all second place is: hinky-dinky.”

That’s why Lombardi’s Packers won five NFL championships in seven years.

Meanwhile, Ken Gray could only wonder what might have been had he made the team as part of that 1958 draft class for the Packers.

Green Bay Packers: Jerry Kramer and the 1958 NFL Draft Class

currie-taylor-nitschke-kramer

It’s night and day when one compares the current form of the NFL draft with all the glitz and glamour to the NFL draft of 1958. Two completely different animals. The draft of today is now shown live on two cable networks, ESPN and NFL Network.

It all started when ESPN first started showing the draft live in 1980. The draft has become a monster now with various magazines, web sites and programming by entities like ESPN and NFL Network giving their takes on the college prospects and doing ever-changing mock drafts.

The NFL draft first became part of the league in 1936. There have been many variations to how the draft has been developed to the point of where has evolved today.

The last few years, we have seen the draft run on three consecutive days, with the first round on one night, the second and third rounds the next night and then the fourth through seventh rounds held on the third day.

This year, the 2017 NFL draft will take place in Philadelphia and will start on April 27 and last through April 29.

Speaking of the 2017 NFL draft, I did my initial mock draft for the Packers last week.

The NFL journey for Jerry Kramer started on December 2, 1957, when he was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the 1958 NFL draft.

The draft was much different then, as the NFL staggered the draft on two different dates, with the first part of the draft (Rounds 1-4) being in early December and the last part of the draft (rounds 5-30) being in late January.

Yes, you read that right. There were 30 rounds back then. But on December 2, 1957, Kramer became a Packer, as did three other very talented football players. In the first round, the Packers selected Dan Currie. In the second round, the Packers selected Jim Taylor. In the third round, they selected Ray Nitschke, and in the fourth round Kramer.

All four of those players had excellent careers in the NFL, with two of them (Taylor and Nitschke) getting inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In my opinion, Kramer should also be in Canton and until he is, there will be a credibility issue there.

Currie was All-Pro three times and was selected to one Pro Bowl. A knee injury really hurt the effectiveness of Currie later in his career, both with the Packers and the Los Angeles Rams.

Taylor was named All-Pro six times and to the Pro Bowl five times. Taylor led the team in rushing seven times and led the NFL in rushing in 1962. He probably would have led the league a few more times if not for the presence of the great Jim Brown in his era.

The bruising fullback also had five seasons of 1,000 yards or more, and he gained more than 100 yards in a game 26 times.

Nitschke was the face of the defense in the Vince Lombardi era. He also played in an era that had some excellent middle linebackers like Dick Butkus, Sam Huff, Bill George and Joe Schmidt.

Nitschke was named All-Pro six times and was named to only one Pro Bowl squad for some ridiculous reason. Nitschke was also MVP of the 1962 NFL Championship game against the New York Giants, as he deflected one pass for an interception and recovered two fumbles.

Kramer was first-team All-Pro five times, was also named second-team All-Pro twice and was additionally named to three Pro Bowl teams. No. 64 was also on the All-Decade team of the 1960s. Finally, Kramer was named to the NFL’s 50th Anniversary team. Kramer is the only member of that first team not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Kramer also kicked three fields goals in the windy (40 mph gusts) and chilly conditions at Yankee Stadium in the 1962 NFL Championship game. Those three field goals were the difference in the game, as the Packers beat the Giants 16-7.

Kramer is most famous for his block in the 1967 NFL Championship game, better known as the “Ice Bowl.”

jerry-leading-bart-in-the-ice-bowl

With 13 seconds remaining in the game and the Packers trailing 17-14 to the Dallas Cowboys, Kramer got great leverage with his block on DT Jethro Pugh, and QB Bart Starr happily followed his right guard into NFL immortality by scoring the winning touchdown on a quarterback sneak.

So, how did Kramer find out he was drafted by the Packers in 1958? “I was in class at the University of Idaho when I was drafted,” Kramer said. “I came out of class and Wayne Walker, who was my classmate and who was also drafted by the Detroit Lions, told me I was drafted by Green Bay.”

In 1958, the GM of the Packers was Verne Lewellen. However, the man who was really responsible about scouting college prospects was Jack Vainisi. Vainisi was a talent scout for the Packers from 1950-1960.

In those 10 years, Vainisi picked six players for the Packers who would eventually be selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Vainisi also played a prominent role in bringing Vince Lombardi to the Packers. It was Vainisi who called Lombardi to interview for the head coaching job in Green Bay.

Sadly, Vainisi died of a heart attack in 1960 at the young age of 33, just prior the championship run of the Lombardi-era Packers.

In 1958, there was no such thing as an NFL Scouting Combine. So who did NFL clubs get information on the various college prospects?

“You were sent a questionnaire by teams,” Kramer said. “How big are you? How fast are you? What are your military obligations and so forth. Then, you never really heard back from the teams.”

As Kramer was heading to play in the East-West Shrine game, he was contacted by a Canadian Football League official who told Kramer not to sign until they could talk. Kramer still signed with the Packers, although for a very meager amount by today’s standards.

letter-to-jerry-from-jack-vainisi

“I signed with the Packers for a $250 bonus,” Kramer said. “I spent that money with Walker the weekend of the East-West Shrine game in San Francisco. But actually the $250 turned out not to be a bonus. When I got to Green Bay I found out that the $250 was an advance on the $8,000 contract I had signed.”

The journey to Green Bay was pretty interesting. “I was playing in the College All-Star game in Chicago,” Kramer said. “Up to that point I had never worked out with the Packers or had ever heard from them. Almost zero communications. The Packers sent somebody down from Green Bay to drive us back there from Chicago. There was Taylor, Currie, Nitschke, Dick Christy, Neil Habig and myself from the draft class who got a ride back to Green Bay.”

Once in Green Bay, Kramer almost played himself off the squad. “When we got to Green Bay, the head coach was Scooter McLean,” Kramer said. “I had a very dim view of making the team. John Sandusky, who was my line coach at the College All-Star game, told me I probably wouldn’t make the Packers. John had played the prior year with Green Bay.

“John told me that the Packers had five guards on the roster. He told me I could play in the NFL, but probably not with the Packers. And so I went to training camp and basically played like I was waiting to get traded. Looking over the fence at practice and having a good time.

“Finally Scooter called me to his office one day and asked, ‘What in the hell is the matter with you? One day you look great and then the next day you are looking over the fence and checking the scenery. What the hell is going on?’

“I told Scooter that I was waiting to be traded. Scooter said ‘What?’ I told him what the coach at the All-Star game had told me. Scooter told me that I wasn’t drafted to get traded and that I was going to start the next preseason game against the Washington Redskins. About 10 days later the Packers traded a couple of guards to the New York Giants.

“It finally came down to the final cut between Ken Gray (another rookie) and myself. And the Packers kept me, although Ken later played with the Cardinals and became a Pro Bowl player.”

The 1958 draft class to me is the best draft class ever drafted by the Packers. In fact, NFL Network had the 1958 class of the Packers rated as the fourth-best draft class of all-time.

Yes, the 1958 draft class of the Packers was very, very good. Just imagine how highly rated this class would be when Kramer finally receives the recognition he so richly deserves—an induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The draft today is much different than the draft of 1958. That being said, I’m sure Ted Thompson would be absolutely thrilled to draft players of the caliber of the 1958 draft class of the Packers this upcoming April. Thompson actually has had a pretty good track record drafting players overall.

But the draft class of 1958 was the best ever selected by the Packers. There is absolutely no doubt about that.

Jerry Kramer Talks About Lee Roy Caffey

lee-roy-caffey-ii

When the 1-1 Detroit Lions play the 1-1 Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on Sunday, the game will be the 2016 home opener for the Pack. Green Bay opened this season with two games on the road. The last time that the Packers had opened the year like that was way back in 1924.

The game on Sunday will also be the annual alumni game for the Packers, when former Green Bay greats will be on hand to watch the Packers.

One of the greats who will be attending is Jerry Kramer. Kramer played on five NFL championship teams with the Packers, which included the first two Super Bowls.

The Packers also won three straight NFL titles from 1965 through 1967. No team has ever duplicated that feat.

Unfortunately, a number of players from those three championship teams have passed on. The list includes Henry Jordan, Ron Kostelnik, Lionel Aldridge, Ray Nitschke, Tommy Joe Crutcher, Bob Jeter, Max McGee, Fuzzy Thurston, Elijah Pitts, Travis Williams, Gale Gillingham and Don Chandler.

The list also includes Lee Roy Caffey, who tragically passed on at the age of 52 in 1994 due to colon cancer. That same affliction cost Vince Lombardi his life at the age of 57 in 1970.

Caffey came to the Packers in 1964 in a famous trade. This was the trade when Lombardi traded center Jim Ringo and backup fullback Earl Gros to the Philadelphia Eagles for Caffey and a future No. 1 draft pick, which turned out to be Donny Anderson.

Caffey was a rookie in 1963 with the Eagles and had a fine rookie season. He had the longest interception return for a touchdown that season in the NFL, as Caffey ran one back to the house on an 87-yard jaunt. Caffey also recovered five fumbles that season.

Caffey then became a big part of the Ringo trade the next season.

The mythical story was that Lombardi traded Ringo because he was being represented by an agent. Actually, there was no agent involved, but Ringo did want a hefty pay increase, as he was coming off seven straight appearances in the Pro Bowl, as well as being named first-team All-Pro for five consecutive seasons.

But Lombardi wouldn’t meet Ringo’s demands and he made the trade. The move caused all sorts of issues on the offensive line for the Packers. Rookie center Ken Bowman wasn’t ready to play yet, so the Packers had to move left tackle Bob Skoronski to center for awhile.

In addition to that, Kramer was undergoing some intestinal issues which caused him to miss almost the entire 1964 season, as well as having to undergo nine medical procedures. It’s no wonder that the Packers started out 3-4 that season, before finally finishing 8-5-1 and missing the postseason for the second consecutive year.

Caffey immediately became a starter at right outside linebacker in ’64, opposite Dan Currie, who played left outside linebacker. Ray Nitschke manned the middle as usual.

The Packers had the No. 1 ranked defense in the NFL that season, as Caffey picked off another pass and was a great fit for the Packers at linebacker.

Before the 1965 season, Lombardi made another trade, this time sending Currie to the Los Angeles Rams for wide receiver Carroll Dale.

Replacing Currie at left outside linebacker was third-year linebacker Dave Robinson.

Over the course of the next five seasons, the trio of Caffey, Nitschke and Robinson was considered the best set of linebackers in the NFL.

From 1965 through 1969, the Packers were ranked third, third, first, third and fourth in total defense in the NFL.

Over that time period, Nitschke was named to four All-Pro teams, including first-team All-Pro by AP in 1966. Robinson was named to three All-Pro teams, including being named first-team All-Pro by AP in both 1967 and 1969. No. 89 also was named to three Pro Bowl squads

Caffey was named first-team All-Pro by AP in 1966, plus also went to the Pro Bowl in 1965.

In his career in Green Bay, Caffey had nine interceptions for 177 yards and two touchdowns.

I was there to witness one of them. It was the home opener for the Packers in 1966 and Green Bay would be facing the Baltimore Colts at County Stadium in Milwaukee on a Saturday night.

The Packers were losing 3-0 that night when Caffey made a huge play for the Pack. No. 60 picked off a Johnny Unitas pass and ran it back for a 52-yard touchdown. Not long after throwing that pick, Johnny U threw another one, this time to Bob Jeter, who also ran it back for a 46-yard touchdown. The Packers ended up winning the game 24-3.

Just three days before that game, Caffey’s daughter Jennifer was born. The pick-six by Caffey turned out to be a wonderful birthday present. Years later, Lee Roy told Jennifer that he dedicated that touchdown to her.

lee-roy-caffey-iii

Caffey was also an outstanding tackler and blitzer when he played with the Packers. No. 60 was one of the heroes in the 1967 NFL title game between the Packers and the Dallas Cowboys. The game is better known as the “Ice Bowl”, as it was played in truly frozen tundra conditions at Lambeau Field. The game-time temperature was 13 degrees below zero.

Caffey had a great performance in that game. The Cowboys dominated the third period, but thanks to Caffey, Dallas never scored in that quarter. Caffey stopped one drive by forcing a Don Meredith fumble and another drive by sacking Meredith.

In the end, and in the final seconds of the game, the Packers won 21-17, thanks to the classic block by Kramer on Jethro Pugh. The block by No. 64 allowed quarterback Bart Starr to score the winning touchdown on the most famous quarterback sneak in NFL history.

Speaking of Kramer, I talked with him recently and he shared his thoughts about playing with Caffey.

“When Lee Roy joined the team, there was an immediate connection with him,” Kramer said. “He was about my size. He was friendly and always had a big ole smile. Plus he was a hell of a ballplayer.

“He was a funny guy and I really enjoyed him. Lee Roy and Tommy Joe Crutcher played at high schools in Texas which were about 40 to 50 miles apart. Tommy Joe used to bust Lee Roy’s ass all the time.

“Lee Roy went to Thorndale High school. The school mascot was the Little Red Rooster. Tommy Joe would get Lee Roy going in the locker room or on the bus when he would sing, ‘Little Red Rooster sitting on a fence. Root for Thorndale, he’s got sense.’

“Lee Roy  would then shout out to Tommy Joe, ‘Damn you Crutcher!’ And then the two of them would get into it with each other a little bit. But it was all fun.

“Lee Roy was also part of our poker-playing group. I spent a lot of time with him over the years. Lee Roy also looked like me. We were mistaken for one another quite a bit.

“But Lee Roy was just a good all-around football player. He had great reflexes too. I remember walking down the sidewalk in Cleveland with him one day and a pigeon flew up while we were walking. Lee Roy instinctively jumped at it like it was a pass play, and he hit the pigeon with his hand. He didn’t catch it, but that was an amazing display of athleticism.”

In 1970, Caffey was traded once again, along with Elijah Pitts and Bob Hyland to the Chicago Bears for the second overall pick in the 1970 NFL draft. That pick turned out to be defensive tackle Mike McCoy of Notre Dame.

Caffey spent one year with the Bears and then played with the Super Bowl champion Cowboys in 1971, before finishing his NFL career with the San Diego Chargers in 1972.

But it was Green Bay where Caffey made a name for himself in the NFL. In six seasons in Titletown, Caffey showed off his athleticism time and time again at right outside linebacker for one of the NFL’s  most dominant defenses.

Caffey was rewarded for that play with three championship rings, plus was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 1986.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame Has a Credibility Problem

pro-football-hall-of-fame-logo

In 1969, the Pro Football Hall of Fame named their NFL 50th anniversary team. The first team consisted of Jim Thorpe, Johnny Unitas, Jim Brown, Gale Sayers, Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch, Cal Hubbard, Don Hutson, John Mackey, Jerry Kramer, Chuck Bednarik, Gino Marchetti, Leo Nomellini, Ray Nitschke, Dick “Night Train” Lane, Emlen Tunnell and Lou Groza.

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

Why Kramer is still not in Canton has created a credibility problem for the Hall of Fame. One of the voters for admission into that hallowed place has told me that a number of times while we conversed. That would be Rick Gosselin.

Gosselin writes for the Dallas Morning News and sits on two committees for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. They are the seniors committee, as well as the contributors committee.

Gosselin said this about the Kramer omission issue in one of his chats with his readers:

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

Indeed, Rick. Indeed. The fact that Kramer is still not in Canton is not only a slap in the face to No. 64, but also to the panel who named that 50th anniversary team. A panel that named that prestigious team just six years after the Pro Football Hall of Fame was created in 1963.

Jerry's block on Jethro

A little less than a month ago, a subcommittee of the seniors committee named defensive back Kenny Easley as the lone senior nominee for possible induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2017.

Easley was a great player back in his era, although his career was somewhat short. Still, Easley was also named on the 1980s First-Team All-Decade team. Usually when a player is named First-Team All-Decade, it’s almost a sure thing that the player will also be inducted in the Hall of Fame.

Guess who else was a First-Team All-Decade player? Yes, Kramer was also named to the NFL All-Decade team for the 1960s.

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

And up until now, 133 of those players have been inducted into the hallowed halls in Canton.

The eight modern-era players who have not yet received their rightful place among the all-time greats are Kramer (60s), Easley (80s), Johnny Robinson (60s), Drew Pearson (70s), Cliff Harris (70s), Jim Covert (80s), Tony Boselli (90s) and Steve Atwater (90s).

Former Green Bay end Lavvie Dilweg was a First-Team All-Decade player in the 1920s, while guard Ox Emerson was First-Team All-Decade in 1930s. Guard Bruno Banducci and tackle Al Wistert were also First-Team All-Decade in the 1940s.

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

There is absolutely no doubt that Kramer has the credentials to be in Canton. It’s incomprehensible that Kramer still is waiting for his proper enshrinement.

There is also no doubt that the members of the seniors committee have a very difficult job. A lot of very good players have fallen through the cracks through the years.

Besides the First-Team All-decade players who have still not been enshrined, there are several more deserving players who have been kept out of Canton. Players like Chuck Howley, Robert Brazile, Ken Anderson, Randy Gradishar, Bob Kuechenberg, Pat Fischer, Alex Karras and Joe Jacoby.

And besides Kramer, there are a number of other deserving players who played for the Packers, like the before-mentioned Dilweg, as well as Cecil Isbell, Bobby Dillon and Gale Gillingham.

It would help if the Hall of Fame would make the process a little easier for seniors committee.

Like allowing the committee to nominate more than two seniors. Gosselin has proposed to nominate up to 10 seniors for the Class of 2019, which will be the 100th anniversary of the NFL.

That would be a great gesture by the Pro Football Hall of Fame to follow through on Gosselin’s proposal.

Plus there is the issue of who votes for the senior nominees. There are nine members of the seniors committee. Yet only five of the nine meet in August to determine the senior nominee or nominees. All committee members should be present for the discussion.

Also, not only should the committee allow current Hall of Fame members to be part of the discussion for the senior nominees (which is being done now), but more of them need to be part of the discussion.

Each decade (if possible) should be represented by at least one current Hall of Fame player at the seniors meeting.

There are a number of current Hall of Fame members who are still living and who played in the 1960s. They could speak on behalf of Kramer, whether they played with him or against him.

There would definitely be a lot to say.

Because in the 60s, Kramer was a five-time (First-Team) All-Pro and was also named to three Pro Bowls for the Packers. No. 64 would have had even more honors if not for injuries and illness. Kramer missed half of the 1961 season due to a broken ankle and almost all of the 1964 season due to an intestinal ailment which took nine operations to resolve.

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

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

No NFL team has ever duplicated that feat.

No. 64 played a big role in a number of those championship game victories.

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

Kramer scored 10 points in the 16-7 victory for the Packers, plus helped lead the way for fullback Jimmy Taylor to gain 85 yards rushing and also score the lone Green Bay touchdown. As a team, the Packers gained 148 yards rushing that day.

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

Jerry after the game-winning kick in the '62 championship game

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

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

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

In the 1966 NFL Championship Game at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, the Packers outlasted the Cowboys 34-27. Once again, Kramer and the rest of the offensive line had a large impact in that victory, as quarterback Bart Starr threw for 304 yards and had four touchdown passes, plus the running game picked up an additional 102 yards.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kramer played a prominent role in both of those instances.

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

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

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

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

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

That was almost 20 years ago. Yet Kramer still waits.

Opponents who played against Kramer in his era certainly endorse his enshrinement into Canton.No endorsement is bigger than the one from the late Merlin Olsen. To many, Olsen is considered the best defensive tackle in NFL history.

Olsen went to 14 Pro Bowls, which is the all-time NFL record shared by Bruce Matthews, the uncle of Clay Matthews of the Packers.

Olsen was named AP All-Pro nine times in his career as well.

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

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

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

Besides Olsen, there are also quite a number of Kramer’s contemporaries who are already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame who likewise believe Kramer belongs in Canton. Randy Simon has put together a great book that shows all the endorsements.

They come from teammates like Bart Starr, Paul Hornung and Willie Davis, along with players like Bob Lilly, Frank Gifford, Chuck Bednarik, Doug Atkins, Alan Page, Joe Schmidt, John Mackey, Raymond Berry, Mel Renfro, Mike Ditka, Jim Otto, Tom Mack, Dave Wilcox, Tommy McDonald and Lem Barney.

That is why it is so important to hear from Hall of Fame players when the senior committee meets to determine which senior or seniors will be nominated.

The bottom line is that Kramer should have been inducted into the Hall of Fame decades ago along with the rest of his teammates. No. 64’s importance and contributions to those great Packer teams under Lombardi have been noted.

The NFL’s 50th anniversary team was named 47 years ago. Kramer became eligible for induction five years later. That means Kramer has patiently waited 42 years for the Pro Football Hall of Fame to open it’s doors for him.

Until the Senior Selection Committee and the rest of the voters for the Pro Football Hall of Fame right this wrong about Kramer and his place in NFL history, there will always be a dark cloud which will hover over that prestigious building in Canton. A credibility cloud to be sure.

The Super Bowl trophy is named after Vince Lombardi. For good reason. This is what Lombardi said about Kramer in a 1969 article in the Chicago Tribune:

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

Vincen And Jerry III

I only wish the seniors committee would heed the words of Lombardi and many, many others. Besides all the great salutations Kramer has received from his peers, the bottom line is that he was the best player at his position when he played in the NFL.

Not just in the regular season, but in the bright lights of the postseason as well, when he played a big part in the team’s success.

It goes without saying that Kramer should absolutely receive the honor which he so richly deserves. That is, being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a place where the best of the best get recognized.

Kramer was most certainly the best of the best.

Which is why he was named to the 1960s All-Decade team, as well as the NFL’s 50th anniversary team in 1969.

Yet the Pro Football Hall of Fame still hasn’t recognized that. Which tells me and many others like Rick Gosselin, that there is definitely a credibility issue at the Hall.

That credibility problem will never change until Kramer gets his rightful enshrinement in Canton.

Brett Favre: The Road to Canton

Brett in Super Bowl XXXI

On August 6, Brett Favre will be enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Not too many people thought that this honor would ever be bestowed on Favre, as he started his NFL career with the Atlanta Falcons in 1991 very inauspiciously.

After being drafted in the second round out of Southern Mississippi, Favre’s rookie season with the Dirty Birds was sort of a disaster.

Favre hardly ever played. Part of the reason was because Favre was a party animal who stayed out late and also occasionally dozed off in meetings. Add to that, Favre also missed the team photo after a late night out.

When he did get to play, Favre attempted only four passes, without a completion. Actually, Favre did complete two passes, but both were to the opposition.

During the 1991 NFL draft, Ron Wolf was personnel director for the New York Jets. Wolf was intrigued by the strong-armed Favre in college, as he led the Golden Eagles to 29 wins as a starter, which included two bowl victories. Southern Miss also upset staunch opponents like Florida State and Alabama with Favre under center.

While Wolf was scouting Favre, No. 4 helped himself by being the MVP of the East-West Shrine game. Wolf was set to take Favre in the 1991 draft for the Jets with the 34th selection in the second round, when the Atlanta Falcons took him instead with the 33rd pick.

But when Wolf became the general manager of the Packers late in the 1991 season, he kept his eye on Favre. Then in February of 1992, Wolf shocked a number of people in the NFL, when he traded a first-round pick to the Falcons for Favre. Before he made that trade, he asked one of the people on his scouting staff to evaluate Favre on film.

That person was Ted Thompson and the future general manager of the Packers endorsed making the trade.

Wolf had also just recently hired Mike Holmgren as head coach. Holmgren had done an exceptional job as quarterbacks coach/offensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers, working with both Joe Montana and Steve Young. Wolf saw similar possibilities with Holmgren working with Favre.

The Packers already had a starting quarterback in Don Majkowski, who had been to the Pro Bowl just a couple years earlier.

The career of Favre with the Packers got off to an ominous start, when he came into the game in relief of Majkowski after the “Magic Man” severely sprained an ankle in the third game of the 1992 season versus the Cincinnati Bengals.

Favre was anything but impressive when he entered the game, as he tried to lead the Packers to their first win of the season after a 0-2 start. No. 4 was having all sorts of problems initially, as he fumbled four times. But as the game wore on, Favre got better.

The Packers were down 20-7 in the fourth quarter when Favre started to heat up. With 1:07 left in the game and the Packers down 23-17, Favre had to take his team 92 yards for a game-winning touchdown.

Brett vs. Bengals

Favre did that in five plays, as he hit Kitrick Taylor with a 35-yard touchdown pass with 13 seconds left in the game, as the Packers won 24-23. For the game, Favre threw for 289 yards and two touchdowns.

Favre started the next week against the Pittsburgh Steelers leading the Pack to another win. The Packers finished 9-7 in 1992 with Favre under center, but narrowly missed the playoffs.

The Packers finished 9-7 again in 1993, but this time the team made the postseason as a Wild Card team. The Packers shocked the Detroit Lions at the Silverdome in the last minute of the game, as Favre threw a bomb across the field to Sterling Sharpe for a 40-yard touchdown pass to win the game 28-24.

Still, Favre was too inconsistent with his play in both 1992 and 1993. In those two seasons combined, Favre threw 37 touchdown passes, but also threw 37 interceptions.

During the 1994 season, there was some talk among the offensive coaching staff of the Packers to bench Favre and to give backup Mark Brunell an opportunity as a starter.

But between the steady coaching of quarterbacks coach Steve Mariucci and also Holmgren’s belief in Favre, the light suddenly turned on for No. 4 that season. Favre ended up throwing 33 touchdown passes that year, compared to just 14 picks for 3,882 yards. The Packers also made the postseason again as a Wild Card team.

Then from 1995 through 1997, Favre won three straight NFL MVP awards. Combined over those three seasons, Favre threw 112 touchdown passes versus just 42 interceptions for 12,179 yards. The Packers won three straight NFC Central titles during that time, were in three straight NFC Championship Games (winning two of them) and two Super Bowls (winning Super Bowl XXXI).

In the postseason during those three years, Favre threw 18 touchdown passes versus six interceptions for 2,090 yards. That adds up to a 99.2 passer rating.

The biggest attribute Favre had was his durability. Favre ended up starting 253 straight regular season games and 22 more in the postseason in his career with the Packers. No. 4 also had 160 wins over 16 seasons. 96 of those wins occurred at Lambeau Field (.762 winning percentage).

Favre also threw 442 touchdown passes for 61,655 yards while he was a member of the Packers.

Before Favre became the starting quarterback for Green Bay in 1992, the team had won just one division title since 1967 and had only won a single playoff game. That all changed when Favre came to town. Brett led the Packers to seven divisional titles, 11 playoff appearances and 12 postseason wins.

When Holmgren was head coach of the Packers, Favre was 9-5 as a starter in the postseason. After Holmgren was gone however, Favre did not have the same success, as he was just 3-5.

Overall in his postseason career with the Packers, Favre threw 39 touchdown passes versus 28 picks for 5,311 yards.

Favre also didn’t have the same type of production in the regular season the rest of his Green Bay career once Holmgren exited the team to head to Seattle.

Perhaps Favre’s greatest game as a Packer came on Dec. 22, 2003. That was the day after Favre’s dad Irv passed away after suffering a heart attack. Favre still decided to play that Monday night in Oakland versus the Raiders. What Favre did that night was simply incredible and heart warming. Despite playing with a heavy heart, Favre threw for 399 yards and four touchdown passes in a 41-7 Green Bay victory.

Brett vs. Raiders

In 2005, Favre had the worst season of his career in Green Bay, as he threw 20 touchdown passes, compared to 29 interceptions.

Also in 2005, Thompson had become the general manager of the Packers and his first ever draft choice ended up being quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Add to that, Thompson fired head coach Mike Sherman, as the Packers finished 4-12 that season.

Thompson then hired Mike McCarthy as head coach and Favre had a much better season in 2006, as the team finished 8-8. In 2007, Favre had the best season since his MVP days, as he threw 28 touchdown passes versus 15 picks, as he led the Packers to a 13-3 mark and a spot in the NFC Championship Game versus the New York Giants at Lambeau Field.

Favre ended up throwing a costly interception in overtime though, as the G-Men beat the Pack 23-20.

A couple of months later Favre retired. After giving his career in the NFL a second thought later that summer, Favre wanted to return. But by then the Packers were committed to Rodgers as a starter. The team and Favre had a messy divorce, as No. 4 was traded to the New York Jets for a third-round pick.

Favre played for the Jets in 2008 and led the team to a 9-7 record, but missed the playoffs. Favre threw 22 touchdown passes, but also threw 22 picks. Favre then retired for a second time after the season.

In 2009, Favre did the unthinkable as far as Packer Nation was concerned. He joined the Minnesota Vikings. Not only did he join the Vikings, but he led the Vikings to a 12-4 record and the NFC North crown. Two of those 12 wins came against the Packers.

Favre also had the best year of his career, as he threw 33 touchdown passes versus just seven interceptions. He also had the best passer rating of his career with a 107.2 mark.

By like he did in 2007, Favre threw a costly pick in overtime, as the Vikings were defeated by the New Orleans Saints in the NFC title game.

The 2010 season was the exact opposite of the success Favre had in 2009, as he was just 5-8 as a starter and saw his consecutive starting streak end at 297 games. Favre also had the worst season of his entire NFL career, as he threw just 11 touchdown passes versus 19 picks for 2,509 yards.

Still, when one looks at the entirety of Favre’s career in the NFL, No. 4 put up some incredible numbers.

Numbers like 508 career touchdown passes versus 336 interceptions. Or 297 consecutive regular season starts. Three consecutive MVP awards as well.

Favre also had 45 game-winning drives. No. 4 was also named to 11 Pro Bowl teams and was first team All-Pro three times.

In July of 2015, Favre was even welcomed back to Green Bay for his inclusion into the Packers Hall of Fame and for having his jersey No. 4 retired, as he received several loud ovations from the crowd of over 67,000 strong at Lambeau Field.

“It was like I never left,” Favre said. “It was a great feeling.”

Brett and Bart

Favre became just the sixth Packer to have his jersey number retired, joining Don Hutson (No. 14), Tony Canadeo (No. 3), Bart Starr (No. 15), Ray Nitschke (No.66) and Reggie White (No. 92).

Favre officially had his No. 4 unveiled on the facade of Lambeau Field on Thanksgiving night, with Starr on hand in a very emotional setting.

In less than a month, Favre will get the ultimate honor in the NFL when he is officially enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, becoming the 24th individual of the Packers to receive that honor.

Jerry Kramer Talks About Emlen Tunnell

 

Em Tunnell - Green Bay Packers

Last summer I did a series of articles about the 11 teammates of Jerry Kramer who were inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, as well as the man who made that all possible…Vince Lombardi.

In the stories, Kramer gave me his reflections about those players and his legendary head coach. There is absolutely no doubt that Kramer deserves that same honor based on his great career in the NFL.

As a matter of fact, Kramer should have been inducted decades ago.

The 11 Hall of Famers who Kramer looked back on were Jim Taylor, Forrest Gregg, Bart Starr, Ray Nitschke, Herb Adderley, Willie Davis, Jim Ringo, Paul Hornung, Willie Wood, Henry Jordan and Dave Robinson.

The one Hall of Famer who also played with Kramer  and who wasn’t in this series of articles was Emlen Tunnell. The main reason was because Tunnell spent most of his career with the New York Giants.

When Lombardi arrived in Green Bay in 1959 as head coach and general manager, he made a number of trades. The first trade was to acquire guard Fuzzy Thurston from the Baltimore Colts for linebacker Marv Matuzak.

The second trade was to acquire Tunnell from the Giants for cash. Lombardi had been with the Giants himself from 1954 through 1958 as an offensive assistant and he knew full well the talents of Tunnell at the safety position.

Emlen and VinceTunnell had started his NFL career with the G-Men in 1948, after playing at both Toledo and Iowa in college.

Tunnell immediately showed that he was a very talented defensive back, as he had seven interceptions (including one for a touchdown) his rookie year.

Throughout his career with the Giants, Tunnell was considered the very best safety in the NFL, as he was named first team All-Pro four times and was also named to the Pro Bowl eight times.

During that time, Tunnell had 74 interceptions (four of which were returned for touchdowns) and had 15 fumble recoveries as well.

Tunnell was also a very dangerous punt returner, as he led the NFL in punt returns twice, and had five returns for a touchdown. No. 45 also had a kickoff return for a score.

By the time he came to Green Bay, Tunnell had already played 11 seasons with the Giants. But when Lombardi acquired him from the Giants, Tunnell immediately became a starter at safety along side of Bobby Dillon in 1959.

Tunnell had two interceptions for the Packers that year and was named to yet another Pro Bowl.

In 1960, Tunnell started at safety once again, this time next to John Symank. Tunnell had three more interceptions, as the Packers won the Western Conference  and narrowly lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1960 NFL title game, 17-13.

Also that season, Tunnell mentored free-agent rookie Willie Wood about how to play the safety position, as well as returning punts.

By 1961, Tunnell had been replaced by Wood at safety as a starter, but his lessons to Wood were well spent. Wood had five interceptions that year, plus led the NFL in punt returns, as he had a 16.1 return average and two returns for touchdowns.

On top of all that, the Packers won the 1961 NFL title, as they defeated Tunnell’s old team, the Giants, 37-0 at City Stadium (later Lambeau Field).

It was Tunnell’s second NFL title, as he had also been part of a Giants team which won the 1956 NFL championship.

Tunnell retired after the 1961 season and in 1967 he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

When I talked to Kramer about Tunnell, he recalled No. 45 very fondly.

“Emlen was a pretty special guy,” Kramer said. “He was a pro’s pro. He was a classy and bright guy as well. Emlen was a fierce competitor. He also helped tutor the young defensive backs like Willie Wood and Herb Adderley.”

Kramer remembered one play especially regarding Tunnell.

“We were playing the Chicago Bears one time,” Kramer said. “The Bears had a fine guard by the name of Stan Jones. The Bears ran a play, kind of like a sweep, with the guards pulling. Emlen came up to force the play, and his timing was impeccable, as he hit Jones with a forearm to the head and knocked him colder than a cucumber.”

One can see how the teaching of Tunnell impacted both Wood and Adderley, as not only were both players fabulous ball hawks, but both were also outstanding tacklers who delivered a resounding hit more times than not.

Wille Wood and Herb Adderley

Willie Wood and Herb Adderley via http://www.packernews.com

Kramer knew that Tunnell would be able to teach the younger players.

“Emlen just really understood the defensive positions,” Kramer said. “He knew where everyone should be on a given offensive formation. He was just a steadying influence.”

After he was done playing in the NFL, Tunnell later became a scout and assistant coach for the Giants.

Tunnell also was a bit of a celebrity when he joined the Packers after playing so many years in the Big Apple. Tunnell also knew many celebrities.

Kramer recalled a couple of instances.

“In San Francisco, Ella Fitzgerald was playing one night,” Kramer said. “When we went to the show, everyone knew Emlen. Everyone. He was just a social cat. Anyway, Fuzzy and I were hanging out with him watching the great show from Ella from up close. It was just wonderful.

“Then another time we were in Milwaukee one night and Ray Charles was performing in this hotel. We went in to watch him during his second session, as he had already done an early show.

“Fuzzy, myself and some other players quietly found a table near the back. Emlen saw us and he told us to follow him. Ray was sitting at the piano getting ready to start his set, while Emlen had the help get us a bunch of chairs and then put them around the piano. We were sitting six feet away from Ray having a beer while he was performing. It was a priceless moment.”

Sadly, Tunnell died at the young age of 50 in 1975 due to a heart attack.

Still, he left behind a great legacy, both on the field and off.

“Emlen was a class act,” Kramer said. He was a hell of football player, as well as being a hell of a man.”

The Legacy of Vince Lombardi in the NFL

Lombardi celebrates 1966 NFL title

Vince Lombardi got his first taste of the NFL, when he became an offensive assistant under Jim Lee Howell of the New York Giants in 1954. Before then, Lombardi built his coaching resume by coaching at St. Cecilia in New Jersey for eight years (five as head coach), two years at Fordham University (his alma mater) and five years at Army under legendary head coach Red Blaik.

Lombardi was basically the offensive coordinator for the Giants under Howell, as he built the offense of the G-Men around running back Frank Gifford. In the five years Lombardi was running the offense for the Giants, the team became very successful. In 1956, the Giants won the NFL title and Gifford was the NFL MVP. In Lombardi’s last year in New York, the Giants played the Baltimore Colts in the NFL title game, but lost 23-17 in sudden-death overtime.

By then, Lombardi’s coaching talent was well known throughout the NFL and he was endorsed by both Paul Brown of the Cleveland Browns and George Halas of the Chicago Bears for the head coaching job with the Green Bay Packers. A meeting between Lombardi and the Packers was arranged by Jack Vainisi, who was in charge of scouting in Green Bay, and before long, Lombardi was hired as both head coach and general manager of the Packers starting in 1959.

The Packers had finished 1-10-1 the year before Lombardi arrived in Green Bay. Plus, the 1950s as a whole had been an abysmal decade for the Packers, as the team was just 32-74-2 before Lombardi came to town in 1959.

As bad as the results were on the field, Vainisi had accumulated a lot of talent for the Packers in the NFL draft in the years prior to Lombardi’s arrival. Vainisi had drafted players like Bill Howton, Bobby Dillon, Dave Hanner, Bill Forrester, Jim Ringo, Max McGee, Forrest Gregg, Bob Skoronski, Hank Gremminger, Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Ron Kramer, John Symank, Dan Currie, Jim Taylor, Ray Nitschke and Jerry Kramer.

All told, Vainisi drafted six players (Ringo, Gregg, Starr, Hornung, Taylor and Nitschke) who would later be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, while two other players, Jerry Kramer and Dillon, certainly belong in Canton as well.

When Lombardi looked at the film of the offense of the Packers from 1958, one player in particular caught his eye. It was Hornung.

When I talked to Jerry Kramer about the arrival of Lombardi in Green Bay, he made a point of talking about why Lombardi was so enamored with Hornung.

“When you talk about Paul, you have to remember how critical he was in the decision that coach Lombardi made to come to Green Bay,” Kramer said. “If you think back, Bart Starr was methane. He was colorless, odorless, tasteless and virtually invisible. We didn’t know who Bart was then.

“Bart was competing with a few other guys like Babe Parilli, Joe Francis and Lamar McHan. Bart was back and forth the first couple of years after Lombardi became the coach.

“But I do remember Lombardi saying, ‘That Hornung was going to be his Gifford.’ And remember how critical the sweep was to the Lombardi offense.

Paul Hornung vs. the Colts

“As coach said quite often, ‘This is a play we will make go. This is a play we must make go. We will run it again and again and again.’

“So Hornung may have been the key to getting Lombardi to come to Green Bay.”

The power sweep was indeed the signature play for the Packers under Lombardi. The early success for the Packers running that play supports Kramer’s supposition. For one thing, the power sweep averaged 8.3 yards-per-carry the first three years the Packers utilized the play.

The Packers became a force in the running game during that time, as the team averaged 178 yards a game on the ground from 1959-1961. Taylor gained 2,860 yards during that time, but Hornung was the star of the offense for many reasons those first three seasons under Lombardi.

During that same time, Hornung gained 1,949 yards rushing, plus scored a whopping 28 touchdowns on the ground. No. 5 was also the kicker for the Packers and Hornung led the NFL in scoring for three consecutive years from 1959 through 1961.

Like Gifford did in 1956, Hornung won the NFL MVP in 1961, as the Packers won their first NFL title under Lombardi, as the Packers beat the Giants 37-0 in the first NFL championship game ever played in Green Bay. Hornung scored 19 points in that game just by himself.

Winning became a habit in Green Bay under Lombardi’s leadership. In Lombardi’s first year with the Packers in 1959, the team finished 7-5, which was the first winning record for the team since 1947.

The Packers went on to an 8-4 record and the Western Conference title in 1960, but lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1960 NFL title game 17-13. The game ended with Taylor being tackled on the Eagles’ 10-yard line by Chuck Bednarik as time ran out. That would be the only loss that Lombardi and his Packers would ever have in the postseason.

In the regular season during his tenure in Green Bay as head coach, the Packers were 89-24-4, plus won six Western Conference titles. But it was in the postseason that Lombardi and his team really shined. After that loss to the Eagles, the Packers went on to win nine straight playoff games, which included five NFL championships and the first two Super Bowls.

That included winning three straight NFL titles from 1965-67. No team in the modern era of the NFL has ever duplicated that.

Is there any doubt as to why the Super Bowl trophy is named after Lombardi?

After spending a year as just the general manager of the Packers in 1968, Lombardi left Green Bay to become the head coach of the Washington Redskins in 1969. The team went 7-5-2 that year, which was the first winning record for the Redskins in 14 years.

Lombardi tragically died of colon cancer in 1970, at the young age of 57. A year later, Lombardi was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

There is no doubt that Lombardi was the best of the best in terms of being a football coach, but he was more than that. He was also a leader of men, both on and off the football field.

Just ask Kramer.

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

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

“Those things are still helping me today.”

Vince and Jerry IV

Kramer also talked about Lombardi’s doctrine about life in general.

“Coach Lombardi use to share a philosophy about life with us,” Kramer said. “He said, ‘After the game is over, the stadium lights are out, the parking lot is empty, the fans have all gone home, the press has done their job and released their information, you are finally back in the quiet of your own room looking at the championship ring on the dresser. The only thing left after that was to have a standard of excellence in your life. Make sure that the world is a better place because you were in it.’

“The coach taught us to leave a positive impact on society,” Kramer said. “The world would be a much better place if we did that. That’s what I have tried to do all these years.”

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

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

Yes, Vincent Thomas Lombardi was a great coach and a great teacher. But he had an additional attribute. 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.

Jerry Kramer and so many other men who played under Lombardi are a testament to that.

Why Jerry Kramer Belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Jerry on a knee

Around the third week of August, the Senior Selection Committee for the Pro Football Hall of Fame will make their one and only Senior nomination for possible inclusion for the Class of 2017 in Canton.

Normally there are two Senior candidates nominated, but this year there will be two Contributor nominees, which is part of a five-year temporary process which allows a Contributor- defined as an individual who has “made outstanding contributions to professional football in capacities other than playing or coaching”, a chance to get in the Hall of Fame.

This is the third year of this process, which allows two Contributor finalists in years one (starting with the Class of 2015), three and five, of the next five years. In years two and four of that same period, there will be just one Contributor finalist. At the end of the five-year period, the number of Contributor finalists going forward will be one per year.

To keep the maximum number of nominees elected at no more than eight per year, the Senior finalists will be reduced from two to one per year in years one, three and five of the same five-year period. In years two and four and each year thereafter, there will be two Senior finalists, as is now the practice.

I’ve talked to Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News, who happens to be on both the Senior Select Committee and the Contributor Committee and he disagrees with this current process. Gosselin believes that there are far too many Senior candidates who deserve a bust in the Hall of Fame, as opposed to the number of Contributors who the Hall of Fame should consider.

One of those Senior candidates is Jerry Kramer.

There is absolutely no doubt that Kramer had a superb 11-year career with the Green Bay Packers. Not just in the regular season, but also in the postseason when the lights are the brightest and the pressure to win is extremely high.

Especially when your head coach was named Vince Lombardi.

In his career with the Packers, Kramer was a five-time (first team) All-Pro and was also named to three Pro Bowls. No. 64 would have had even more honors if not for injuries and illness. Kramer missed half of the 1961 season due to a broken ankle and almost all of the 1964 season due to an intestinal ailment which took nine operations to resolve.

Kramer was also named to the NFL All-Decade team for the 1960s, plus he was also a member of the NFL’s 50th anniversary team in 1969, where he was the lone offensive guard on that illustrious squad.

Kramer is the only member of that 50th anniversary first team not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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

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

No. 64 played a big part in a number of those championship game victories.

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

Kramer scored 10 points in the 16-7 victory for the Packers, plus helped lead the way for fullback Jimmy Taylor to gain 85 yards rushing and also score the lone Green Bay touchdown. As a team, the Packers gained 148 yards rushing that day.

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

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

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

In the 1966 NFL Championship Game at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, the Packers outlasted the Cowboys 34-27. Kramer and the rest of the offensive line had a large impact in that victory, as quarterback Bart Starr threw for 304 yards and had four touchdown passes, plus the running game picked up an additional 102 yards.

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

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

Jerry's block on Jethro

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kramer played a prominent role in both of those instances.

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

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

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

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

In 1997, Kramer was a Senior finalist, but once again he did not get the votes necessary for induction. So, why is that?

It’s hard to fathom the reasons why. It really is. But let’s try. Cliff Christl, who was the long-time Green Bay representative as a voter for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and is now the official historian for the Packers, wrote an article in 2014 which attempted to give the reasons why Kramer has not yet been inducted.

Basically, here are the reasons that Christl has heard through the grapevine as to why Kramer is still not in Canton:

1) There are too many Lombardi-era Packers are already in the Hall of Fame.

2) Kramer may have struggled against Merlin Olsen and Alex Karras.

3) Kramer may not be the best Lombardi-era offensive linemen not in the Hall of Fame.

Let me address each point.

As to the issue that there are too many Lombardi-era Packers in Canton, I have already addressed just how important Kramer was to the success for the Packers, not just in the regular season, but also in the postseason.

One could make an argument that the Packers don’t win the 1962 and 1967 NFL title games if it wasn’t for the great contribution by Kramer. How would the great legacy of Lombardi and his Packers look if they only won three NFL championships in seven years, as opposed to five?

The three field goals that Kramer kicked in very gusty conditions in the 1962 title game at Yankee Stadium were the difference in the outcome of that 16-7 game.

Plus there wouldn’t have been the three straight NFL titles without that epic block by Kramer in the “Ice Bowl” as the closing seconds of that classic game were running down.

In terms of struggling versus Olsen and Karras, I would disagree. First off, both Olsen and Karras were the two best defensive tackles in the NFL in the 1960s. That is why they are on the All-Decade team at that position, along with Bob Lilly of the Cowboys. But Kramer was also on that team at right guard and he had nice success against both Olsen and Karras.

Yes, there were times when the two got the best of Kramer, but that is what they did on a consistent basis with all the right guards in the NFL. In the games where Kramer was matched up against Karras, the Packers won nine games, lost five and tied three with Detroit. The Lions were the biggest threat to Green Bay in the early 1960s, as they finished second to the Packers in the Western Division three straight years from 1960-1962.

Merlin Olsen vs. the Pack

When Kramer and the Packers went up against Olsen and his Los Angeles Rams in the regular season, Green Bay won seven games and lost just three against the Rams. Plus, the Packers also beat the Rams 28-7 in the 1967 Western Conference Championship Game in Milwaukee. Kramer did not allow a sack to Olsen in that game, plus the Packers piled up 163 rushing yards and 222 passing yards.

Plus there is the fact that both Olsen and Karras have endorsed Kramer for the Hall of Fame.

Olsen is considered by many to be the best defensive tackle of all time. Olsen went to 14 Pro Bowls, which is the all-time NFL record shared by Bruce Matthews, the uncle of Clay Matthews of the Packers.

Olsen was named AP All-Pro nine times in his career as well.

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

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

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

There are also quite a number of Kramer’s contemporaries who are already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame who likewise believe Kramer belongs in Canton. Randy Simon has put together a great book that shows all the endorsements.

They come from teammates like Starr, Hornung and Davis, along with players like Lilly, Frank Gifford, Chuck Bednarik, Doug Atkins, Alan Page, Joe Schmidt, John Mackey, Raymond Berry, Mel Renfro, Mike Ditka, Jim Otto, Tom Mack, Dave Wilcox, Tommy McDonald and Lem Barney.

In addressing the final point that Christl mentioned in his story about whether Kramer may not be the best Lombardi-era offensive linemen not in the Hall of Fame, I would fervently disagree.

I certainly agree that Thurston was an excellent left guard for the Packers. In his career, Fuzzy was an AP All-Pro once, but he unbelievably never went to a Pro Bowl. Bob Skoronski was a solid left tackle in Green Bay but was never All-Pro and only went to one Pro Bowl. Both Thurston and Skoronski were very good offensive linemen for the Packers, but they were not up to the level of Kramer overall.

Now guard Gale Gillingham did have a Hall of Fame career in my opinion. He was All-Pro a number of times and went to five Pro Bowls. Most of that was done after Lombardi left Green Bay, however.

As much as Gillingham deserves to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Kramer needs to get in first for all he has accomplished, much of which was done well before Gillingham became a starter in 1967.

The bottom line is that Jerry Kramer should have been inducted into the Hall of Fame decades ago along with the rest of his teammates. No. 64’s importance and contributions to those great Packer teams under Lombardi have been noted.

Until the Senior Selection Committee and the rest of the voters for the Pro Football Hall of Fame right this wrong about Kramer and his place in NFL history, there will always be a dark cloud which will hover over that prestigious building in Canton.

Gosselin said this about the issue in one of his chats with his readers at the Dallas Morning News:

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

I couldn’t have said it better, Rick.

The NFL’s 50th anniversary team was named 47 years ago. Kramer became eligible for induction five years later. That means Kramer has patiently waited 42 years for the Pro Football Hall of Fame to open it’s doors for him.

Vince and Jerry IV

Kramer has remained classy and stoic throughout this ordeal. When I talked with him recently, Kramer told me that he sees the glass as half-full, talking about his football life and his time with Coach Lombardi.

“I’ve pretty much accepted the fact that it’s [his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame] not going to happen,” Kramer said. “I’ve gotten along fine without it. I still feel that…I’m going to pull a Lou Gehrig on you…that I’m one of the luckiest guys in the world.

“The opportunity to play for Coach Lombardi and the timing of it was just so perfect. I arrived one year before him, played nine years with him as coach and then one year while he was the GM. I was really able to watch his impact and learn from his philosophies, beliefs and principles. It was as much an education, as it was an experience.

“I was very fortunate to have been a part of that.”

Speaking of Coach Lombardi, and before I spoke to Kramer, I found a quote from Lombardi talking about Kramer from a 1969 article in the Chicago Tribune.

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

I told Kramer about that quote and asked if he had heard it before.

“I think I have,” Kramer said. “But coming from that source, it’s always nice to hear it again.”

I only wish the Senior Selection Committee and the rest of the voters at the Pro Football Hall of Fame would heed the words of Lombardi and many, many others. Besides all the great salutations Kramer has received from his peers, the bottom line is that he was the best player at his position when he played in the NFL.

Not just in the regular season, but in the bright lights of the postseason as well when his team was so dominant. Kramer played a huge role in championship legacy of the Packers in the 1960s.

Which is why he was named to the NFL’s 50th anniversary team in 1969.

It is high time that Kramer gets the honor which he so richly deserves. That being, induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a place where the best of the best get recognized.

And Kramer was the best of the best.

Green Bay Packers: Vince Lombardi Was the Very Best in His Dual Roles as Head Coach and General Manager

Vince at the Ice Bowl

To illustrate that Vince Lombardi was the greatest coach in NFL history, it’s quite apropos that his name is on the Super Bowl trophy that is awarded each year to the NFL champion. That tells you all you need to know about his excellence as a head coach.

That’s what happens when you coach a team to five NFL titles in seven years, including the first two Super Bowls.

Lombardi had a .754 winning percentage in the regular season as head coach of the Packers, as the team had an 89-29-4 record over nine years.

But in the postseason, the Packers really shined under Lombardi, as the team went 9-1.

Lombardi liked to win. That is obvious. Even in the preseason. Vince had a 42-8 record in those games as well.

Lombardi inherited a team that went 1-10-1 in 1958. That team also had a lot of untapped talent then. On that squad were a number of players who would later be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Players like center Jim Ringo, offensive tackle Forrest Gregg, quarterback Bart Starr, halfback Paul Hornung, fullback Jim Taylor and middle linebacker Ray Nitschke.

That’s six players who are now in Canton who were already on the roster when Lombardi took over the team in 1959. There should be a seventh player. That would be right guard Jerry Kramer, who should have been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame decades ago due to his stellar play.

Vince and Jerry IV

Lombardi took that 1-10-1 team from 1958 and immediately brought a winning tradition to Green Bay.

In 1959 the Packers went 7-5 under Lombardi. A year later they played in the NFL championship game against the Philadelphia Eagles. That would be the only postseason game Lombardi and his Packers ever lost.

Then came the run starting in 1961 of seven years that brought five NFL titles, including the first two Super Bowl wins.

The excellence of those teams was helped a great deal by the players Lombardi had inherited when he joined the team. But he also added to that excellence by acquiring some great talent himself through the draft and trades, plus free agent and waiver acquisitions as general manager.

First, let’s look at the trades and the other additions to the roster.

In 1959, Lombardi made several trades. Three of the players Lombardi acquired were left guard Fuzzy Thurston, safety Emlen Tunnell and defensive tackle Henry Jordan.

Thurston, along with Kramer, were the best set of guards in the NFL for several years. The staple play of the Lombardi Packers was the power sweep, and the success of that play was largely due to the great blocking by Thurston and Kramer.

Tunnell was near the end of his career when Lombardi acquired him, but he helped mentor a young safety named Willie Wood, who Lombardi signed as a free agent in 1960. Wood, like Tunnell, would be later inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame because of his hard-hitting presence and his ball-hawking ability.

Jordan also was inducted into the Hall of Fame because of his great play on the inside of the defensive line for several years.

Lombardi celebrates 1966 NFL title

In 1960, Lombardi also acquired defensive end Willie Davis from the Cleveland Browns, the same team which had traded Jordan to the Packers. Davis also would later be enshrined in Canton because of his dominance at defensive end.

In 1963, Lombardi picked up Zeke Bratkowski on waivers, and he later became the ideal back up to Starr at quarterback for a number of seasons.

In 1965, Lombardi made three key trades which would help the Packers win three consecutive NFL titles from 1965-67. Vince acquired outside linebacker Lee Roy Caffey, kicker Don Chandler and wide receiver Carroll Dale in three separate deals.

All three of those players played big roles in the Packers winning those three consecutive titles.

In 1967, Lombardi’s last season as head coach of the Packers, he also picked up free agent fullback Chuck Mercein, who played a huge role in the success of the team late in the season and the postseason.

In the draft, Lombardi could also spot talent. In 1961, he drafted a halfback from Michigan State named Herb Adderley in the first round. Lombardi later turned Adderley into a cornerback, and Herb’s fantastic career also got him enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

Adderley was the best cover-corner in the NFL in the 1960s. Not only was he great in coverage and in picking off the ball, No. 26 could also deliver a vicious blow to opposing players.

In the first round in 1963, Lombardi drafted linebacker Dave Robinson. Robinson also has a bust in Canton now, as he, Nitschke and Caffey were the best set of linebackers in the NFL for a number of years.

Vince and the Pack at Super Bowl I

In 1966, one of Lombardi’s two first-round draft picks was Gale Gillingham. Like Kramer, Gillingham was one of the elite guards of his era, and he also belongs in Canton.

Lombardi also drafted other players who also played a big part in the success of the Packers under his watch. The list includes running back Tom Moore, cornerback Bob Jeter, defensive tackle Ron Kostelnik, halfback Elijah Pitts, safety Tom Brown, defensive end Lionel Aldridge, tight end Marv Fleming, center Ken Bowman, halfback Donny Anderson, fullback Jim Grabowski and halfback/kick returner Travis Williams.

Bottom line, we all know that Vince Lombardi was the best of the best as a head coach. His record of excellence proves that.

But he deserves even more recognition because of his prowess as a general manager as well.