Green Bay Packers: A Conversation with Jerry Kramer
I had an opportunity to talk with Jerry Kramer recently, and we talked about a number of things during the course of our conversation. This included Jerry's thoughts on a various subjects that we chatted about in our over hour-long talk.
Here are some of Kramer's thoughts during our discussion.
On the retirement of Donald Driver:
Donald is an exceptional human being, and obviously a sensational ball player, but he's also just an awfully nice man. He's well-grounded and he has some character about him, and also some class. Plus I think of grace. Grace off the field, and obviously grace on the field, with the beautiful moves, and the tippy-toes, the great hands and the intelligence to run the route, but there's a grace, which is the only word I can use to describe his attitude off the field. That's with the fans and with everyone. He treats everyone with dignity and class.
On Dave Robinson being voted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame:
Robby and I and some friends went to dinner at Commander's Palace (New Orleans) on Friday night (the night before the Robinson's selection), and we just had an incredible dinner. The folks that ran the place came over and fussed over us a little bit, and then they started bringing us over shrimp, craw fish, pompano and this and that, and we just had a great time. I toasted Robby about his induction during the dinner and there were 13 of us there, and Robby teared up a little bit. It was a nice moment.
The gifts that Kramer has received from the game of football:
I'm in my 77th year. In the last couple of years, I've been included in the Top Ten Packers of All-Time, as well as the All-Century Packers team, and the point is that they are still giving me applause and accolades at this late point in my life. Then I looked at a poster I have regarding the NFL's 50th Anniversary All-Time team, and I see my name included with the likes of Red Grange, Bronco Nagurski, Don Hutson and other legends and giants of the game. Just to be associated with those guys is tall cotton for a kid from Idaho. I can't expect more than that. The game has been good to me. It's been exceptionally good to me, and I appreciate it. You get so many moments of applause and recognition, and you are going to get pissed because you didn't get one (Pro Football Hall of Fame)? That just doesn't make any sense to me.
About not being in the Pro Football Hall of Fame:
50 guys, or thereabouts, who are in the Hall of Fame, have endorsed me, or recommended me, or sent letters to the Hall on my behalf. Several of them thought I was already in. Guys like John Hannah. Anyway, to have those 50 people speak out on my behalf, I would rather have that, and not be in, then to be in, and have people think that I don't deserve it.
The 1962 NFL Championship Game where Kramer kicked three field goals in the Packers' 16-7 win over the Giants:
That was sort of a classic type of situation or a classic lineman deal. The team votes me the game ball and the writers vote Nitschke the game Corvette (laughing).
About being 9-of-11 in field goals in the 1962 season after Paul Hornung injured his knee:
I was really focused and watching the ball then. Kicking to me was always like the wedge shot in golf. You damn well better keep your head down and follow through.
The 1963 season when Kramer was the full-time kicker (Paul Hornung was suspended that year for gambling) and right guard for the Packers:
The Bears beat us twice that year (the only two losses of the season that year for the Packers, who finished 11-2-1). I remember one thing that is vivid to me from that year. Our defense was on the field, and there was a Bears' ball carrier running down the sidelines and he gets hit and fumbles the ball. But it lands perfectly for him, as it bounced right off the ground and into his arms. I talked to Doug Atkins (defensive end for the Bears) at the Pro Bowl later that year, and I mentioned that play to him. Doug said, "Jerry, I saw that, and I said to the boys that this is our year!" Anyway, I led the league in scoring for awhile that year, and finished in the top four or five (Kramer finished fourth in the NFL in scoring with 91 points).
Talking about George Halas of the Bears:
Coach Halas was a piece of work himself. One time he was being interviewed after we beat the Bears in a game they were expected to win. George said, "We knew what they were going to do. We knew where they were going to do it, and we knew when they were going to do it. We just couldn't do anything about it."
Playing for Halas at the Pro Bowl after Super Bowl II:
I get on the team bus the first morning of practice after a long trip from Miami to Los Angeles, and George hands me a playbook. I open the playbook. The first play is red right 49, which is our play. Normally, the head coach will put in his offense and defense for the Pro Bowl. You can pick up a few keys about that and use that on them the next year. So, I'm expecting to see the Bears' offense. But I see red right 49, which is our sweep. That's our color. That's our number. That's our blocking. That's our play! Then I turn the page and I see red left 28 and so on. Every play I look at is one of our plays. Finally I look up at coach Halas and he said, "Jerry, we didn't want you Green Bay boys to get behind, so we put in your playbook."
The intestinal issues that Kramer suffered from:
I played two games in 1964, and I had the nine intestinal operations (including a colostomy) that year. In 1965, coach Lombardi didn't think I was going to play. He told me that he couldn't count on me and he wanted me to go home, but that the Packers would take care of my hospital bills and salary. For the next hour, I'm telling him that I'm not going home. He was adamant that he couldn't count on me, but I wouldn't relent. Finally, he said, that he would put me with the defense. Anyway, I got on the field, and I only weighed about 220 pounds then (Kramer's normal playing weight was 250). I had an open wound about six inches long and about an inch and half deep on my stomach, too. It wasn't very pretty. Anyway, I got a little help from Don Chandler, who got me through the exercises. He told me that we would do the exercises together, If the team did 50 straddle hops, you do 10 and I'll do 40. If they do 40 push ups, you do five and I'll do 35. Damn, if Don didn't pull me through that knothole then.
On Paul Hornung's 13-yard touchdown run in the 1965 NFL Championship Game:
If you look at that play real closely, I made two blocks. First I got the middle linebacker who was slipping through and I hit him in full stride and never slowed and then I went out and got the cornerback on the outside.
Playing the same weekend when President Kennedy was assassinated on Friday, November 22, 1963:
I remember coming out of the locker room when I heard the news that the President was shot. I had a sinking feeling down in my gut. I admired him and thought he was a wonderful President. He was cool, classy, bright and just had a lot of things going for him. I felt really bad at that moment, like most Americans did, whether you were for him or not. It was kind of surreal. Coach Lombardi didn't use any motivation or didn't have any excitement about the upcoming game. It was like, "We got to do this." Coach Lombardi was not happy and he didn't hide the fact that he wasn't happy. He felt like we shouldn't be playing that game. We had enough pride to do our job and do what we had to do on the field (the Packers beat the 49ers 28-10 in Milwaukee). Everyone played with a heavy heart.
The 1967 season, which would be Vince Lombardi's last season as head coach:
In the opening speech at training camp in '67, the first thing that coach Lombardi said to us was that we had a great challenge ahead of us that year. He talked about how teams would be gunning for us that season after winning the NFL titles in 1965 and 1966. But we wanted three championships in a row to set us apart from everyone else. That sort of became our theme, or the reason to win our third straight title.
The winning drive in the Ice Bowl:
That 68-yard drive with 4:50 minutes to go was something else. Before that we had 31 plays in 10 possessions and had gained minus-nine yards. When we get the ball, it's minus-57 degrees (wind chill) and we have 68 yards to go. That drive was what that football team and that coach were all about. Under those conditions, against a very tough opponent, with the game on the line, that's when we came alive. We found something down deep inside, and probably it was called Lombardi.
The block (on Jethro Pugh) on Bart Starr's game winning quarterback sneak in the Ice Bowl:
Jethro was high, and I actually suggested that play on Thursday when we studying short yardage films. I said we could wedge Pugh if we had to. And coach Lombardi said,"What?" And I said that we can wedge Pugh if we have to. So we ran the film back three or four times, and coach says. "That's right. Put in a wedge on Pugh." On the play, Pugh is up high like I expected, and I got off the ball really well. I got a great start and Jethro was up where I expected him to be. I kept my head up and my eyes open, and I put my face in his chest and at that point it's over. I had control of Jethro and and he's up in the air, and he's just dead. As soon as he comes up, and I get into him, I had the power of position on him. There was no way in hell he was going to do anything but slide. Now Kenny (Bowman) was there and he was part of it (the block), there is no question about that, but I have always felt that the thing was over as soon as I got into Jethro.
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