It was apropos that I had an opportunity to talk with Jerry Kramer again this week, with everything that has been going on with the Green Bay Packers as of late.
You see, Kramer knows a little bit about running the football, which the Packers have been able to do quite well in 2013.
Jerry also knows about teams which have had to overcome injuries to succeed, including still winning when your starting quarterback is out for awhile.
Jerry was a member of the Packer teams under head coach Vince Lombardi which won five NFL titles in seven years, including the first two Super Bowls.
The Packers of 1965-1967 won three straight NFL championships, something that's never been duplicated in the playoff era, which started all the way back in 1933.
Kramer was a five-time All-Pro in the NFL and also named to three Pro Bowls. He was also on the NFL All-Decade for the 1960s.
Jerry was also a member of the NFL's 50th anniversary team in 1969. Unbelievably, Kramer is the only member of that team still not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
I wrote about that absurd situation a few months ago.
Kramer was part of an offensive line that led the best overall rushing attack in the NFL for several years. From 1959-1964, the Packers were first in the NFL in rushing three times, second twice and third once.
The signature play of that running attack was the legendary power sweep. Kramer, as the right guard, played an important role in the success of that play as he would pull out and block anyone who came into his path, as he led the way for guys like Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung.
I asked Jerry about the success the Packers are having running the football currently (third in the NFL in rushing).
First of all, I've been bitching about the running game for a number of years. I was unhappy about it, of course. Not just because of the balance it brings to your attack, but I think it makes a dramatic difference in the player's ability to block. I mean if you let those defensive linemen put their ears back on every play, and come without fear of the rush, they are going to bring it. So if you give them some uncertainty in the equation, that means they have to pay attention to the run now. I've been preaching that out for some time now. I'm very pleased to see the running game working. That's cool. But wouldn't you know that Aaron (Rodgers) would get hurt right when the Packers put all the pieces together. That must drive a coach completely up the wall.
Kramer also talked a bit about the players toting the rock.
I think we've got a couple of pretty good runners. I was pleased with (James) Starks when I first saw him, and he's had some injuries of course and that's part of the game today. And this (Eddie) Lacy has some speed, and he's a big strong-legged kid who is tough to tackle, so I'm pleased to see their success this season.
Kramer talked about how successful the play-action fakes worked when quarterback Bart Starr would use them on third or fourth down and short yardage to go.
There are a lot of different things that are enhanced when you have a balanced attack. The pass that Bart loved to throw was the post to (Max) McGee, after the fake to Taylor. It was very successful for a number of years for us.
Jerry and I also talked about teams being able to overcome injuries, which has plagued the team once again this season. The last championship team Jerry played on was the 1967 squad, in which the team began the season without Taylor (free agency) and Hornung (retired) for the first time in the Lombardi-era.
The backs the Packers used to replace the two Hall of Fame running backs were Jim Grabowski and Elijah Pitts. Both Grabowski and Pitts were lost for the season in the very same game in the middle of the 1967 season. Quarterback Bart Starr played hurt early in the season, and actually missed a couple of games. There were numerous other injuries as well.
I think this is a time when the whole team steps up a little bit. We have to improve our game. We have to be flawless. Try to play the perfect game. We got a little bit of a hiccup here, and if we are going to get through this, and come out the other side, than everybody has to step up a little bit and improve their performance. And if we can get that, and every individual buys into that, we can overcome that situation (injuries). I don't know if they can do that, but we certainly tried to improve our game overcoming injuries when I was a player.
Kramer also talked about the injury to Aaron Rodgers and what needs to happen now.
You know, there's not a lot Aaron can do now. He can be on the sideline and can share a bit of information and help Seneca (Wallace) out with his ideas and thoughts.
Jerry also talked about a player who he believes has already stepped up his play this season.
It seems to me that A.J. (Hawk) has picked up his performance this season. Before and after Clay (Matthews) got hurt. I don't know if his numbers reflect that, but it certainly appeared to me that he has picked up his game.
Finally, Jerry spoke about that 1967 team which battled so much adversity that season. The very last season under coach Lombardi. A season without Taylor and Hornung. All the injuries the team had to overcome. The list went on and on. But the team went on to win their third straight NFL title, as well as their second straight Super Bowl.
We had a big goal early on that season. The first meeting of the year, the first time we got together, coach Lombardi talked about winning the third consecutive title, and how no one had done that before (in the playoff-era). That this was a tremendous challenge. So he spent the whole hour of the meeting talking about the challenge that we faced and what we had to do to meet that challenge. So, we had a mindset that it didn't matter what the hell happened, and who was there and who wasn't there, that we were going to get it done one way or another. That talk carried us through those difficult times when you lost a player like Bart to injury.
The 2013 Packers face a similar challenge now with Rodgers expected to miss a number of games. If the current Packers can be as mentally strong as Kramer and the 1967 Packers were to overcome so much adversity, the goals that the current Green Bay team set early in training camp this summer can still be achieved.