Green Bay Packers: Jerry Kramer Talks About the Power Sweep

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Green Bay Packers: Jerry Kramer Talks About the Power Sweep
Associated Press

With the addition of rookie running back Eddie Lacy last season, the Green Bay Packers became a top-10 rushing attack for the first time since 2004. The Packers finished seventh in the NFL in rushing behind Lacy, who was named the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

That has happened rarely over the last 22 seasons in Titletown, going back to 1992. That was when Mike Holmgren was hired as head coach, and general manager Ron Wolf also made a trade for a quarterback named Brett Favre.

In fact, the Packers have only been a top-10 rushing attack three times over that time—last year, plus the 2003 and 2004 seasons behind running back Ahman Green.

The Packers have still won quite a bit since then, as the team has flourished under Favre and his successor Aaron Rodgers.

But the Packers have mostly been successful on offense due to the passing game, not the running game, behind Favre and Rodgers. The team has won 10 divisional titles with No. 4 and No. 12 behind center, as well as two Super Bowls. Overall, the team has been in the postseason 16 times in those 22 years.

Things were a lot different for the Packers when Vince Lombardi became the head coach in 1959. The Packers under Lombardi became a run-first team, which dominated the line of scrimmage toting the rock.

In 1958, the year before Lombardi came to Green Bay, the Packers were 10th in the NFL in running the football. The team finished 1-10-1 that season under coach Ray "Scooter" McLean.

A number of talented players were on that team, which won only won game in 1958—players like Jim Ringo, Forrest Gregg, Jerry Kramer, Bart Starr, Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung.

The focus of the team offensively changed when Lombardi came to town. The Packers would live or die on offense with a play called the power sweep, which Lombardi had successfully used in New York with the Giants when he ran their offense.

I had a chance to talk with Kramer recently, and he brought up why he thought taking the Green Bay job was so attractive to Lombardi. It had to do with the power sweep and also a player named Paul Hornung:

"Hornung was the reason I believe Coach Lombardi came to Green Bay. Bart [Starr] was an unknown then. There were three or four guys trying to become the quarterback then, and we didn't know who the hell the quarterback was going to be.

"But we did know who Mr. Hornung was. And Coach Lombardi said many times, 'That the power sweep was the number one play in our offense. We will make it go. We must make it go. And Hornung is going to be my [Frank] Gifford.'

"Hornung was the key with all that. To me, it seemed like Hornung was probably more instrumental in what Coach Lombardi had envisioned for his offense than who his quarterback was. So I think Hornung was the number one reason why Coach Lombardi came to Green Bay."

Associated Press

The running game did become the focal point of the offense under Lombardi. And the power sweep was the big reason why.

In 1959, the Packers improved to finish third in the NFL in rushing. From 1960 to 1964, the Packers were ranked either first (three times) or second (twice) in the league in that category.

In fact, the running game became so dominant for the Packers in those years that Hornung was the NFL MVP in 1961, and Taylor earned that same honor a year later.

Some of you may ask, what is exactly is the power sweep? It's an offensive play in which the quarterback hands the ball off to a running back, who will then attempt to run the ball to one side of the offensive line.

The primary ingredient which makes a power sweep unique is that the offensive line will have a number of players who might pull as blockers, as well as using the other running back as a lead blocker. The guards are the key, as they sometimes will get an opportunity to make second or third-level blocks against their defensive opponents so the back can gain more yardage.

The team leaned on Starr and the passing game more in 1965 and 1966 (Starr was the NFL MVP), as the running game was not as effective in those two seasons, but the Packers did finish second in the NFL in rushing in 1967.

And that says a lot. Both Hornung and Taylor were now gone from Green Bay. Both starting running backs, Elijah Pitts and Jim Grabowski, were lost for the season in the eighth game of the season.

Associated Press

The team still stayed strong in the running game that season behind players like Donny Anderson, Ben Wilson, Chuck Mercein and Travis Williams.

Kramer also talked about what needed to happen to make the power sweep successful:

"If Forrest [Gregg] hit that defensive end with a forearm, he would occupy him for the running back who was going to block him, and then Forrest would have a really good shot at getting the middle linebacker.

"Then if [Jim] Ringo could make that onside cutoff block on the tackle, then it was a stronger play. And Ringo was very good at the onside cutoff.

"So it was a much stronger play starting with those two blocks. Those were critical blocks. They had to be made properly or the play never got out of it's tracks."

Kramer then talked about what it was like blocking for a players such as Hornung or Pitts on that particular play as it broke outside:

"Hornung had such wonderful instincts. Elijah would sometimes run past me. It took Pitts around two years to learn to stay behind me so the play would be more successful.

"Hornung knew that the first time he ran it. He was just more instinctive. He wasn't as fast as Elijah, but he knew exactly where everything was, and he could see the field very well.

"He could set you up, Bob. He knew the precise instance that the defender had to make a commitment, and then Paul would either step inside or outside and set the player up and go the other way. He was just sensational in doing that on a consistent basis."

The power sweep became the signature play in the Lombardi offense. And this comment from Jerry should tell you why:

"Bobby, in the first three years we ran that play, we averaged I believe 8.3 yards a carry."

Which brings me once again to the question of why Kramer is not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The power sweep played a large part in the success of players like Ringo, Gregg, Taylor and Hornung. All of whom have busts in Canton now.

But Kramer does not. It totally baffles me. No. 64 was an AP six-time All-Pro 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.

Kramer also played very well in NFL title games. The Packers won five NFL championships in seven years under Lombardi, which included the first two Super Bowls.

The 1962 NFL Championship Game was played at blustery Yankee Stadium vs. the Giants, which also had 40 mph winds gusting around the storied stadium that day. Green Bay won that hard-fought battle 16-7. The difference in the game was three field goals.

The three field goals were kicked by Kramer, who doubled as a right guard and a kicker on that very frigid day.

The 1965 NFL Championship Game at Lambeau Field featured the Packer one-two punch of Taylor and Hornung versus the great Jimmy Brown of the Browns. Brown gained just 50 yards in his last ever game in the NFL, while Hornung ran for 105 yards and Taylor 96 in muddy conditions. 

The power sweep of the Packers totally dominated the Browns' defense, as Kramer and left guard Fuzzy Thurston kept knocking down linebackers and defensive backs leading the way for the Packer backs.

One play in particular stands out: Hornung’s last ever NFL championship touchdown.  Kramer pulled on a left power sweep and first blocked the middle linebacker, then a defensive back, as the “Golden Boy” found the end zone.

Then there was the 1967 NFL Championship Game at Lambeau Field, better known as the "Ice Bowl." The Packers had to drive 68 yards with only 4:50 remaining under arctic conditions, trailing the Dallas Cowboys 17-14. The playing surface that day was truly a frozen tundra, as the game time temperature was 13 below zero. 

Uncredited/Associated Press

It came down to 13 seconds to go with no timeouts at the 1-yard line of the Cowboys.  If the Packers run the ball and are stopped short, 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 because of the slippery and icy conditions near the goal line. Starr followed Kramer's block on Jethro Pugh, and he found a hole behind No. 64 to get into the end zone with the winning touchdown.

When one thinks back on the Lombardi legacy in Green Bay, one focuses on a couple of things.

The power sweep was the signature play of the Packers under coach Lombardi. The signature moment of the Lombardi era was the quarterback sneak by Starr in the "Ice Bowl."

Kramer was a huge element in the team's overall success in both of those situations.

Bottom line, Jerry Kramer belongs in Canton.

That is why it is hoped that the Senior Selection Committee for the Pro Football Hall of Fame will make Kramer one of the two senior nominees when they announce those nominees next month.

The next step would be Kramer being inducted into the Hall on Super Bowl weekend next February.

It's a honor he richly deserves. It's also a honor that is long overdue.

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