5 Reasons Jerry Kramer Should Be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame
We should be hearing the news this upcoming August. The news I'm talking about is whether or not former Green Bay Packer great Jerry Kramer will be nominated by the Senior Selection Committee for possible induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as one of the two senior nominees.
I'm an optimist by nature, but I feel good about No. 64's chances this summer about getting nominated. That would be Step 1. Step 2 would be actually being voted into the Hall of Fame on the weekend of Super Bowl 50 by the 46-person selection committee.
I have written several stories about Kramer over the years, mostly about his ridiculous omission from Canton, but also on other topics as well, including the "Ice Bowl," the power sweep, the book Instant Replay and the 1958 Green Bay draft class he was a part of.
I have gotten to know Kramer well, and his stoic stance about not being inducted into the Hall of Fame is admirable. I doubt that I would handle the same situation quite so honorably.
I have also been able to communicate and talk to a number of people who are on the selection committee for the Hall. Two of those individuals, Rick Gosselin and Ron Borges, also sit on the Senior Selection Committee.
Both Gosselin and Borges have told me that they believe Kramer should already be in the Hall of Fame. Kramer has been passed over 10 times as a finalist, and that is puzzling to Gosselin and Borges.
What I keep hearing from them is that the timing has to be right for Kramer in what could be his last chance to be among the greats at Canton.
Well, being in the 2016 Pro Football Hall of Fame class would be perfect timing. For one, Kramer would be part of a class that will certainly include Brett Favre. No. 4 quarterbacked the Packers for 16 record-setting years, which also included a Super Bowl title.
Favre and Kramer are also good friends.
Could you imagine all the green and gold in Canton in the summer of 2016 when that class receives its Hall of Fame busts? The event could possibly be the highest-attended ceremony in the history of the Hall of Fame, which dates back to 1963.
Add to that, the class will be voted in on the 50th anniversary of Super Bowl I. That historic game was played by Kramer and the Packers, who beat the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10.
You also might remember who the head coach of the Packers was. That would be Vince Lombardi. You know, the fellow who has the Super Bowl trophy named after him.
There are many reasons why Kramer should have been already inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame decades ago, but I'm going to list just five of them.
Kramer's Overall NFL Career
Jerry Kramer had a great 11-year career with the Packers. In five of those years, Kramer and the Packers won NFL championships, plus they won the first two Super Bowls.
Individually, he was a five-time AP first-team All-Pro and was also named to three Pro Bowls. No. 64 would have had more honors, except that he missed part of the 1961 season due to a broken ankle and missed most of the 1964 season because of an intestinal illness.
That illness led to nine operations, which saw Kramer's weight drop to 220 pounds. He slowly and arduously worked himself back into football shape for the 1965 season, as the Packers were about to win the first of three straight NFL titles under Lombardi.
In addition to that, Kramer was named to the first team for the All-Decade team in the 1960s.
The icing on the cake was when he was named to the NFL’s 50th anniversary team. He is the only member of that squad who is not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Kramer's Performance in the 1962 NFL Championship Game
When the light was shining on the Packers the brightest in NFL title games, Kramer had some of his finest moments. A good example is the 1962 NFL Championship Game.
That title game was played at frigid and windy Yankee Stadium, as Kramer doubled as a right guard and a kicker as the Packers defeated the New York Giants 16-7.
The difference in the game was Kramer's kicking. He booted three field goals on a difficult day to kick, as some wind gusts were over 40 mph during the contest.
"Yankee Stadium was an awesome experience," Kramer told me. "Especially for a kid from Idaho. Just to walk into that place where you had heard fights broadcast from, where so many World Series games were played, plus to see all the statues out in center field of Gehrig, Ruth and DiMaggio. The experience was just awesome."
As a blocker, he led the way many times for fullback Jimmy Taylor, who had 85 yards rushing and a touchdown. As a team, the Packers gained 148 yards rushing that day.
When Kramer kicked the game-winning field goal in the fourth quarter, he was elated.
"It was a hell of a moment," Kramer reflected. "It put the game out of reach, as they would have to score twice to beat us. It was probably the most excited I had ever been in a contest, and the guys were pounding me on the back. I experienced a Bart Starr-like moment, of having everyone applaud me and congratulate me."
For his efforts, Kramer received the game ball after the game.
"It was a huge moment and a wonderful experience," Kramer said. "The big thing was that you were able to come through. You met the test and were able to get the job done. And also not let the team down."
Kramer's Performance in the 1965 and 1967 NFL Championship Games
In the 1965 NFL title game played at snowy and muddy Lambeau Field against the Cleveland Browns, Kramer and the rest of the offensive line completely dominated the Browns in the running game.
The Packers rushed for 204 yards behind Jimmy Taylor and Paul Hornung, winning 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.
Then there was the 1967 NFL title game versus the Dallas Cowboys played on New Year's Eve at Lambeau Field. The game is better known as the "Ice Bowl."
The playing surface that day was a frozen tundra, as the game-time temperature was 13 below zero.
In the closing moments of the game, 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 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.
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.
Kramer talked about why that play was even called.
"Jethro [Pugh] was high, and I actually suggested that play on Thursday when we were 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.'
Kramer then talked about the legendary block the led the way for Starr to sneak into the end zone with some help from center Ken Bowman.
"I've analyzed that play a lot. 'Bow' was there, there is no question about that," Kramer said. "But when Jethro got up like I expected and then I got into him, the rest was a foregone conclusion. Jethro was then out of position and also out of the play. The play was over for him then."
The game was also basically over, as the Packers won 21-17.
Kramer's Peers Already in the Hall of Fame Believe No. 64 Should Be in Canton
If you haven't already seen the great slideshow about Jerry Kramer and why he belongs in the Hall of Fame put together by Randy Simon, I suggest you take a look.
Simon has testimonials from 33 players who are already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame who write and speak on behalf of Kramer.
The list includes several players who played with and against Kramer in the era in which he played. The list includes Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Willie Davis, Merlin Olsen, Bob Lilly, Frank Gifford, Chuck Bednarik, Doug Atkins, Alan Page, Bob St. Clair, Joe Schmidt, Gino Marchetti, John Mackey, Mike Ditka, Raymond Berry, Mel Renfro, Chris Hanburger, Jim Otto, Tom Mack, Dave Wilcox, Lem Barney and Tommy McDonald.
The biggest endorsement had to come from Olsen. No. 74 is considered by many to be 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.
Olsen and Kramer battled each other in the trenches on many occasions.
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.
The Power Sweep Was the Signature Play of the Lombardi Packers
The Green Bay Packers won five NFL titles in seven years under head coach Vince Lombardi. That includes the first two Super Bowls and also three straight NFL titles from 1965 to 1967, a feat that has never been matched in postseason history of the NFL.
The Packers always had great defenses under Lombardi and assistant coach Phil Bengtson.
On offense, the Packers had a formidable running game in which the signature play was the power sweep. In fact, halfback Paul Hornung won the 1961 NFL MVP award, while fullback Jimmy Taylor won the 1962 NFL MVP award.
In 1959, which was Lombardi's first year in Green Bay, the Packers finished third in the NFL in rushing. From 1960 to 1964, they ranked either first (three times) or second (twice) in the league in that category.
The play that was the most successful was the power sweep. On that particular play, the offensive line would have a number of players who might pull as blockers. In addition, the other running back would serve as a lead blocker.
The guards are the key to the play, 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.
Kramer talked about the little things that made the play so 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," Kramer said. "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 its tracks."
But as the play took off from there, it was Kramer and either Fuzzy Thurston or Gale Gillingham who made the play gain even more yardage.
Kramer then talked about blocking for players like Hornung and Elijah Pitts as they play broke outside.
"Hornung had such wonderful instincts. Elijah would sometimes run past me," Kramer said. "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. 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."
In 1965 and in 1966, the team leaned more on quarterback Bart Starr and the passing game at times. In fact, he was the NFL MVP in 1966. But much of the success he had throwing the ball was predicated on the strength of the running game.
In 1967, Lombardi's last year as head coach of the Packers, the team finished second in the NFL in rushing.
And that says a lot. Both Hornung and Taylor were now gone from Green Bay. And both starting running backs, Pitts and fullback Jim Grabowski, were lost for the season in the eighth game of the season.
But even with all that, the Packers managed to win their third consecutive NFL title that season and also a second straight Super Bowl win.
No matter the year, the Packers were going to run the power sweep again and again under Lombardi.
The continued success of that play was largely due to the efforts of Kramer and his teammates on the offensive line.