There are certain indelible images that come to mind when you think of past Super Bowl champions. We tell ourselves that these frozen moments will be remembered forever. Certainly, those who participated in the recent celebration in Philadelphia will long remember the euphoria and pandemonium of their first title. But, before the underdog Eagles tore down the Patriots in front of the world, before their dynasty even began, before the Steelers and the Cowboys ever made their mark on the biggest game in America, there was Lombardi and his Packers. Today, we can be assured that the last champion of the Golden Age Packers will be remembered by all. Jerry Kramer has finally made it into the Hall of Fame. Now, the immortal image of the Packer Sweep is complete. Our guard has come home.
For many Packer fans – especially those with families who can remember back to those days – you could reliably enshrine every man on the roster during the years in which Lombardi and his team won 5 titles in 7 years. They were truly a dynasty in an era where the idea was foreign and the sport was still growing. For as many faces that are now enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, there are twice as many that will remain only in the memories of their fans. Even Kramer acknowledges that his opposite guard, and longtime friend, Fuzzy Thurston, might be in the same position as him if he wasn’t soaking up all the attention. Even on a team that valued brotherhood and cohesiveness over all, there were those who stood out more.
Kramer himself seemed like he might be pushed aside by the fame of his legendary coach and the 20+ Hall of Fame Packers that were already in Canton. Kramer was up for the vote 10 times before, throughout his retirement. Each time, he failed to garner the votes necessary to get the bronze bust. There are many explanations available for the snub. Perhaps the modern Hall was reticent to make up for the mistakes of their predecessors. His position as a guard is one of the least lauded on the field, so perhaps the Hall voters simply didn’t have time for a man who spent his life in the trenches.
All of those excuses, were just that – excuses.
If the Hall values excellence, Kramer was the essential piece on the most dominant team to ever lace up in the NFL. His 5 All-Pros (6 if you count his 2nd team placement in 1968, which he does) speak for themselves. He was a 5-time champion, there for all of Lombardi’s great victories.
If you require your Hall of Fame talent to participate in history-changing plays, there’s only one man who can equal Kramer’s importance: Bart Starr, the man for whom Kramer laid the deciding block in the Ice Bowl. History may do its best to remember the man with the ball in situations like those. But, there was no victory without a last-ditch, sub-zero block from one of the toughest men to play the game.
And he sure was tough. Kramer played 129 games in his career. Throughout the 11 seasons he had as a pro, he went through 22 surgeries. These included a surgery that removed residual wooden shrapnel from an accident as a child. He had played through the bulk of his career with wooden spikes working their way through his body. Relieved of those, he went on to win more championships. He suffered broken vertebrae, a detached retina, and a shattered leg. All of those occurred years before he won his last game. Kramer’s story teaches that tenacity is unbeatable; that irresistible force beats the immovable object.
That’s certainly the story of his journey to the Hall. Kramer was always heavily involved in the world of football both before and after his career, authoring one of the best books about the game ever written: Instant Replay. Yet, he never was able to cross the threshold into super-stardom like his contemporaries. Starr, Adderly, Hornung, Taylor and Nitschke were all able to embed themselves into the Hall of Fame voters’ minds. Kramer seemed to languish on the sidelines until his daughter, Alicia Kramer, showed her father that his tenacity had, indeed, been passed down.
She worked tirelessly to gather the public sentiment necessary to get Kramer back into the discussion. Just a few years ago, the idea that he would be in this position seemed far-fetched and fading. With every player that was accepted, it seemed like it became less and less likely that he would make it in. This August, Alicia will introduce the world to Jerry Kramer, Hall of Famer.
The Saturday before the Super Bowl, the day of the NFL Honors ceremony and the day the HOF finalists would find out their fate, seemed especially long and cruel for the Kramer clan. Kramer recalls being spooked by the maid knocking on his door as he waited for the signal of his victory; the moment of glory returned. Now, we can all watch as it dawns on Kramer that he is now, and always was, a Hall of Fame player.
It may have only been a few moments for Packer fans, but, after the hell that was this last year, it all suddenly seemed worth it. Football is about a lot of things, but the joy of being a part of a team and the people you meet along the way is paramount. Kramer taught this in every action he took, every word he spoke. In an interview with our very own Fred Thurston – grandson of Kramer’s best friend and fellow guard Fuzzy Thurston – he spoke at length about what he remembers most about his time as a player:
Thurston: What do you miss most about the NFL you played in, compared to the NFL of today?
Kramer: Well it’s a very simple answer. It’s the guys. I often have sat down and tried to think about some of those most enjoyable moments and certainly the Super Bowl’s and championships were wonderful experiences. And, certainly, the book was a wonderful experience and all that together. But, basically, it was the guys and you don’t remember the plays as much as the guys who made the plays and were with you.
(This entire interview is available here, with special thanks to Fred and Blaine for putting that beautiful moment together.)
Now, the entirety of Green Bay and its multitude of fan’s abroad celebrate the enshrinement of one of the best Packers of all time. But, anyone who has spent a minute with Kramer could tell you that he was also one of the best men to ever walk the gridiron. He gave up his body on the sweep time and time again for his fellow Packers. Now, history will honor him.