After nearly five decades of waiting, legendary Green Bay Packers guard Jerry Kramer finally received his moment in the sun and was formally inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Kramer finally got the call in 2018 after previously being nominated ten times. His enshrinement marked the end of an odyssey that nobody really expected to last this long.
In fact, Kramer’s credentials for enshrinement were so impeccable you can easily argue he should have gotten his gold jacket years ago. Kramer is a five-team All-Pro selection, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, and until this season was the only remaining member of the NFL’s 50th Anniversary team not enshrined in Canton.
Introduced by his daughter Alicia, who waged a social media campaign to get Packers fans to rally behind her father’s candidacy, Kramer took a moment to look back. He reflected upon his long journey to the hall fame during his enshrinement speech, starting all the way back in his high school days at Sand Point High in Idaho.
“This clumsy ox sophomore showed up for practice one fall, and I couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time. I was just a mess,” Kramer recalled. “I wanted to be a fullback. I didn’t want to be a lineman.”
Well, plans changed almost immediately when the coach told Kramer he’d be riding the bench as fullback, but if he played offensive line he would start. Kramer obviously didn’t want to spend time as a benchwarmer, so the offensive line it was and that put him on path that led him to Canton.
Kramer mentioned his high school offensive line coach who came up to him at one practice when he was struggling. “He said, ‘son you have big hands and you have big feet and one of these days, you will grow into them. You’re going to be a hell of a player one of these days.”
It was then that coach gave him words of wisdom that would go on to define his enshrinement speech: “You can if you will.”
Kramer then went on to the University of Idaho where he didn’t see much success from a team standpoint (their best record was 4-4-1), but it was there where he learned what being part of a team meant. “The feeling of team is a wonderful thing. The reason I think most of us play is there is a team there and we want to be part of a team.”
After leaving the University of Idaho, Kramer was drafted in the fourth round by the Green Bay Packers. Kramer found out where he was going from classmate Wayne Walker, who would later go on to play with the Detroit Lions for 15 years. The NFL Draft was nowhere near the event and spectacle that it is today.
When Walker told Kramer he was drafted in the fourth round, Kramer was pleased. Walker then told Kramer drafted him and Kramer said “Green Bay….Green Bay….Where the hell is Green Bay?” They went and got a map and finally found out where it was.
Kramer then got a lesson in NFL contract negotiations. When the Packers called him to talk contract, Kramer did not know what other players were making as that information was not readily available as it is today. The Packers ended up signing Kramer when he offered to play for $8000 after consulting with a college coach who told him to ask for $7000. Realizing what happened, Kramer asked for signing bonus of which Green Bay offered $250 which he then accepted. After he received his first game check, Kramer saw a $250 dollar deduction to which the Packers told him “that was an advance, not a bonus.”
Kramer did not find immediate success with the Packers. They went 1-10-1, which to this day is still the worst record in the storied franchise’s history.
“We played the Baltimore Colts one Sunday afternoon. They beat us 56-0,” Kramer said. “They had a white colt that ran around the field every time they scored. We damn near killed it.”
Coach Lombardi arrived the next season and Kramer said “the world turned around.”
One of the first things Kramer recalls Lombardi telling the team was that if people were not willing to make the sacrifices needed, they needed to “get the hell out.” Players initially didn’t think it was going to be that bad under Lombardi, but that quickly changed when the legendary coach began working players harder than they had ever been worked before in their lives.
“We had guys losing consciousness every practice, every exercise session. One kid showered after practice, got on the bus to the dormitories, went to the line and town hall, passed out and fell over,” Kramer noted.
Kramer also remembered that players were not always receptive to Lombardi’s philosophical statements, but called it “an incredible experience to be with him and have him bring you along.” He noted that the coach could be “both very, very harsh and very, very gentle.”
He specifically remembered one practice where the offense was being stuffed consistently during a goal line drill and one time he jumped offside and went to the sideline where Lombardi was waiting and the guard got an earful from his head coach.
“Mister, the concentration period of a college student is five minutes, high school is three minutes, kindergarten is thirty seconds and you don’t have that?! So where does that put you?!” Kramer said, raising his voice. Kramer was dejected. When practice was over, he went to the locker room and was fully expecting to be cut. Kramer was deep in thought when Lombardi walked into the locker room, found Kramer, and told him “Son, one of these days you’re going to be the best guard in football.”
That “surge of energy” Kramer said he felt after receiving Lombardi’s “approval and belief” propelled him the rest of his career and his life.
The Packers then started winning under Lombardi and they won a lot. They won NFL championships in 1961 and 1962. A dynasty was forming and a team for the history books was beginning to emerge.
Kramer then soon faced one of the darkest periods of his professional careerIn the 1965 season, Kramer had nine operations and his weight went down to 189 lbs at one point during the offseason. He got up to 218 lbs and went to Lombardi to talk contract. The coach offered to send Kramer home, but the guard refused. Lombardi relented and tried to put Kramer on defense but he was so winded after running a lap and a half around the field (they were supposed to run three) he could barely breathe.
Kicker Don Chandler came over and offered to run the other lap and a half for Kramer. Chandler continued to offered to finish Kramer’s workouts for him when Kramer couldn’t complete himself, saying “I’m a kicker, and I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to,” according to Kramer. “A great part of my life followed that probably would not have happened without Don Chandler,” Kramer sid.
The Packers of course went on to win titles in the 1965, 1966 and 1967 seasons. Kramer feels like he was fortunate to be just a part of it. “We (had) a wonderful team that played as a team and lived as a team and enjoyed one another as a team,” he said.
Kramer closed his speech by quoting Lombardi. “Lead a life of quality and excellence and make this whole world a better place because you were in it,”
With that, a 45-year odyssey for the legendary guard came to an end and he walked off into the sunset of football immortality.