Time is now for Jerry Kramer's spot in Canton
Jerry Kramer (64). Image by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel archives
There are three Packers guards enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton. Chances are, most fans can only name one: Forrest Gregg (on a very part-time basis, as he normally played tackle).
The other two are less familiar to most. Walt Kiesling’s short tenure in Green Bay was only two seasons back in the 1930's, while his contemporary, August “Iron Mike” Michalske played for the Packers for nearly a decade and lived out his life a short distance from Lambeau Field (and next door to my childhood home).
Yet one name remains missing from Canton’s storied shrine.
We’ve all heard the arguments for being passed over. He’s been nominated before and didn’t get in then. He allegedly couldn’t hold his own against the likes of Merlin Olson or Alex Karras. He wrote a book that incensed the NFL's old-school superstars.
Then there’s the weakest argument of them all: there are already enough Lombardi era Packers in the Hall of Fame.
I won’t tear apart these arguments. Other writers have already done a fine job.
Instead, I would like to point out that the famous Lombardi Sweep would not have its incredible success with an offensive line that did not include Jerry Kramer.
What about the game ending quarterback sneak that we’ve all seen from the frigid Ice Bowl, that game which made the Packers the only team in the modern era of the NFL to win three straight league titles?
Without Kramer, there’s a good chance Bart Starr would’ve never reached the end zone as time ran out. While all eyes watch Starr in the grainy film, not many notice that Kramer gets underneath the chest of Cowboys defensive tackle Jethro Pugh and creates the brief hole that Starr fell through to win the game.
Yes, these are elements that highlight Kramer’s abilities on the field. Since that time, he remained an ambassador for the sport even into his senior years. He’s always willing to share a story or a photo with fans of all ages, recalling the Packers Golden Age as though it were yesterday.
For a friend and colleague of mine, Jerry Kramer has epitomized what he loves about football since he was young.
In college, my friend Dave played guard in college decades after Kramer’s career ended. Though his football career ended when he graduated college, Dave decorated his office with a photo of that Ice Bowl play. It was reminder of his own years playing football and a nod to the player he tried to emulate as a fellow guard.
Dave made the journey south in February 2011 to cheer on the Packers to a victory against the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV. He blended in with the rest of the green and gold of Packers Nation. Like so many other fellow fans, he wore football jersey. Among the sea of Rodgers, Woodson and Matthews jerseys, he chose to wear 64. The bolded name KRAMER stretched across the back.
After the last confetti had fallen and the victorious Packers had carried the Lombardi Trophy back to their locker room, Dave and his buddy made their way out of the stadium, weaving through the crowd that streamed down the stairs toward the atrium below.
Dave didn’t see the old man approach. He turned when he felt someone smack his arm.
“Hey kid,” he heard as he turned and saw the man trying to get his attention. “Nice jersey.”
Of all the people to run into at a football game, there he was, Jerry Kramer, with a big smile on his face.
Dave may have been in his thirties at the time, but if you ask him to recall the experience, it was a magical as Mean Joe Greene tossing the kid his jersey in that Coca-Cola commercial from the seventies.
There’s now a second photo on the wall in Dave’s office. Arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders, Dave and Jerry are smiling ear to ear. And in that brief moment in time, a childhood dream was actualized, one that crossed generations and decades.
As the years drag on, there are fewer and fewer from Kramer’s generation around, and even less green and gold standard-bearers from that era. Even fewer from that time will be considered for the coveted two senior inductees that may get the invitation to join their peers in Canton.
For some, the nod may come too late, and surviving spouse or child will accept a posthumous honor for a player that has already passed away.
The real reasons why Jerry Kramer has previously been snubbed have likely been lost to the sands of time. What has happened in the past should remain there, and a player should be considered for his entire body of work.
For Jerry Kramer it includes the 47 years since that frozen game against the Dallas Cowboys. He has remained a positive presence and not just a distant memory.
It’s time to put aside past grudges and prejudices. It would be a shame to realize this omission when it is too late. Jerry Kramer deserves to join his peers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame before it is his grandson accepting the honor in his memory.
There have been a dozen reasons half-hearted reasons why he has not been invited in the past, and there is one reason why they should all be ignored.
It is the right thing to do, and the time is now.
Kelly Hodgson is a columnist and co-host of the podcast Out of the Pocket. Both can be found at PackersTalk.com.