As a member of five NFL championship teams, an ever-conspicuous pulling guard for Vince Lombardi’s famed power sweep and the focal point of one of the most famous moments in pro football history, Jerry Kramer built a profile like few other offensive linemen who ever played the game.
More than once Lombardi called Kramer “the best guard in football.”
Kramer was the opening-day starter on all nine of Lombardi’s Green Bay teams, although he missed the final five regular-season games and NFL Championship Game in 1961, and missed all but two games in 1964.
In the power sweep, Kramer was always at the forefront of the play. As the strong-side or onside guard, he pulled to the right almost in unison with the left halfback or ball carrier. Kramer’s assignment was to look for the force and drive the first man outside the block of the tight end.
In the Ice Bowl, Kramer cut down Dallas defensive tackle Jethro Pugh at the line of scrimmage and helped open the gap where quarterback Bart Starr squeezed his way into the Lambeau Field end zone for the winning touchdown with 13 seconds remaining. The play spelled the difference in the Packers’ epic 21-17 victory and allowed them to win an unprecedented third straight NFL championship under a playoff format.
Kramer also doubled as the Packers’ placekicker, at least for parts of the 1962, ’63 and ’68 seasons. His field goals of 26, 29 and 30 yards, plus an extra point, accounted for 10 of the Packers’ points in a 16-7 victory over the New York Giants in the 1962 NFL Championship Game. The only starting offensive lineman in the league to also handle his team’s kicking chores that season, Kramer made nine of 11 attempts, or 82% of his tries. In 1963, Kramer led the Packers in scoring with 91 points. Over the course of his career, he scored 177 points.
For someone nicknamed “Zipper” by his teammates because of his many stitch marks and who had a history of freak and serious accidents dating to his childhood, Kramer’s durability as a pro was remarkable in itself. In nine of 11 seasons, he didn’t miss a game.
In 1961, he suffered an ankle injury on the first play of the seventh game against Minnesota, underwent surgery and didn’t play again that season. Three years later, after playing in the first two games, despite losing 15 pounds in a matter of weeks, Kramer underwent two operations within 10 days to remove a mass near his abdomen, and also to try and cure a fungus infection that had been causing pain and fever. While Kramer missed the remaining 12 games, it wasn’t until the following May that another operation revealed he had been living with three wooden slivers, two of them four inches long, in his groin since suffering a farm accident in high school. In 1960, Kramer had suffered a torn retina but waited until the season ended to have surgery.
Toughness wasn’t the only intangible Kramer brought to the field. “A smart football player. He was a leader,” said Red Cochran, Lombardi’s offensive backfield coach from 1959 to 1966.
In 2018, Kramer was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, 44 years after he was first eligible. Previously, he was a finalist in the voting 10 times, more than any player who had yet to be inducted. In 1969, Kramer was named the only guard on the NFL’s 50th Anniversary Team.
“Jerry Kramer has the perfect devil-may-care attitude it takes to play this game,” Lombardi wrote in his book, “Run to Daylight.” “He not only ignores the small hurts, but the large ones, too, and the evidence of his indifference is all over his body… Two good guards are hard to come by, and, if Jerry has a weakness, it’s that his pass blocking, although it isn’t bad, isn’t up to his blocking while leading plays. On the latter, he is great.”
The Packers chose Kramer in the fourth round of the 1958 NFL draft. During the one-platoon era of college football, he had doubled as a guard on offense and a middle guard on defense at the University of Idaho.
As a rookie, Kramer took over as the starting right guard when veteran Jim Salsbury was benched following the fourth game and essentially held the position for the remainder of his career when healthy. In 11 seasons, Kramer played in 129 games.
Off the field, Kramer gained celebrity status by writing what were two of the most insightful sports books ever by a contemporary professional athlete, “Instant Replay” and “Farewell to Football.” “Instant Replay” was a diary of the history-making 1967 season, Lombardi’s last as the Packers’ coach. Kramer was a CBS television analyst on NFL games in 1969.
Born Jan. 23, 1936, in Jordan, Mont. Given name Gerald Louis Kramer.
*(Based on the “National Football League: 1962 Record Manual” and the “Green Bay Packers 1962 Press Guide,” Kramer played in only seven games in 1961 and, thus, 129 overall. “Total Football: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Football League,” published in the late 1990s, incorrectly credited Kramer with playing in eight games in the 14-game 1961 season and 130 overall.)
Photos: Jerry Kramer's Hall of Fame career
Former Packers G Jerry Kramer will be enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this weekend. Photos by Frank Rippon, AP, Laughead Photographers, Stiller-Lefebvre Collections, Evan Siegle & Matt Becker, packers.com
- Guard: 1958-68
- Height: 6-3; Weight: 245
- College: Idaho
- Inducted Pro Football Hall of Fame: 2018
- NFL 50th Anniversary Team: 1969
- NFL All-Decade Team: 1960s
- Super Bowl Silver Anniversary Team: 1990
- Associated Press All-Pro Team (chosen since 1940): 1960, ’62, ’63, ’66, ’67
- Pro Bowl Selection (game played since 1950): 1962, ’63, ’67
- Packers 50th Anniversary Team: 1969
- Packers All-Modern Era Team: 1976
- Press-Gazette All-Century Team: 1999
- Inducted Packers Hall of Fame: 1975