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Jerry Kramer - Fan Favorite


The barber has started collections. So sad. Oh, you hadn't heard? Jerry Kramer died.

Or so the rumor went, until there the Packer guard appeared, on the field for the first exhibition game of 1965. He was a ghost of his former self, underweight after multiple abdominal surgeries that had, in fact, nearly killed him. The crowd at Lambeau Field went wild.

"To have that kind of ovation, that happens very seldom for a lineman," Kramer recalled recently. "Normally, if you go through a game without attracting attention, you are doing a hell of a job."

Yet Kramer, who played for the Packers from 1958-68, managed to be the best-known offensive lineman of his time for one of the most famous blocks in football history.

It was the 1967 NFL Championship, a game that came to be known as the Ice Bowl for the minus-13 degree temperature and 15 mile-per-hour winds. Although Green Bay took a 14-0 lead in the first half, they found themselves down 17-14, starting from their own 32 with less than five minutes left in the game.

The Packers drove to the Dallas Cowboys' three-yard line. Behind the blocks of Kramer and center Ken Bowman, Bart Starr won the game with a quarterback sneak. The victory sent the Packers on to Super Bowl II and secured Kramer's place in football lore.

That game ranks behind the 1962 NFL title game in Kramer's mind, however. In that match-up, he kicked three field goals in the 16-7 victory over the New York Giants, including a 30-yarder to seal the game.

"That distance was not a chip shot for a lineman," Kramer laughed. "It was a wonderful thrill to have the team engulf me and pound me on the back and celebrate me like I was a running back."

If all that was not enough to keep him from the usual O-line anonymity, Kramer is also remembered for his chronicle of the 1967 season, "Instant Replay." The diary-style book was published in 1968 and ranks No. 20 on Sports Illustrated's list of The Top 100 Sports Books of All Time.

"My whole life has been one of seeking experience. The whole book experience was a look into another world, the world of Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer," said Kramer who went on to collaborate on three other books with co-author Dick Schaap.

Since retiring from the game, Kramer has focused on spending more time with his family, as well as on his business ventures. His youngest son, Jordan, is on the practice squad of the Tennessee Titans.

"Probably the best part of my life has been watching the kids play their games. College was especially sweet because of the positive, hopeful atmosphere of a college campus. Then to have your baby playing at the school you played at and having him play well is a special treat," said the University of Idaho alum. "It is something that most parents hope for in life: that their children will be moderately successful, polite, decent human beings. Anything on top of that is something you have no right to hope for, but we all do."

It is that attitude that leaves Kramer pleasantly surprised by his fame, even after all these years.

"One day I was watching Tommy Lee Jones interviewed by Charlie Rose," said Kramer, who did not know at the time that Jones, whom he admired, had played offensive guard for the Harvard football team. "Tommy said, 'All my life I wanted to be Jerry Kramer.' I damn near fell off the couch."

For Kramer, whose salary was less than $10,000 as a player, the popularity of the NFL never ceases to amaze.

"How the hell would I, coming from Sandpoint, Idaho, anticipate that 36 years after retiring, I would still be signing autographs?"

Neither Kramer nor anyone else anticipated the league's exponential growth. Kramer contemplated exercising an option to buy the New Orleans Saints with a group of investors for about $13 million around 1970. He asked five general managers and business executives at different teams about the stability of the league and whether it would be a sound investment.

"Five different guys used words like peaking, leveling off, and over-saturated," Kramer said.

"No one understands it, including Paul Tagliabue," he added.

When he was invited to the commissioner's box at Super Bowl XXXI, Kramer took the opportunity to ask Tagliabue if he understood the sociological-psychological relationship between a fan and his team.

"He told me, 'Whoa, Jerry. We spent a lot of time on that. And it could might be... well, no, we really don't understand it,'" Kramer recalled.

Even if he does not understand the fan phenomena, Kramer has tried to harness it for charitable purposes through The Vince Lombardi Titletown Legends.

"Jerry Kramer was one of the major reasons that the Legends got started," said Jennifer Smith, who works with the non-profit comprised of former Packer players of the Lombardi era.

Kramer took the money from what was intended to be a for-profit documentary project on the Lombardi era players, and used the proceeds from the video as start-up money for the charity. The group was formed with the intention of giving back to the Wisconsin community that had done so much for its players.

"He is by far one of the fan favorites, not just in Green Bay, but anywhere you go. His enthusiasm is infectious," Smith added.

As revered a legend as he is, the five-time All-Pro has not made it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

He has been one of the 15 annual finalists ten times since becoming eligible in 1974.

"It is one of the prizes that has eluded me, but I have received so many gifts from the game," Kramer said. "You would be a complete ass to be bitter about something that someone didn't give you, when they gave you so much.

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