CANTON, Ohio – Jerry Kramer began his long-overdue Pro Football Hall of Fame induction speech on Saturday night by saying thank you four consecutive times.
By the end of his 18½ minutes on the Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium stage, it was the crowd of 22,205 thanking him.
Ever a great storyteller who has always weaved philosophies and inspiration into his football memories, the 82-year-old Kramer was at the top of his game for a speech he should have been giving at least 40 years ago.
To his tremendous credit, after being introduced by his daughter, Alicia, Kramer didn’t dwell on his extensive wait or even discuss the emotional roller coaster he went through, when over his first 10 times as a Hall of Fame finalist he had to deal with the ultimate disappointment.
Instead, he continued to inspire as he thanked those who inspired him to become a five-time All-Pro, one of the greatest ambassadors the Green Bay Packers have ever had, and now, at long last, a deserving Hall of Famer.
Former Packers guard Jerry Kramer and daughter, Alicia, unveil his Pro Football Hall of Fame bust in Canton, Ohio.
It started with his high school coaches in Sandpoint, Idaho, who told him if he wanted to play his preferred position of fullback, he’d be sitting on the bench, and while he struggled at first as an offensive lineman, he was told, “You can if you will.”
He moved on to iconic Packers coach Vince Lombardi, who after chewing him out during a rough practice came up to him in the locker room and told him he was going to be the best guard in football.
“It was his approval and his belief in me that he was passing on to me and it made a dramatic difference in my life,” Kramer said. “Approval and belief, mom and dad. Approval and belief are powerful, powerful tools.”
He continued with teammate and fellow kicker Don Chandler, who supported and worked alongside him for 35 straight days in 1965 until Kramer, coming off a series of nine offseason surgeries that dropped him under 190 pounds, could do all the calisthenics and exercises required at practice.
It was a lesson in going above and beyond as a teammate always worth cherishing.
“He said, ‘You’re going to do whatever you can do. If you can only do five sit-ups and they do 50, I’ll do 45. If they do 50 push-ups and you only do three, I’ll do 47. Between you and I we’ll do what one of those guys does,’” recalled Kramer, who regained his health and career and won three more titles under Lombardi and then published his bestselling book, “Instant Replay.”
“The great part of my life that followed probably would never have been without Don Chandler. We had a wonderful group of guys, a wonderful emotional bond on that team and a wonderful feeling between us.”
In typical Kramer fashion, it wasn’t all serious and contemplative.
He joked about the 56-0 loss at Baltimore in his rookie season of 1958, when the pre-Lombardi Packers finished a franchise-worst 1-10-1. “They had a white colt that ran around the field every time they scored we damn near killed him,” Kramer said.
He also laughed about underselling his own contract negotiation and finding out his “signing bonus” was just an advance that was deducted from his first game check.
But Kramer closed on a number of philosophical notes, giving the stadium crowd their selection of which one speaks to them the most.
Maybe it’s William Ernest Henley’s poem “Invictus,” which concludes its passages on hardship and adversity by asserting, “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”
Or maybe it’s the lawyer and orator William Jennings Bryan, who declared, “Success in life is not so much a matter of chance as it is a matter of choice. We choose to do the right things.”
Or maybe it’s once again Lombardi, who summed it up thusly: “After the game is over, the stadium lights are out, the parking lot’s empty, you’re back in the quiet of your room, the championship ring on the dresser, the only thing left at this time is to lead a life of quality and excellence, and to make this old world a little bit better place because you were in it.”
Whichever one’s choice, they all are part of Kramer’s soul – a soul his Hall of Fame induction gave everyone pause to peer into once again, perhaps more deeply than ever before, and anyone listening was better for it.
“You can if you will, you can if you will,” Kramer concluded. “Thank you.”
No, Jerry. Thank you.