GREEN BAY – It never gets old listening to Jerry Kramer tell his Ice Bowl stories.
Kramer was at it again on Wednesday on a national conference call in advance of his upcoming, and long-awaited, Pro Football Hall of Fame induction, which will take place on Aug. 4 in Canton, Ohio.
Looking back at the block that made him famous – the one on Cowboys defensive lineman Jethro Pugh in the waning moments of the Ice Bowl at Lambeau Field that allowed quarterback Bart Starr to sneak over the goal line for the winning score – Kramer admitted his credibility was at stake as well as the game.
He explained how he had pointed out to iconic coach Vince Lombardi during short-yardage film study on Thursday that week, three days before the game, that Pugh’s stance in the trenches was high, unlike that of fellow Hall of Famer Bob Lilly.
“We watched the defensive players like hawks, analyzed every movement they made, every stance they got into, whether this foot was up an inch or back four inches or what not,” Kramer recalled, detailing that on all three games of short-yardage film the Packers reviewed, Pugh’s stance left him vulnerable.
“So I said, ‘Coach, we can wedge Pugh if we have to,’” after which Lombardi ran the film back a few times and responded, according to Kramer, “That’s right. Put in the wedge on Pugh.”
Of course, Kramer had no idea he’d be called on to execute that very block with the NFL title hanging in the balance, but that’s exactly what happened.
“When it comes with 13 seconds to go on the 1-yard line, and the game is on the line, you really wish they’d call something else maybe,” Kramer said, chuckling. “If you knew it was coming down to the last play of the game, and the game was decided on it, you probably wouldn’t volunteer yourself for the play.
“But I knew what I had to do, and knew where we were.
“It was our tendency to analyze things in the minutest detail that made the difference in that game.”
He’ll probably be retelling the story plenty of times over Hall of Fame weekend, but Kramer won’t mind, not after waiting 50 years after his retirement, and through 10 previous times as a Hall of Fame finalist without being selected, to finally get the game’s greatest honor.
In the conference call, Kramer talked about how he ran the gamut of emotions over the years when the vote repeatedly didn’t go his way.
The first few times, it was disappointment, which progressed the next few times to frustration and eventually to anger, preventing him from even visiting the Hall of Fame when he drove by.
All the emotions were then jumbled together in his 10th time as a finalist, and first time via the senior committee. It was January of 1997, in New Orleans where the Packers were about to play in their first Super Bowl since Kramer’s playing days, and a huge celebration was planned with friend and co-author of his books, Dick Schaap, among many others.
When it didn’t happen then, he shortly thereafter found a way to be at peace with it.
“It occurred to me if I was going to be angry over one honor I didn’t get and trash all the honors I did get, that would be stupid,” he said. “Just a dumb thing to do.
“It wasn’t going to ruin my life or ruin my attitude.”
His approach helped him enjoy the good news when it finally came, first last summer when he was named a senior committee finalist again, and then on Super Bowl weekend in Minneapolis when he was voted in.
“You’re in the deep pits as far as you can go into the earth,” he said of the earlier years, “and then you’re clouds-high. It’s a fascinating journey.”
It’s one that may not have reached this pinnacle without the efforts of his daughter, Alicia, who several years ago launched a campaign to keep her father’s Hall of Fame candidacy alive.
Kramer didn’t really want his daughter stumping on his behalf, but she insisted and wound up collecting letters and testimonials from dozens of Hall of Famers, including Lilly, Merlin Olsen, Alex Karras, and the like from Kramer’s era in support of his induction.
“I don’t know if we’ll ever know what kind of impact that (had), but obviously it didn’t hurt,” said Kramer, who has chosen Alicia to present him at the induction ceremony in Canton.
Packers fans gravitated toward the cause, and he’s also grateful for their undying support, which he began to understand better at the end of his last game in Green Bay. In December of 1968, the Packers were wrapping up a disappointing 6-7-1 season that officially marked the end of the five-titles-in-seven-years dynasty.
“There was a moment where we fumbled and they started to applaud,” Kramer said. “They knew we’d lost the game, and they gave a standing ovation that lasted about five minutes.
“They were saying thank you, thanks for the wonderful ride, all the titles, all the championships, all the things you’ve done the last 10 years.”
Perhaps no one thing is more attached to Kramer from those 10 years than that Ice Bowl block, of course. And no, the story never gets old.
“I was fortunate enough to get a footing,” he said. “It was almost like a golf divot where my left foot went, 3-4 inches deep. My left foot snuggled down into that divot and gave me a starting block.
“The other guys were slipping and sliding and it was icy and it was difficult, but give more credit to the divot than to Jerry, because without the divot I probably couldn’t have made the block.”