Ron Kramer might have been Packers' greatest all-around athlete

Bob Jeter: A rare talent and late bloomer

TE Ron Kramer

Bob from Brookfield, WI

I enjoyed your article on Ron Kramer. While I don't have a Packer jersey, if I was to get one it would be his: No. 88. First question: Why was he not free to take No. 87 when he got to Green Bay? Second question: Was there not more to his decision to play for Detroit? I vaguely recall he was needed or he needed to be near family. I worked at Bertrand's (Sporting Goods) from 1961 until whenever. Ron would come into the store. He once bummed a Camel off me! Nothing to be proud of, but memorable nonetheless.

Interesting choice. Kramer might have been the greatest all-around athlete ever to play for the Packers. He wore No. 87 at the University of Michigan and also in the College All-Star Game in August 1957 before he reported to Packers training camp. At the time, veteran defensive end Nate Borden wore No. 87 and I don't remember players ever paying other players for the right to wear a favorite number. Bertrand's was certainly a popular hangout for players back then. I'm sure that was an interesting experience. Along with being a two-time consensus All-American in football at Michigan, Kramer also was a star on the basketball team and drafted by the Detroit Pistons, and, at 230 pounds, both a high jumper and weight man in track. In fact, he twice placed in the high jump in the Big Ten track meet. Strictly as a football player, here's another example of Kramer's athletic skill. He played end on both offense and defense, but also some fullback, linebacker and was even the Wolverines' punter and placekicker. And in a spring scrimmage before his senior season, he was used at halfback and rushed for 306 yards on 17 carries, including touchdown runs of 90, 71, 16, 14 and 10 yards, along with a 52-yard touchdown reception. Kramer also had instant success in the NFL as a rookie slotback for the Packers, but tore three ligaments in his knee and broke his tibia in the second-to-last game. It was a bad injury and required surgery, but he was still ordered to report for his Air Force commitment and missed the 1958 season and most of Vince Lombardi's first training camp a year later, as a result. Thus, Kramer sat behind Gary Knafelc for two seasons before becoming a starter at the recently named tight end position. Kramer and Mike Ditka were the league's best tight ends for the next four years. Then Kramer played out his option and signed with Detroit after the 1964 season. When I asked him why in 2007, this was his answer: "My son had lost his eye. My daughter had an asthmatic condition that was very severe. And the marriage was on the rocks. My family was more important to me than anything." If Kramer had played at a high level for two, three more years, he might have been as deserving as any of the Lombardi Packers to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And, now that more candidates are being voted in based on just three or four exceptional years, I'm not sure how many could beat Kramer's best five, 1957 and '61-64.

Jason from Bloomington, MN

My question is somewhat personal as Bob Jeter is my father. I realize he did not spend a lot of time at the cornerback position. He was drafted as a running back and then moved to wide receiver by coach Lombardi later in his career. Always wondered if he had spent more time at cornerback how great he could have been.

Clearly, Jeter found his niche later than most players. He didn't establish himself as a starter with the Packers until 1966 when he was 29 years old and for a number of reasons, including a late start in the NFL. Lombardi drafted him in the second round in 1960, but Jeter elected to sign with British Columbia of the Canadian Football League and spent two years there. When he finally joined the Packers in 1962, it wasn't until two days before the season opener and apparently because of a contract dispute with Hamilton, which had obtained his CFL rights, he wasn't allowed to play that year, although he was permitted to practice as a member of the taxi squad, or what's now called the practice squad. Thus, Jeter was a 26-year-old rookie in 1963. He also spent his first two seasons as a receiver sitting the bench behind Boyd Dowler and Max McGee. Under Lombardi, subs, for the most part, rarely played. In two years, Jeter had two catches for 25 yards. In 1965, he was 28 when he was moved to cornerback, following the retirement of Jesse Whittenton, and had all but won the starting job in training camp when he suffered a cracked rib in the second-to-last preseason game. Doug Hart replaced Jeter for the opener and kept the job until he got hurt early in the NFL Championship Game against Cleveland. Jeter then replaced Hart and started for the next five years. Although Jeter was 29 when he finally broke into the lineup, he was a consensus all-pro and a Pro Bowl starter when the Packers won their third straight NFL championship in 1967. Remarkably, Jeter earned those honors, despite playing opposite future Pro Football Hall of Fame cornerback Herb Adderley. Both started for the Western Conference in the Pro Bowl that year, but Jeter beat out Adderley for first-team all-pro honors on both The Associated Press and Newspaper Enterprise Association teams. Adderley was second team on both. Jeter made the NEA second team in 1968 and the Pro Bowl again in 1969. He was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 1985 and deservedly so. Could he have been a Pro Football Hall of Famer if he had played corner from the start? I'm not sure because Jeter would have been overshadowed by Adderley for most of his career. For example, I don't know of any team (other than maybe the Adderley-Jeter Packers) that had a better corner combination than the Raiders in the early to mid-1980s with Mike Haynes and Lester Hayes, yet Hayes can't get in the Hall of Fame. Jeter's CFL years also were wasted years. And it hurt him that he was such an exceptional two-way player at Iowa in the one-platoon era that it left Lombardi and others puzzled about where to play him. The 1959 Rose Bowl was one of the first that I watched. I was 11 years old and I can still picture Jeter and Willie Fleming running wild in what was a 38-12 victory over California. Jeter was a junior and rushed for 194 yards on nine carries and was named the game's MVP. As a senior, Jeter led Iowa in rushing and finished third in receiving. That puzzles me, too. Why didn't Jeter make it as an offensive player under Lombardi?

John from Valders, WI

I'm a big Forrest Gregg fan. In fact, I named my son after him, Forrest Gregg Fenlon. I have followed his career and coaching but have never found the answer to the missing year in his playing career for the Packers. Why does the "Ring of Fame" at Lambeau Field say 1956, 1958-1970?

Gregg was a second-round draft pick in 1956 and won the starting right guard position at midseason, but was called into the Army and missed the final game. He also missed the entire 1957 season while being stationed at Fort Carson, near Colorado Springs, Colo. However, he still played football for the base team and earned a spot on the 11-man all-Armed Forces All-Star Team. He returned to the Packers in 1958 and replaced Norm Masters as the starting left tackle before the third game. Less than a month later, Masters won his job back. In 1959, Lombardi's first season, Gregg moved to right tackle and won the starting job, launching his Pro Football Hall of Fame career.

Errol from Neponsit, NY

I always thought that your "G" helmet logo stood for "Green Bay." However, a friend pointed out a Business Insider article from 2011 claiming the "G" stands for "Greatness." Can you provide a definitive answer?

The "G" was introduced in August 1961, before the Packers won their first NFL title under Lombardi. At the time, it was presumed that it stood for Green Bay. And it's hard to imagine Lombardi being so presumptuous to make a claim of "greatness" before he ever won anything. As far as I know, Lombardi never explained his decision to adopt the logo and never addressed the subject in 1961 or, for that matter, in his entire time in Green Bay. That was not his MO. My best guess based on my research and interviews long-after-the-fact was that Lombardi was influenced by the "NY" logo of baseball's Yankees, a franchise he was hoping to emulate; maybe by his good friends, the Maras, who put the "ny" letters on the Giants' helmets the same year; and maybe by the Colts' horseshoe, considering Baltimore had won back-to-back NFL championships and Lombardi was on the sidelines as an assistant with the Giants when it won its first. I would all but guarantee this: Whoever started the story about the "G" standing for greatness had no clue about the history of its origin. I'm all but certain it's just more Packers myth; and Packers history is special enough it doesn't need to be sprinkled with fiction.

Andy from Davenport, IA

Have you ever visited Douglas Park where the Packers, Bears and Cardinals played against the Rock Island Independents? I've seen some old photos of the field and went over to gain the perspective of where the field was. It gives you shivers thinking that the first NFL game was played there.

Yes, I have visited Douglas Park in Rock Island and might have had the shivers, too. Obviously, the park and the field's appearance had changed since the 1920s, but in my mind's eye there was enough of a backdrop, as well signs and a ticket booth, to be able to imagine what the scene might have been like back then. Rock Island was in the league from 1920 to 1925 and was 3-1-1 against the Packers, including two victories at Douglas Park. Furthermore, the Packers' early history and maybe even their survival was tied to the Rock Island team, as this link explains.