They’ll award the Vince Lombardi Trophy for the 44th time on Sunday. Jerry Kramer dates his as being even a few years older, and instead of sterling silver it may as well have been gold.
Something of a caretaker for all things Lombardi – beginning with his seminal football diary “Instant Replay” back in 1968 to a current film project on the iconic coach that ESPN joined as partner five months ago – Kramer can mine his personal encyclopedia all weekend as the special guest for Northern Quest Casino’s Super Bowl functions.
Let’s share one here before moving on to a knotty question that someone needs to answer.
From his roots in Sandpoint and at the University of Idaho, Kramer became a minor icon himself during Green Bay’s NFL dynasty of the early 1960s as the point man on the famed Packer Sweep. Because he and Lombardi shared a position – the coach played right guard for Fordham’s “Seven Blocks of Granite” – Kramer was regularly in harm’s way if Lombardi wanted to take a bite out of someone’s butt to send a message or make an example. And so it was during a 96-degree training camp scrimmage, when Kramer had the temerity to miss a block and then jump offsides.
“I was making Pro Bowls and playing pretty damned good,” Kramer said. “I was comfortable there. He wasn’t. He knew I had more and he wanted it every day.”
Forty minutes after practice, a chastened Kramer was still in uniform at his locker – elbows on knees, eyes on his shoeshine – contemplating career alternatives when Lombardi wandered in and clapped him on the back.
“One of these years you’re going to be the best guard in football,” Lombardi told him.
This is the trophy Kramer treasures to this day.
“It was like a flywheel in my heart started spinning and creating energy,” he recalled. “Almost a religious conversion. Maybe he gave me permission to dream – to think I could be the best guard in football. Maybe I was hesitant to think that until that point.”
Which, in fact, is what he became – bringing us back around to the question:
Why isn’t Jerry Kramer in the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
It remains, four decades after his retirement, the single most egregious snub in NFL history. The latest list of finalists came out Friday and again he’s not on it, having made it only that far on 10 different occasions.
“I can’t help but think about it because when I go to various functions they introduce me as a Hall of Famer – and they’ve been doing it for 25 years,” he said. “For the first few years I’d say, ‘Hold it, that’s not correct,’ which would precipitate the question, ‘What’s that all about?’
“The whole thing got so uncomfortable that I stopped correcting people.”
It is uncomfortable for Kramer – “Where’s mine?” has never been his posture. It should be just as uncomfortable for the Hall of Fame. Kramer was All-Pro five times and played on as many NFL championship teams – including, of course, the first two Super Bowl winners. In addition to his blocking duties, he was the Packers’ place-kicker for three seasons – almost single-handedly winning the 1962 championship game when his three field goals and PAT allowed Green Bay to beat the New York Giants 16-7 in Yankee Stadium.
He also executed the most famous block in NFL history – driving Dallas’ Jethro Pugh off the goal line to allow quarterback Bart Starr entrée to the end zone in the 1967 “Ice Bowl” win that sent the Packers back to the Super Bowl.
And then there’s been his literary contributions. “Instant Replay” was something very different from what a diary of a similar era, “Ball Four,” was to baseball, but it remains the best book written with an insider’s view of the game – and his two sequels were also worthy reads.
It did not help his cause that 10 teammates and Lombardi were inducted into Canton, giving electors a political out that the Packers were over-represented. And yet the fact remains that so many people assume he’s in – including NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who was dumbstruck to discover it when he once suggested Kramer meet him in Canton to discuss the pension issue for retired players.
“How can that be?” Goodell asked.
Kramer has made his peace with it, if indeed he needed to do that.
“Football has been good to me and continues to be – it’s almost as if I haven’t retired from it,” he said. “To be upset or angry or pissed about an award they didn’t give you after you’ve been given so much, it just seems a little small.”
But then, so does keeping him out.