Now that we’re a couple days into a new year, and before 90 percent of my New Year’s resolutions can go down the drain, I am marking my calendar for the 2018 Super Bowl.
I plan on celebrating with a local luminary.
Not the Super Bowl. Don’t really care who’s playing in it. In fact, what I’m really looking forward to is the night before the big game. After that, the only thing that really interests me are the commercials.
Super Bowl Eve is when the NFL will correct its most appalling oversight.
That’s when the NFL announces that, finally, Sandpoint High School’s own Jerry Kramer will be officially voted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame.
When you grow up in Eastern Washington, you quickly learn about our homegrown standouts.
If you’ve never watched a game, you still know who John Stockton, Ryne Sandberg and Jack Thompson are.
Somewhere, locked away in a box of treasures I still have a Keith Lincoln AFL football card. You couldn’t be a football fan and not know all about the Moose of the Palouse – who came before Bill Moos of the Palouse, now of some minor college in corn country.
And at our house, there were stories about Yakima’s Pete Rademacher and his boxing gold medal at the 1956 Olympics. And, because my dad was a recovering rodeo cowboy himself, I grew up on stories about just how good of a bronc rider Wilbur’s Deb Copenhaver was.
But of all our local luminaries, Jerry Kramer always stood out.
On the playgrounds we debated which quarterback was better. But there was no debating who the best team in the NFL was. That was Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers who won five world championships and the first two Super Bowls.
You didn’t have to like them, and to be honest, liking the Packers was a lot like being a Yankees fan to me. I was neither.
But you had to respect them, and I learned the game of football from watching their games. Because he was both the pride of Sandpoint and the University of Idaho, Jerry Kramer was a player I liked to key on.
At right guard, he was always matched against a key defender. His battles with Alex Karras were legendary. Same with Merlin Olson or Jethro Pugh or Alan Page. It’s no irony that each of those defensive tackles are in the Hall of Fame, by the way.
And when it came to running the power sweep, you had to marvel at the way Green Bay’s legendary guards, Kramer and first Fuzzy Thurston and later Gale Gillingham could drop a step and get out in front of a running back.
And he’s a vital part of the most iconic play in the history of the NFL.
In the 1967 NFL Championship Game, dubbed the Ice Bowl because it was played in -15 degree temperatures, the Packers needed to score against the Dallas Cowboys to win their third straight title and a trip what we now refer to as Super Bowl II.
At the goal line, Kramer found enough footing to wedge block Pugh and give Bart Starr enough room to reach the end zone.
Look at the photos of the play. That’s Kramer the quarterback is riding. And those photos of Vince Lombardi being carried off the field after the Super Bowl? He’s sitting on Kramer’s shoulder.
That’s not counting the personal insights into playing the game that he offered in his bestselling books, Instant Replay, Farewell to Football and Distant Replay.
So many players have been enshrined in Canton, Ohio. The two men who played on either side of Kramer on those great Packer offensive lines were inducted: center Jim Ringo and right tackle Forrest Gregg.
Oh, there were plenty of honors during his playing days. Two Super Bowl rings. Five NFL championship rings. He was named to three Pro Bowls (1962, ‘63 and ’67). He was named first-team All-Pro five times and second-team once.
When the NFL named its all-decade team for the 1960s, he was on it. And when the NFL named its 50th anniversary All-Time Team, he was on that list, too. He was the only member of that list, ironically, who was not already a member of the Hall of Fame.
So it’s been a puzzle, trying to figure out why Canton never came calling.
His time on the ballot came and went.
He even got a nomination from a committee made up of veterans, but the vote total denied him his due honor.
He’s on his second go-round with the senior’s committee nomination for Class of 2018.
Here’s the thing about Halls of Fame. The people who vote on them are members of my profession. Take it from me, they can be a frustrating bunch.
There has never been a player voted unanimously into the baseball hall of fame.
Yup. There were a few writers out there who left Willie Mays, Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams off their Hall of Fame ballots. When Ken Griffey Jr. was voted in, he was left off three ballots – and he’s the closest any player has come to being unanimous.
Still, I’m making plans to raise a glass in honor of Jerry Kramer come the eve of the coming Super Bowl. And I have a hunch there will be quite a few folks in Sandpoint and Moscow joining me.
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