Jerry Kramer has been making the rounds of Radio Row at the Super Bowl this week in Minneapolis, a numbing slog that finds him being handed a headset by somebody calling himself Skin or Mad Dog one minute and on the air with 730 The Huddle or 105.3 The Fan the next.
His cause is drumming up goodwill for the Vince Lombardi Cancer Foundation, and the deal is it always gets a mention on the air.
But he knows what they all want of him, what they need to know.
Is this the year, Jerry?
Man, it had better be.
Saturday is decision day for the voters of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and destiny day for Sandpoint’s – and Idaho’s – favorite football son, who will either be in come nightfall or forever wondering why not.
It seems as if the possibility of going into any hall of fame – but especially those like Canton or Cooperstown which, thanks to the mythmaking mill that is sports, have been anointed as hallowed – should be sprinkled with more dignity than what’s been accorded Jerry Kramer.
Not that he’s complaining. Or predicting. Or expecting. Or letting his hopes soar, or huddling under a hard shell.
And he hasn’t during these most recent of his 82 years.
“Football has been so good to me and continues to be,” he told me back in 2010. “It’s almost as if I haven’t retired from it. 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.”
In fact, he can even joke about it. The postvoting ritual is, the elected players get a knock on their hotel doors from C. David Baker, the hall’s president; the finalists who are passed over get a phone call.
“If Mr. Baker arrives and knocks on the door, I’m going to go ‘Zippity doo dah, yippity yippity yay,’ ” Kramer laughed in a video posted to Twitter by the hall on Friday, “and if the janitor knocks on the door and wants to kick my ass out of the room, I’m going to be really upset.”
Because this is pretty much it.
He’s been a finalist on 10 previous occasions, only to fall short of the 80 percent approval of 48 electors needed for induction. Nine of those times came between 1974 and 1987 as a “modern era” candidate. In 1997 the senior committee put his name forward, and that was the year he really allowed himself to think he’d be off to Canton – only to have the door slammed again.
“I’ve been up and down like a toilet seat,” Kramer joked.
Now the senior committee has put him up once more. Fifty years since he retired from the Green Bay Packers and Kramer and the HOF are still a thing, which should suggest that someone’s been remiss, or just stubborn.
But these voters aren’t the same guys who passed Kramer over 30 and 40 years ago, and if you’ve served on a HOF committee of any kind, it’s legitimate to ask why you should vote for someone who couldn’t summon support from his contemporaries. Yet you also have to take a look at whether someone back then dropped the ball – if Kramer’s case wasn’t made properly in the room or if there’d been a silly bias or if they just flat missed.
There have been theories. Too many Lombardi-era Packers (10) inducted already. Between 1967 and 1990, the committee elected just a single guard – Gene Upshaw – so maybe the position was being overlooked. There was a supposed lack of endorsement from teammate Bart Starr that was probably more of a misunderstanding (Starr has written in support this year). It was even hinted that Kramer’s prowess as an author of four books made him a publicity hound – never mind that he should be in the hall for writing “Instant Replay” alone.
He also authored the only legendary block in NFL history – the “Ice Bowl” clear out of Jethro Pugh that pushed the Packers into their second Super Bowl.
But he also has all the other resume points – five-time All-Pro and twice a Super Bowl champ, for starters – that make his career comparable to HOF guards like Joe DeLamielleure, Russ Grimm and Dick Stanfel. There’s also this: He’s the only man on the NFL’s 15-player 50th anniversary team selected in 1969 not in the hall.
A team, uh, selected by the same HOF voters of that era.
Seems like a glaring inconsistency, no?
This week on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines,” normally even-keeled host Bob Ley said leaving Kramer out this time would be “a crime against nature.”
Jerry Kramer doesn’t dare tell himself this is the year. But someone needs to tell him.
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