When you think of the Green Bay Packers of the 1960’s, two images come to mind. Of course that of Vince Lombardi, and then the image of Jerry Kramer and Fuzzy Thurston leading Paul Hornung or Jim Taylor on a power sweep. It was this fundamental approach to football that made the Packers perennial champions and lifted their greatest players to Hall of Fame status. Except for one glaring omission. Packers Guard Jerry Kramer.
Vince Lombardi once said that football will always be a game of blocking and tackling. His teams executed the blocking side of that equation with lethal precision. The great Green Bay Packer machine that churned out 5 NFL championships in the 1960s was powered by the offensive line and the power sweep was their principle play.
On many a Sunday afternoon, Jerry Kramer could be seen leading Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor around the end while making multiple blocks as the Packers captured the flank of the defense. Kramer led the way for both Taylor and Hornung to both make the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In fact, it was a sweep where Kramer led Hornung to the clinching touchdown to defeat the defending champion Cleveland Browns in the 1965 NFL Championship. This was the first of a series of three straight NFL Championships won by the Green Bay Packers and the only such 3-peat achieved in the championship game era.
However the career of Jerry Kramer started with his being drafted out of the University of Idaho and being driven to be the best he could be by hard nosed coach, Vince Lombardi. Kramer was voted All Pro 5 times and was a member of the NFL’s 50th anniversary team.
How do you gauge impact?? For most NFL linemen this would be hard to equate because rarely can a specific game or play come down to a key block that everyone saw. After missing the 1961 NFL Championship Game with a badly injured ankle in Green Bay, Kramer not only returned to play in the 1962 Title Game he also handled place kicking duty that day. While blocking Giant Dick Modzelewski all day he also kicked 3 field goals for the difference in Green Bay’s 16-7 victory. A feat that is unsung in football annals. Where winds gusted up to 50 m.p.h., and forced each team to run the football even more than usual.
Kramer went 3 for 4 on field goals and an extra point on battered legs from blocking on a brutally cold day. One so cold one of the cameramen suffered from frostbite as the stadium had many bonfires to keep players and officials warm. Although fellow Packer Ray Nitschke was voted game MVP, we find it hard to believe Kramer didn’t get the vote for being able to kick on a day when even YA Tittle and Bart Starr passed sparingly.
Just like any skill position, you’re gauged by how well you play in the big games. Aside from the great line play of the Packers in their run to 5 NFL Championships there are individual efforts where Kramer’s greatness was showcased. In the 1965 NFL Championship Game the clinching touchdown was a Green Bay sweep to the left where Kramer can be seen making two blocks as he escorts Paul Hornung into the endzone. This was the first championship in the chain of three championships so this is significant.
After the 1967 season the Packers found themselves in position for that elusive 3 peat when they faced the Dallas Cowboys. However conditions were worse for this game than they were in the 1962 NFL Championship Game. The famed “Ice Bowl” was played at a -15*F and a negative wind chill close to -70* below zero.
Yet with the game on the line the Packers began a march that culminated in their being stuck just 1 yard from the winning touchdown. After 2 shots at it, Bart Starr took the Packers final timeout. With the season and perhaps the dynasty of the Packers in his hands, it was his wedge block on Jethro Pugh that Bart Starr followed into the endzone to win it with :16 left. So of the 3 NFL Championship Games that concluded the dynasty he had a hand in several key plays.
Did you know that Kramer has already been picked as the Guard for the 1960’s NFL’s All Decade Team as selected by the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Selection Committee?? How can he not be in the Hall of Fame as a player?? Some think it could be due to having an injury plagued career but he lined up for 11 years and made countless blocks that led to his entire backfield being immortalized in Canton. If Jim Parker of the 1950’s Colts and Johnny Unitas’ chief protector, was the measuring standard for all tackles and made the Hall of Fame. The same can be said for Mike Webster at center for the Pittsburgh Steelers and one of the team’s anchors. He too made the Hall of Fame. Where does that leave a guard who:
- Was a 5 time All Pro,
- Was a 5 time World Champion,
- Member of the All Decade Team for the 1960s votedby the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee
- Was voted one of the Guards on the NFL’s 50th Anniversary Team