The Soul of The Game: Bob Lilly

When the Dallas Cowboys entered the NFL in 1960 they did so with a splash with their very 1st draft pick. They selected Bob Lilly out of TCU. Not only was he the first pillar in building the Cowboys, he would anchor the Dallas front line for more than a decade and become their first member in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Mr Cowboy sacks John Brodie during the 1971 NFC Championship Game.

Over his 14 year career he became known as “Mr Cowboy” who would go on to make 11 Pro Bowls including 10 straight seasons once he was moved to DT. It was there where he, Merlin Olsen, Rosey Grier, then Earl Faison & Buck Buchanan over in the AFL were breaking the mold as tall defensive redwoods at tackle were redefining the game.

Up until then the prototype at Defensive Tackle were the fire hydrant short stout Ernie Stautner (6’1)and Art Donovan (6’2) types. Those who were naturally built low to the ground where they could hit and lift with overwhelming leverage.

However with Lilly and the aforementioned Faison, Grier, Olsen, & Buchanan these men were 6’5 + and their teams in reality fielded 3 Defensive Ends Quarterbacks struggled to throw over. Yet when you catch footage of Lilly you saw him knife into the backfield on running plays with equal aplomb. He relied on his quickness to beat the Guard and Center at the point of attack.

As the Cowboys struggled from expansion to respectability it was Lilly who led the way. The championship chase Tom Landry’s Cowboys embarked became an odyssey that saw heartbreaking defeats and Lilly was front and center for each one:

Of all the DT’s of the past who relied on quickness, Lilly and Alan Page are the two that flash at you on film. He’s one of the few who could have played in any era. You notice his hand placement on all these plays and this is way before you had coaching specialists coaching hand fight techniques. Who was the greatest Defensive Tackle in NFL history??

I’ll let you debate that out. Interestingly enough his sentiment about the empty feeling after a championship echoed in my mind as I headed to the Pro Football Hall of Fame ceremony a few months back. For all of us who lobbied for Jerry Kramer for “The Hall” we were coming to the end of an odyssey. So who does The Chancellor bump into and introduced Amy Nitschke, Suzanne Jordan, and Toni Thurston too??

With Bob Lilly at the NFL Hotel in Canton after the Gold Jacket Ceremony.

It was good to speak with Bob and talk about that and he was gracious enough to talk about the moment after Super Bowl VI. We talked about “The Ice Bowl” for a bit especially since he played in it against the three ladies deceased fathers.

Great to meet him and share in some old stories.

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Jerry Kramer Belongs In The Hall of Fame – HOF Edition

Jerry Kramer leads Elijah Pitts on a sweep during Super Bowl I

Originally Published 26, July 2011 w/Postscript 29, May 2019

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, Kramer would do battles with the likes of Dick Modzelewski, Stan Jones, and his battles with All Pro Alex Karras were epic. 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 title game at Lambeau. This was the first of a series of three straight championships won by the Packers and the only such 3-peat achieved in the championship game era.

An unlikely odyssey began 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. Fourth round draft picks are not assured roster spots and Jerry didnt crack the starting lineup until his 2nd season in 1959. He was sandwiched between two Pro Bowl linemen in C Jim Ringo and T Forrest Gregg.  Yet by 1960, all 3 were making the NFL’s signature all star team where Jerry became a regular.

Kramer was voted All Pro 5 times and was a member of the NFL’s 50th anniversary team.

Jerry Kramer kicks field goal as Erich Barnes is too late for the block

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 duties 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. This was a season in which Tittle had thrown for an NFL record 33 TDs on the year.

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 titles 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.

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.

Ice Bowl Sneak in Progress

Bart Starr follows Jerry Kramer’s block to clinch the Ice Bowl 21-17 to give the Green Bay Packers 3 championships in a row

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 when you include Bart Starr. If Jim Parker of the 1950’s Colts and Johnny Unitas’ chief protector, was the standard bearer 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 1960’s voted by the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee
  • Was voted one of the Guards on the NFL’s 50th Anniversary Team commemorating the greatest players from the league’s 1st 50 seasons.
I’ll tell you where that leaves him, an overdue member of the Pro football Hall of Fame. One of the unique aspects is that most offensive linemen live in a world of anonymity. Yet Jerry Kramer is one of the most recognizable faces of all the famous Packers. He has been the keeper of the flame for his former Packer teammates through a series of books and has been a great ambassador of the game.  A long overdue title he has rightfully deserved is that of a Hall of Famer.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen, for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I present to you Green Bay Packer legend, Jerry Kramer.
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The Chancellor right before entering The Pro Football Hall of Fame wearing an autographed Jerry Kramer jersey from the family. Its time he is enshrined.

We have to get this right and I believe they will in 2018. Please lend your thoughts as well by writing in to the Pro Football Hall of Fame to the address below. Please be respectful and positively lend your voice:

Please write & nominate #64
Send letters to:
Pro Football Hall of Fame
Attention Senior Selection Committee
2121 George Halas Dr NW, Canton,
OH 44708

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 me.jerrykramer
Postscript: 28, May 2019: An end to an incredible journey happened last August in Canton at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Jerry’s long awaited induction was a celebration for of course Green Bay Packer fans, and all of us who were a part of the Facebook campaign Alicia had begun back in 2011. To which Alicia asked me to be a part of when her idea was just taking shape.
20180803_191754Once Jerry announced it would be Alicia who would be his presenter, the months leading up to the ceremony had a double celebration feel to it. We joked about the time when it really hit you the moment was going to happen. For me it was when we took this picture as Rich Eisen was right above us announcing everyone take your seats. The Gold Jacket broadcast was just minutes away.
The highs and lows shared over the years made it one where the ultimate high of Jerry’s enshrinement could only be matched by the smile he had that entire weekend.
The reverence, class, love and respect for Jerry was evident in the moment he “officially” had on his Gold Jacket as PFHoF David Baker and Commissioner Goodell applauded on stage. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house,, including yours truly. The triumphant end of a 40 year post career odyssey.
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There was only time for smiles while enjoying Jerry’s triumphant moment.
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“Hey big guy!” The laughs at the Hall of Fame party were priceless.

An enshrinement celebration for an immortal finally having his moment in the sun was shared exponentially with the entire Kramer family.

Jerry was besieged by fellow Hall of Famers in Gold Jackets offering congratualtions. These were not only his Packer teammates.. we’re talking Hall of Famers from the 1960’s through the 2000’s from all over the NFL & AFL. The Chancellor was right there to soak it all in and share in the celebration.
At an event of a lifetime of course you take as many pics as you can yet the lasting images are the snapshots captured in your mind.
The best one for me was as we revelled into the evening snapping pics,  Chris Berman, Jerry, and Jeremy Schapp regaled and told stories in a lounge area right behind us. Jeremy, a sports journalist in his own right, is the son of legendary sportswriter Dick Schapp.
The two books Dick cowrote with Jerry, “Farewell To Football” and “Instant Replay” were the books given to me to read back in 1977 that cemented my love of football in the first place. So you can understand why this moment stood out…

I can’t fully express my gratitude to Jerry, his daughters Alicia, Diana and sons Daniel, Matthew Cole, and Tony for the invitation to be there. It was an event so uplifting all of us that were in Canton continue to share pics and stories as though it took happened yesterday.  Thank you.
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Alicia admiring her father’s HOF ring last year after reception ceremony at Lambeau.

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