Jerry Kramer is the only member of the NFL’s 50th anniversary team not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and that’s puzzling … because it’s the Hall’s voters who chose the 50th anniversary team. Yet, for some reason, they’ve kept him out of Canton for over four decades.
That doesn’t mean Kramer hasn’t had chances. He has. Ten times he’s been a finalist, and ten times his candidacy was kicked backed by the Hall’s board of selectors.
But now, at the age of 81 (he turns 82 Tuesday) and 49 years after his retirement, Jerry Kramer — former star guard of the Green Bay Packers and author of the best-selling book, “Instant Replay” — is back for his 11th … and presumably … last run at the Pro Football Hall of Fame as one of two senior candidates for the Class of 2018 (Robert Brazile is the other).
There’s a feeling among today’s voters that Kramer belongs and that this is the time to induct him. After all, he was last a finalist (as a senior candidate) in 1997, and the board has gone through a near complete turnover since then.
So that leads to the question: With 21 years passing and a new board, can Jerry Kramer’s candidacy … or should it … be an easy sell now?
“I think it should,” said former GM Ernie Accorsi on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast. “(Hall-of-Fame coach) John Madden and I have talked about him in the last couple of years, and I think he suffered from the book. I don’t mean that the book itself hurt him. That book was a great book; it was kind of a trailblazer book (that) broke new ground.
“And because it became so famous and so well known … and we all know guards don’t get a lot of publicity now, let alone 20 or 30 years ago where they got none … I think people started to think he was overrated. I think what happened is that people talked so much about him being overrated he ended up being underrated.”
That’s possible. Heck, any explanation at this point is possible. Because it defies reason to keep someone with Kramer’s resume out of Canton.
He was a six-time All-Pro, including five years as a first-teamer. He was a five-time NFL champ and two-time Super Bowl champ. He was first-team all-decade and not only led coach Vince Lombardi’s signature Power Sweep; he threw what may be the most famous block in NFL history in the 1967 playoffs, when quarterback Bart Starr scored the winning touchdown over him in the NFL championship game — a.k.a., the Ice Bowl.
“I think he was an absolute Hall-of-Fame player,” said Accorsi. “I had dinner with him about two years ago, and he told me this story … and we’ve all heard these stories … that Lombardi was really on him in the beginning. I mean picking on him and singling him out. And he said, ‘I was either ready to hit him or quit. And I knew if I hit him that would be the end of my career.’
“And he said just at the time when he thought that he (Lombardi) obviously saw that (Kramer) was ready to crack, he came up to him and said, ‘I treat you like this because you’re going to be the best guard in this league.’ And he had one of the most famous blocks in history.”
So why have voters waited so long to recognize him? That’s difficult to explain. There have been allegations of “Packer Fatigue,” with voters moving on after inducting 12 Packers from the 1960s (including coach Vince Lombardi), including five members of the team’s offense. Maybe. Then there’s a 2012 Sports Illustrated article where Hall-of-Fame quarterback Bart Starr told Hall-of-Fame voter Peter King he thought another offensive lineman from the great Packers’ teams deserved to be enshrined.
It wasn’t Kramer. It was former tackle Bob Skoronski.
Whatever the reason, it’s been a long and agonizing wait for a deserving candidate. And, maybe, just maybe, it’s about to end. In fact, last October Starr’s wife sent a letter to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on behalf of her husband, in which he makes “a strong recommendation” for Kramer’s induction.
“It’s got to be a real pain (to have waited so long), ” Accorsi said. “There’s no honor in sports like being elected to the Hall of Fame, especially for players with all that pride and as good as they were. And you know he was a great player, that goes without saying.
“He sees guys go in that he played against … and played with … and I’m sure he feels (like): ‘I’m as good as this guy. Why can’t I get in?’ And it’s got to be so painful because, in a sense, for these guys who, basically, were stars of their teams all through their childhood and college years, it’s a form of rejection.
“It is really a rejection, and it’s got to really hurt them. Sure, they’re not going to say much about it. There’s too much pride, and they’re not going to whine about it. But it’s got to be very, very hurtful. I just think it’s time for him. I really do. But I do think he suffered a bit for being so acclaimed for that book .
“It’s a little bit like (Hall-of-Fame linebacker) Sam Huff. Sam Huff was called ‘overrated’ so much. It started with ‘The Violent World of Sam Huff’ documentary, which was one of the first specials. And then, all of sudden, people who thought he was overlooked (thought) he was pretty darned good. And I think Jerry is kind of like that. I hope he gets in. I really do.”