State Your Case: Ron Kramer


Photo courtesy of the Green Bay Packers

 

By Rick Gosselin

Talk of Fame Network

Ron Kramer was selected to the NFL’s Golden Anniversary team, identified by the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee as one of the 45 best players in the league’s first 50 seasons.

Forty-two of the players named to that team are now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Kramer and two of his former Green Bay teammates, guard Jerry Kramer and flanker Boyd Dowler, remain the only three stragglers. But Jerry Kramer has been a finalist for the Hall 10 times — 10 more times than the other Kramer has been discussed by the Hall-of-Fame selection committee.

Ron Kramer has been forgotten, as has been his skill set. Kramer played tight end during an era when the position called for a blocker first, a receiver second.

Back in the late 1950s and early 1960s, tight ends were considered extra tackles along the offensive blocking front. Few tight ends in the game’s history blocked better than Kramer, who became a key element in the fabled “Packer power sweep” of the Vince Lombardi coaching era.

Hall-of-Fame tackle Forrest Gregg would pick off the defensive tackle, Kramer would seal the strongside linebacker, Dowler would block down on the end and pulling guards Jerry Kramer and Fred Thurston would then mow down anyone left standing in the path of Hall-of-Fame running backs Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor.

That play powered the Packers to three consecutive NFL championship games from 1960-62 and two titles. In 1962, Taylor won the NFL rushing crown with 1,474 yards and 19 touchdowns in a 14-game season — the only season Hall-of-Famer Jim Brown did not win the rushing title in his nine-year career.

Kramer was selected as the first-team tight end on the 1962 NFL All-Pro team and also was named to his lone Pro Bowl. In 1969, when the Hall-of-Fame selection committee voted on the 50th anniversary team, Kramer was chosen as one of the three tight ends, along with Hall of Famers John Mackey and Mike Ditka.

Then the selection committee forgot about Kramer as his position evolved over the years from blocker to pass catcher.

Once a staple for the position, blocking has now become optional. The candidates on the horizon for Canton are now the elite pass catchers – a Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates and Jason Witten. Players at that position are now judged on what they contribute down the field, not at the line of scrimmage.

So an invisible wall has been erected to keep the best blockers at the tight-end position out of Canton, which has short-changed a Kramer, Russ Francis and Mark Bavaro in the selection process.

That’s not to say Kramer had hands of stone. The Packers scored 14 passing touchdowns in 1962, and Kramer owned half of them. He averaged 15.6 yards per catch during his seven seasons with the Packers and was the leading receiver in the 1961 NFL title game with four catches for 80 yards and two touchdowns.

But Kramer wanted to play closer to his hometown of Detroit, so he asked the Packers to trade him to the Lions. When Lombardi would not honor his request, Kramer played out his option in 1964 and became one of football’s very first free agents. He signed with the Lions, who sent a first-round draft pick to the Packers as compensation.

Kramer played three more seasons on pedestrian Detroit teams — while the Packers were winning three more NFL titles — before retiring to go into private business. He established his own steel company, Ron Kramer Industries, before passing away in 2010 at the age of 75.

But this was one talented football player. He was a two-time All-America at the University of Michigan and the fourth overall pick of the 1957 NFL draft, ahead of Hall-of-Famers Jim Brown, Jim Parker and Len Dawson. Kramer was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1978, and his jersey number 87 has been retired by the Wolverines. The NFL honored him with a spot on the Golden Anniversary team.

There are only eight tight ends in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. There deserve to be more — and Ron Kramer is among those who should be near the top of the list for consideration.

 

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14 Comments

  1. Rob
    July 5, 2016
    Reply

    Rick Pete Retzlaff or Ron Kramer?

    • Rick Gosselin
      July 5, 2016
      Reply

      Retzlaff played TE only the final 4 years of an 11-year career, and the Hall of Fame committee did vote Kramer to the 50th anniversary team. So give the nod to Kramer.

  2. bachslunch
    July 5, 2016
    Reply

    Agreed, Ron Kramer deserves HoF consideration despite having only 6 of his 10 seasons be highly productive. Would probably opt for Pete Retzlaff or Jerry Smith first but Kramer definitely belongs in the mix.

  3. Sam Goldenberg
    July 5, 2016
    Reply

    Certainly an interesting case. Agree, the TE position has changed so much since the time Ron Kramer played. Only one all pro and Pro Bowl selection hurts his case somewhat. He was probably the first TE that was a huge receiving threat. He kind of paved the way for Ditka and Mackey. My opinion is the other Kramer (Jerry) should be next senior selection, as his credentials are overwhelming. However, Ron Kramer does merit discussion, a truly under the radar and terrific player in the early 60’s.

  4. Kurt81
    July 6, 2016
    Reply

    Stats between Ron Kramer and Russ Francis: Kramer 229 rec. 3272 yds. 16 TDs and 1 Pro Bowl.
    Francis 393 rec. 5262 yds. 40 TDs ans 3 Pro Bowls. Not taking anything away from Kramer but I’d put Russ in the HOF before Kramer…and yes Retzlaff should also be in.

  5. bachslunch
    July 6, 2016
    Reply

    Kurt, not taken with directly comparing TEs across eras, as the games were very different when Kramer and Francis played. You’d need to find a way to period adjust in some way. Not sure I understand the HoF case for Francis, actually.

    • Kurt81
      July 6, 2016
      Reply

      If you look at Francis’ stats and compare them to the TEs in the HOF now. They’re comparable.

  6. bachslunch
    July 7, 2016
    Reply

    Kurt: comparing raw stats from different time periods isn’t a good way to make a HoF case. Have seen several people make a case for their favorite 80s-90s-00s WR HoF snub by comparing them directly to 70s WR Lynn Swann, which is essentially the same idea and works no better. As said already, you need to find a way to period adjust to make this a meaningful exercise.

    • Kurt81
      July 7, 2016
      Reply

      Sorry Mark that I don’t stimulate your brain. So I guess comparing Ruth,Aaron and Bonds* was the wrong thing to do(yes, I’m talking about baseball)? So how do get into the HOF? By who you know? (Actually some are probably in there because of that) Look, all they ask is if Kramer belongs. The article even mentions Francis’ name as a snub. I’m making a case for him because I think he belongs. Don’t forget friend these are just opinions…..and that’s my opinion!! Just because you or any other person doesn’t agree with it doesn’t make it wrong. By the way, my last name is Francis so what else do you think I’m going to say? In my OPINION, Russ Francis is the best TE ever. In reality he’s not. That’s the difference. So you can use your fancy words and meanings all you want. They mean nothing to me. Why? Because it’s your OPINION and nothing else. Doesn’t make you right or wrong!!

      • Kurt81
        July 7, 2016
        Reply

        Sorry, I should have said Bach

  7. bachslunch
    July 9, 2016
    Reply

    Kurt: re comparing Ruth, Aaron, and Bonds, depends on the point you want to make. Consider that collecting 500 lifetime HRs pre-Ruth is unthinkable, while doing so during the 1990s-2000s certainly wasn’t impossible. Context can matter. So how ideally does one get into the PFHoF? Hopefully by being within the top percentile at one’s position. How to determine that? Am thinking stats well considered (that is, in good context) and knowledgable film study. Re opinions, we all have them but some are better justified than others — and we all have our favorite players but they’re not all necessarily HoFers. No reason not to like them, though, and one can have a productive, respected career without being at HoF level.

    • Kurt81
      July 9, 2016
      Reply

      I’ll say this. There are players in the HOF(both baseball and football) that don’t belong and there are players not in the HOF that do belong. To me the HOF has been watered down by the selection committee

  8. RF81
    July 30, 2017
    Reply

    Kurt81Francis
    Thank you for your steadfast support, and passion for the game. There are many very good players to chose from. To me, the fans belong in the NFL HOF. All of you have made our lives so very special, and brought the true meaning of faithful & loyal family to many of us while we played, and for these many years after our last game. YOU are OUR HEROES, And nothing will ever change that. Be well, and Much Aloha, RF81

    • July 31, 2017
      Reply

      Russ,
      Glad to hear from you. The fans do indeed support us all. Hope you are well.

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