(Editor’s note: Jerry Kramer is one of two senior candidates for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2018. In tribute to Kramer, we reprint Ron Borges’ State Your Case on Kramer, first published in July, 2014, and arguing for the former Green Bay star’s inclusion in Canton).
When it comes to the Green Bay Packers’ wing of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, it’s a crowded place … but at least one seat remains mysteriously empty. It’s the one Jerry Kramer earned decades ago.
Why it has never been filled is anyone’s guess. But when you are the only guard selected on the NFL’s 50th anniversary team, locking you out seems like more than an oversight. It seems ridiculous.
How can a man selected as the best guard of the game’s first 50 years be told he wasn’t good enough to be canonized in Canton? Positioning was probably part of it.
Guard is a position often ignored by the Hall, as the Chiefs’ deserving Will Shields has come to know lately. There are nearly twice as many offensive tackles (20) as guards (12), and although there are twice as many guard positions as centers, the latter has nearly as many Hall of Famers (8). So there was that hurdle to clear. But, again, after 50 years of league history, Kramer was named the only guard on the all-time team by the same group that votes on Hall-of-Fame inductions. He is the only member of that team not inducted.
In 11 years with the Packers, Kramer was a five-time first team All-Pro, went to three Pro Bowls, was named to the all-decade team of the 1960s, played on five NFL championship teams and two Super Bowl champions and several times served as Green Bay’s placekicker when Paul Hornung was not available. In that role he provided the winning margin in the 1962 NFL championship game, delivering three field goals and an extra point in a 16-7 win over the New York Giants.
Kramer has been a finalist for the Hall of Fame nearly as many times as he had NFL seasons — 10. His quarterback, Bart Starr, and both his running backs, Hornung and Jim Taylor, are Hall of Famers. How do you think they got there? Standing behind Jerry Kramer.
The signature play of the Packers Era was the power sweep. Who led it? Jerry Kramer and Fuzzy Thurston.
The signature moment of their decade of dominance was Starr diving in from inside the 1-yard line on a quarterback sneak with 16 seconds to play to win the 1967 NFL title in -15 degree temperatures. Who made the key block? Jerry Kramer.
When Starr came to the sidelines to confer with Vince Lombardi, he first asked Kramer if he had enough traction to execute a double-team wedge block with center Ken Bowman on Dallas defensive tackle Jethro Pugh. Kramer insisted he did and then buried Pugh as Starr ran “Brown right 31 wedge” into the end zone for the touchdown that sent Green Bay back to Super Bowl II and so many Packers to the Hall.
How the man who made that block and so often led that sweep wasn’t included is a football mystery.
Some argue Kramer was a victim of numbers. He would be the 11th player from Lombardi’s Packers enshrined, meaning half the lineup was Hall of Famers. Some may have felt enough was enough. How so in this case?
“If any man has been overlooked for induction Jerry Kramer is the one,” Hall-of-Fame defensive end Jack Youngblood once said. “My teammate and fellow Hall of Famer (defensive tackle and long-time Kramer combatant), Merlin Olsen said, ‘Good Lord, he should be in the Hall.’ ”
Arguably one of the greatest defensive linemen of all-time, the Colts’ Gino Marchetti, emphatically agreed, once saying, “I was truly shocked to find out that Jerry was not a member of the NFL Hall of Fame. I know personally that there was no one better at his position.”
No one better at his position? Only guard on the 50th anniversary team? No bust in Canton?
No way to explain that.
“The Packers would not have been the greatest team in history if they would not have had Jerry,” said Hall-of-Famer Mike Ditka, who battled Kramer’s Packers for NFL supremacy for most of his career. “Jerry Kramer is a Hall of Famer.”
Hard to argue otherwise.
Follow Ron Borges on Twitter @ronborgesTOF and @RonBorges