Vince Lombardi didn’t lose very often in his career as head coach of the Green Bay Packers.
But it was a rare Lombardi loss that sold Hall of Fame guard Jerry Kramer on the belief that the Green Bay Packers under this coach could achieve the heights of pro football after more than a decade of wallowing in the depths.
Kramer visits the Talk of Fame Network this week as part of our “5 Games” series of podcasts highlighting five significant games in his career. Tony Dungy, Willie Lanier, Tom Flores, Jack Ham have Ty Law previously been featured on the “5 Games” podcast.
The first stop in our “5 Games” tour with Kramer is the 1960 NFL championship game against the Philadelphia Eagles – a 17-13 loss by Green Bay with the Packers on the Philadelphia 10 as time expired.
The Packers had gone 14 years without a championship, 10 years without a winning season and were coming off a franchise-worst 1-10-1 record when Lombardi was hired in 1959. But inside of two seasons, Lombardi had Green Bay playing for an NFL title.
Kramer endured that 1-10-1 season as a rookie in 1958, but was a starter of Lombardi teams that finished 7-5 in 1959 and 8-4 in 1960. He played in the 1960 title game despite suffering a detached retina in late November.
“I decided to play because I thought I might never play in another title game,” Kramer said.
The loss was crushing – but the post-game speech by Lombardi was uplifting.
“I was so frustrated going into the locker room a loser in my first and maybe the only championship game I would play in my life,” Kramer recalled. “I was beside myself. I was so angry and so frustrated with myself. The whole lockerroom was kind of griping and carrying on.
“Then coach came into the room and got on an equipment trunk and says, `Alright, this year we played in the championship. Next year we win the championship,'” Kramer said. “The whole lockerroom cheered, hooted and hollered. I believed that. He said exactly what I was thinking, I was hoping, I was believing. At that moment, I completely threw in with coach Lombardi. That was the moment, that was the instance when I said, `I believe in the guy. He knows what he’s doing. He knows how to do it and when to do it, so I’m in.’ He captured me at that moment.”
The Packers did go on to win the championship the next season – and five times over a seven-year stretch before Lombardi retired following the 1967 season.
Kramer recalls how he expected the Packers to trade him before he ever playing a game for them. He also recalls the time he tried to sneak out for a round of golf in Lombardi’s first training camp, the rapid development of Hall of Fame quarterback Bart Starr under Lombardi and the lessons learned from that 1960 season.
In the next podcast, we’ll talk with Kramer about Green Bay’s 16-7 NFL championship game victory over the New York Giants, which culminated the best season by Lombardi’s best team. You can subscribe to our podcast at iTunes or listen for free at @VokalNow.com