On Saturday, Jerry Kramer goes into the Pro Football Hall of Fame at long last. Jerry has packed a lot of living and near-dying into his time on earth. He has been a football star, best-selling author, successful entrepreneur and businessman, and rancher. He was also once known as “Zipper” for his frequent medical mishaps: getting his shirt caught in a lathe, accidentally shooting himself in the side, having his groin punctured by several seven-and-one-half inch slivers of wood, and having a colostomy as well as enduring such football injuries as concussions, chipped vertebra, a detached retina, a broken ankle, broken ribs, a broken thumb, and pinched nerves. Not to mention two marriages, six kids and five grandchildren. He has had an active life
Above all else, Kramer has been the historian of a special time, a special coach, and a special team, having had a hand in four books about the 1960s Packers. Instant Replay was his diary of the historic 1967 season that culminated in the Packers third consecutive championship. It was edited by Dick Schaap and had a most fortuitous climax of Kramer himself opening the hole for the winning touchdown in the Ice Bowl, thereby becoming a household name and making this book a tremendous best seller. In 1969, he and Schaap followed that up with Farewell to Football, his autobiography in the wake of his retirement after 1968. Kramer flew solo in his third book the following year in 1970, Lombardi: Winning is the Only Thing, which was a compilation of interviews with friends and former players of the coach. For Distant Replay in 1986, Kramer was again assisted by Dick Schaap. It told the story of the 1966 Packers on the 18th anniversary of their Super Bowl I championship. It was a brilliant idea to relay what had happened to those players in the intervening two decades and was another best seller. As center Ken Bowman put it, “Jerry had more of a sense of history than the rest of us. He came in there in that last year that Lombardi coached and started at the beginning of training camp with his little tape recorder. We all rode him a bit about this. He was chronicling everything that was going on and we kind of teased him about it, and he took it good-naturedly.”
In so doing, the Replay Man became more famous than probably any other offensive lineman. Even early in his career he and his running mate at guard for the Packers Fuzzy Thurston were better known than most linemen by virtue of them being the prominent pulling guards of the championship Packers= power sweep play. Add in the fact that Kramer like so many members of that team was an articulate, intelligent man who did not shy away from exposure on camera and you get a true anomaly in football, a famous guard. Despite this, Jerry once said, “I’ve asked Vince a few times to let me play defensive tackle. I’m like everyone else, I guess. Sometimes I’d like to hear my name on the public address system or read it in the newspaper the day after the game.”
During his career, he was a highly respected player. He was first team All-Pro five times, second team twice, and played in three Pro Bowls. He also scored 177 points as a kicker, stepping in when Paul Hornung was banged up in 1962 and suspended in 1963. In the 1962 title game victory over the Giants, Jerry hit three of five field goal attempts in a swirling wind and scored 10 of the Packers 16 points. Although Henry Jordan would joke about Jerry’s kickoffs that, “We’re the only team that kicks off and then goes into a goal line defense.” And then there is that block to win the Ice Bowl–probably the most famous block in football history. Ken Bowman, his silent partner on the block, once sized up the men with whom he rubbed shoulders, “Fuzzy probably makes more blocks than Jerry, but they ain’t as pretty. Jerry used to go out there and he’d just drill somebody, and you’d see the bottoms of the soles of their shoes. They’d be flying through the air and landing on their backs.” Kramer was selected as the Greatest Guard of the First 50 Years of the NFL in 1969 and inducted in the Packer Hall of Fame in 1975, but he had to wait another 43 years to be elected to Canton, although he was a finalist 10 times before his selection.
He had a spectacular career on the greatest team of his time, and his books not only kept alive that team and the teachings of his unforgettable coach, but they gave Kramer a special place in football history as well. It is fitting that he finally gets to wear the gold blazer.
(Adapted from Packers by the Numbers).
1959 custom card is colorized.