HOF Preview: Decades-long wait ends for Jerry Kramer, 82
Jerry Kramer has basked in the attention on his key block on the winning play in the Ice Bowl for more than half a century.
He sure was uneasy, though, when Vince Lombardi told Bart Starr to run “31 Wedge” from a yard out, the Green Bay Packers’ dynasty dangling by a thread with 16 seconds remaining on that 1967 New Year’s Eve afternoon so frozen in time.
It was a play Kramer himself had suggested, almost sheepishly, to Lombardi after finding a flaw in Dallas’ short-yardage defense during film study 72 hours earlier.
He noticed that while Bob Lilly was so close to the ground “you couldn’t move him with a D-9 CAT” bulldozer, fellow Cowboys defensive tackle Jethro Pugh stood too high in his stance, making him vulnerable.
“Coach,” Kramer blurted out, “we can wedge Pugh if we have to.”
“We can wedge Pugh if we have to.”
“Run that back,” barked Lombardi.
“So, we run the film back about four different times and he watched Pugh and he said: ‘That’s right. Put in a wedge on Pugh,’” Kramer recalled recently as he prepared for his long-awaited Pro Football Hall of Fame induction on Saturday.
Like the star pupil earning brownie points with his teacher, Kramer was proud of his suggestion. But when the Packers were trailing 17-14 with 16 seconds and no timeouts left, he found himself wishing he’d kept his mouth shut.
Starr called his last timeout after halfback Donnie Anderson’s second straight slip, trotted over to the sideline and suggested to Lombardi that he run a sneak because of the poor traction.
“Then run it and let’s get the hell out of here,” Lombardi replied.
Starr called out the play in the huddle.
Kramer’s heart sank.
It’s one thing to suggest a play. It’s another for it to get called in a do-or-die situation with an NFL championship on the line.
“You really wish they’d call something else maybe,” Kramer recalled. “Maybe we’d rather run a sweep. Or maybe we ought to run over there.”
Lilly kicked the ice away from the goal line. Pugh pondered calling a timeout to have someone from the Cowboys sideline bring out a shovel.
“The other guys were slipping and sliding because it was icy,” Kramer recalled.
“There was an area almost like a golf divot where my left foot went, it was about an inch deep, three-quarters of an inch deep,” Kramer said. “And my left foot just snuggled down into that divot and gave me like a starting block.”
Pugh thought Kramer false-started.
Years later, Kramer would admit he moved a split-second before Ken Bowman’s snap, taking some of the heat off Pugh, who died in 2015, and was long blamed by Cowboys fans for the loss in the Ice Bowl.
Kramer hit Pugh first and Bowman spun him around as Starr knifed into the end zone behind them, followed by fullback Chuck Mercein holding his hands high, not to signal touchdown but to show the officials he hadn’t aided his quarterback into the end zone.
CBS had a monitor in the Packers’ locker room afterward and showed Kramer’s block in slow motion, sparking whooping and hollering from his teammates and praise from his coach.
“That’s a fine block,” Lombardi said .
The Cowboys flew home in silence while the Packers prepared for their second Super Bowl, a 33-14 rout of the Raiders in Lombardi’s final game as their head coach.
Pugh would go on to win two Super Bowls with the Cowboys.
Kramer played another season and in 1969 was the only guard voted to the NFL’s 50th Anniversary Team, something he expected would be a prelude to a hasty call from the Hall of Fame.
That invitation finally came this year, making him the 14th member of Lombardi’s Packers to make it into the hall.
At first he was bitter over his repeated snubs, but he grew to accept that he might not ever make it into Canton.
“I’d been through the emotional package that Terrell is going through,” Kramer said of fellow 2018 inductee Terrell Owens , who is skipping Saturday’s ceremonies in Canton, Ohio, miffed that he wasn’t a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Kramer can relate.
“I went through a period where I didn’t want to hear about the Hall of Fame,” Kramer said. “I wanted nothing to do with it. I literally drove by the Hall of Fame three or four times and I wouldn’t go in because I was not invited in.”
Kramer said he eventually found peace by counting his blessings, which included five titles in his 11 seasons as the anchor of Green Bay’s line.
“It just occurred to me that if I was going to be angry over one honor that I didn’t get and trash 100 honors that I did get, that would be stupid,” Kramer said.
At 82, he finally has pro football’s highest honor.
“There was such a range of emotions as deep as you can go into the Earth, and then cloud high,” Kramer said. “So, it’s been a fascinating journey.”
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