Dougherty: It's now or never for Jerry Kramer's Hall of Fame hopes
This is Jerry Kramer’s last chance for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The 82-year-old former Green Bay Packers guard has been a finalist in the Hall voting 10 previous times, and 10 times he has failed to get in. The last was in 1997 when, like this year, he was a seniors committee nominee.
If he’s voted down this time, there are too many other worthy seniors candidates for him to get another shot down the road. The issue will be decided, for good.
So will the 48 Hall of Fame selectors meeting Saturday in Minneapolis vote him into the Class of 2018? Is there much reason to believe this outcome will be different than the last 10? Will he finally get in when the results are revealed Saturday night on the NFL Network?
The best guess from this Hall of Fame voter is, yes.
While you never know what might happen in the room when the discussion on Kramer gets rolling, there’s good reason to be bullish on his chances this time around.
First, some quick background on how the voting works.
Kramer is one of 18 candidates for the class of ‘18, but 15 of them are modern-era, meaning that if they’re players or coaches they’ve been retired from the NFL for at least five years but no more than 25 years. During the approximately nine-hour meeting, that list will be reduced first to 10, then to five. Each of the final five then gets an up-or-down vote and needs 80 percent approval to get in.
There also are three candidates chosen by the seniors and contributors sub-committees last summer — this year it’s two seniors nominees and one contributor. The seniors (players retired more than 25 years) are Kramer and former Houston Oilers linebacker Robert Brazile. The contributor (anyone other than a player or coach) is former player personnel executive Bobby Beathard.
Those three automatically qualify for straight up-or-down votes, also needing 80 percent approval to get in.
In Kramer’s previous 10 times as a finalist, nine were as a modern-era candidate (1974-76, 1978-81, ’84 and ’87). The final time, in ’97, was as the seniors nominee.
Kramer actually is the seventh player to be a seniors nominee at least twice. Five of the previous six were voted in later: Former Packers defensive lineman Henry Jordan in 1995, Lou Creekmur in 1996, Bob Hayes, in 2009 and Claude Humphrey in 2014. Former Washington and Detroit guard Dick Stanfel, who also had a long career as an NFL assistant coach, is the one player to get a third shot as the senior nominiee in 2016, and he was voted in too..
But one of them, Marshall Goldberg, a halfback and fullback for the Chicago Cardinals in the 1930s and ‘40s, was voted down both times (1979 and 2008).
So while Kramer's odds improve him second go round getting a second shot as a seniors nominee is no guarantee.
Still, there are more good reasons to like Kramer’s chances this go round.
For starters, the last time he came up was 20 years ago. In 1997, there still were plenty of voters left over from the ‘70s and ‘80s who were either numbed or hardened into a position after listening to the arguments for and against Kramer as he was denied year after year as a finalist.
Only eight selectors remain on the committee from ’97. So 40 of the voters are far removed from the circumstances in which Kramer was last voted down.
A main argument against Kramer in ’97 was the Packers’ long roll of players (10) from Vince Lombardi’s 1960s dynasty who already were in the Hall. That number became 11 after Dave Robinson’s enshrinement in 2013.
Another point against Kramer was that some in the Packers organization considered Gale Gillingham an even better guard, and told committee members as much. Also, in more recent years, Bart Starr publicly endorsed tackle Bob Skoronski, not Kramer, as his most deserving teammate from the ‘60s still not in the Hall.
Going back to Kramer’s failure to break through in the ‘70s and ‘80s, there likely was a view among at least some voters who’d covered the league in the ‘60s that Kramer was a publicity hound. Kramer had achieved uncommon fame for an offensive lineman because of his block on the game-winning touchdown in the Ice Bowl and subsequent best-selling book that chronicled that 1967 season, "Instant Replay."
But for 40 voters on the committee now, Kramer’s case will be brand new. They won’t care how often Kramer was quoted or that he wrote a book. The 12 other ‘60s Packers in the Hall (Lombardi and 11 players) might not resonate much with them, either, because they weren’t subject to Packers fatigue, as were the voters in the ‘70s and ‘80s.
What’s going to stand out when Rick Gosselin, a member of the seniors committee and a radio host for the Talk of Fame Network, presents Kramer’s case is this: In 1969, the Hall voters chose 15 players as the best at their position in the NFL’s first 50 years, and Kramer was picked as the top guard.
He’s the only one of the 15 not in the Hall.
That alone could clinch it. Almost by definition, if you’re even in contention for the best player at your position for the first 50 years of the league, you’re a Hall of Famer. Never mind actually being chosen the best.
Gosselin’s presentation will include endorsements from some of the great players the Packers faced in the ‘60s as well as other salient points. Gosselin also is on record publicly as saying Kramer is the most deserving player not in the Hall. The presentation will be compelling.
It has been a long wait for Jerry Kramer. He knows better than anyone you’re not in until you’re in. But you really do have to like his chances this time.