Aaron Nagler speaks with Pro Football Hall of Fame voter Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette about what Saturday's process was like during debate on former Green Bay Packers guard Jerry Kramer. Aaron Nagler | USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
The vibe was good from the start for Jerry Kramer inside the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection meeting Saturday in Minneapolis.
Rick Gosselin, a member of the seniors committee and radio host for the Talk of Fame Network, presented Kramer’s case. It was the second of the day, after Houston Oilers linebacker Robert Brazile, another seniors candidate.
Gosselin’s presentation was concise and heartfelt. He was arguing for a player who back in 1969 was picked by Hall voters as the best guard in the first 50 years of the NFL. Kramer also was on the all-decade team of the 1960s.
He’s the only player from either of those all-time teams not in the Hall of Fame.
For a huge majority of voters this year, Kramer didn’t carry the baggage he did in the ‘70s and ‘80s, or even in 1997 when he was a seniors candidate for the first time. His case was new to most of them.
One of the reasons known publicly for years for why Kramer was voted down his previous 10 times as a finalist was that some AFL voters in the ‘70s and ‘80s thought there were too many players already in the Hall from the ‘60s Packers. They’d had enough.
It doesn’t take many votes to keep a candidate below the 80 percent threshold to get in.
Forty-seven of the 48 voters attended Saturday, so up to nine no votes and he’d be enshrined, but 10 and he was out. Who knows how close Kramer came on several of his 10 previous attempts? One influential voter arguing hard against him could have been just enough to keep Kramer a vote or two shy in the past.
As voters, we’re not allowed to share specifics of the discussions, but it’s clear the too-many-‘60s-Packers argument didn’t resonate with a new committee 30 years later. (There were 11 ‘60s Packers players plus Lombardi in the Hall going into Saturday).
The other well-known objection was that in an interview in 2012 Bart Starr named tackle Bob Skoronski, not Kramer, as his former teammate not in the Hall who should be. That obviously didn’t resonate with voters either.
The feeling in the room for Kramer, from what I could tell, was good. All I contributed were two Lombardi quotes that friends and colleagues helped dig up.
The first was from April 1962, at a speaking engagement in Milwaukee, several months after Lombardi won his first NFL Championship in Green Bay. Kramer actually had missed the final six games and championship because of a broken ankle, and Lombardi, not one to throw around superlatives lightly, said this:
“I doubted very much that we could stay in the race (after Kramer got hurt). Kramer was the league's outstanding guard; some say he may be the best guard in the history of the game.”
Kramer had played only 2½ years for Lombardi at that point, but still.
The other was from a narration Lombardi did for a video replay of Starr’s quarterback sneak that won the Ice Bowl. Kramer threw maybe the most famous block in NFL history.
“Watch that No. 64, that’s Jerry Kramer, the best right guard in football doing his job,” Lombardi said.
The discussion for Kramer lasted 23½ minutes, the fourth-longest of the day but by no means a marathon. From my limited experience as a voter (four years), that also appeared to be a good sign. Enough people weighed in as proponents of the 11-time finalist to keep the discussion moving, but there wasn’t too much back-and-forth, for-and-against.
By contrast, the Terrell Owens discussion lasted about 45½ minutes, the longest of the day. But it wasn’t nearly as spirited as the previous two years, and you could tell some voters had changed their minds in his favor. This time, Owens got in.
Word leaked out not long after the meeting that Kramer was in, and a couple of hours later the Hall introduced him and the rest of the 2018 class at a news conference backstage at the NFL Honors show.
I’ve attended three of these news conferences now, and of course, these are happy, happy people. They’ve just received the ultimate individual honor in football.
But Kramer was a notch above. He was beaming, and rightfully so. He’d first made it as a finalist in 1974, his first year of eligibility. He came up eight more times between then and 1987, then again as a seniors candidate in ’97. He heard no every time and had to have a feeling of foreboding even though things looked good this time.
Forty-four years after that first appearance as a finalist, Kramer finally made it in. Now the longtime campaign by his daughter, Alicia, and the many fans of the ‘60s Packers who have been pushing for his induction, ends.
Back when the Hall notified Kramer he was the seniors finalist, Joe Horrigan, the Hall’s executive director, told Kramer: “Jerry, I want you to know that this will reduce my incoming mail by 90 percent. Those people in Green Bay have questioned my manhood, my heritage, my intelligence. Everything.”
No more of that, Joe. Jerry Kramer is in.
Former Green Bay Packers guard Jerry Kramer shares memories from the Ice Bowl, which was played 50 years ago on Dec. 31, 1967. USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin