THE GREEN BAY DIARY OF JERRY KRAMER
with Dick Schaap
The New American Library (1968)
I’m not going to pretend that the happy ending of this first-of-its -kind sports diary will assuage Cheese Heads around the world, not as they ice their wounds over that 2015 overtime playoff loss to Seattle.
But Packers fans, and NFL fans alike, will enjoy this 1967 Jerry Kramer replay. The all-pro right guard takes his Green Bay Packers from the blood, sweat and tears of the pre-season training camp to a historic sub-zero NFL championship (the Ice Bowl) then right to the Pack’s win in Super Bowl II.
Kramer drops us inside the game—from the film sessions and locker room life to hard-ball negotiations of contracts and outside business deals. And then, (after dodging bed check), we’re out with the boys for a beer or six.
Not your Jim Bouton Ball Four but all the NFL’s grit and grime is here—with blocking that make the pages pop. We pull along with Kramer for those famous Packers’ sweeps as he and Fuzzy Thurston lead running backs around ends to end zones.
And through these daily diaries we not only feel Kramer’s pain (he “enjoyed” a total of 22 operations by the time the Packers kicked it off in ’67), we experience the game’s terror—witness the broken bones and broken dreams, see the tears of 285-pound men cut from the squad by a passing coach saying no more than, “Turn in your playbook!”
This is not a game for the faint of heart or in fact the elderly, and through Kramer, who is nearing the end of this career in this writing, we learn how it feels to prepare both physically and mentally for this young man’s game, a sport so demanding that few of us have the guts or talent to play.
Right behind Kramer and his Packers teammates with a whip and a chair is the book’s centerpiece, none other than the great—sometimes Saint sometimes Sinner—Vince Lombardi, that motherly bully of a coach renowned for pushing players in ways that define his idea of winning.
“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing!” Lombardi said.
And by God his players believed him. And then they won. Five championships came during Kramer’s 11-year tenure in the NFL.
And for all of Kramer’s talent as a player on this team that won those five NFL titles (three in a row), the six-time pro-bowler managed to be ranked number 1 in NFL Network’s Top Ten List of players never elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Welcome to the world of the NFL offensive guard!
No Hall of Fame for Kramer, whose block gave NFL, fans that Instant Replay for the ages?
Ice Bowl, NFL Championship game, 1967, Lambeau Field, sub-zero temperatures, running backs slipping all over the icy tundra, seconds remaining and the Packers trailing the Cowboys 17-13. Bart Starr asks Kramer and company if they can get any traction to block. They can (linemen always say yes to QBs). Starr calls a Brown right 31 Wedge. The Hall of Fame QB keeps the ball and Kramer and Ken Bowman double-team Jethro Pugh, and suddenly cameras are flashing and popping, TV network execs are throwing confetti. Although it was Starr who crossed the goal line for a 20–17 lead and an NFL Championship, Jerry Kramer (the block) was suddenly the NFL’s poster boy; the guard had sprung the Green Bay Packers to the Super Bowl where they would then best the AFL’s Oakland Raiders 33-14 and win another World Championship.
All that said, Ice Bowl block included, Jerry Kramer will no doubt best be remembered as the author of Instant Replay, this bestselling page turner from the past. Again, not just for Cheese Heads, this insider’s view of the NFL gives football fans a unique peek inside the game that has—since the Kramer years—become America’s pastime.
Now, huddle up. Here are a few Instant Replays from Kramer’s diary of that ’67 season.
An off-season visit to the Packers’ offices
“As I came out of the building Coach Lombardi came in. I waved to him cheerfully—I have nothing against him during the off season—and I said, “Hi Coach.”
Vince Lombardi is a short, stout man, a stump. He looked up at me and he started to speak and his jaws moved, but no words came out. He hung his head. My first thought—from force of habit—was, I guess I’ve done something wrong, I’m in trouble, he’s mad at me.
“What is it Coach, what’s the matter?”
Finally he managed to say, “I had to put Paul (Horning).” He was almost stuttering. “I had to put Paul on that list,” he said. “And they (New Orleans) took him.”
“I stood there, not saying anything (Horning, the All-Pro halfback was one of Kramer’s best friends), and Lombardi looked at me again and lowered his head and started to walk away. He took about four steps and then he turned around and said, “This is one helluva business sometimes isn’t it?” Then he put his head down and walked into his office. I got to thinking about it later, and the man is a very emotional man. He is spurred to anger or to tears almost equally easy. He gets misty-eyed and he actually cries at times, and no one thinks less of him for crying. He’s such a man.”
The rigors of training camp
“. . . we had one of our little “nutcracker” drills today, a brand of torture—one-on-one, offensive man against defensive man—-which is, I imagine, something like being in the pit. The defensive man positions himself between two huge bags filled with foam rubber, which form a chute; the offensive man, leading a ball carrier, tries to drive the defensive man out of the chute, banging into him, head-to-head, really rattling each other, ramming each other’s necks down into the chest.
“The primary idea is to open a path for the ball carrier. The secondary idea is to draw blood. I hate it. But Coach Lombardi seemed to enjoy watching the fresh collision.”
Lombardi “Mr. Sensitivity”
“When in the hell are you going to start running anyhow?” Vince asked Lionel Aldridge at the meeting tonight. “When’re you going to stop loafing?” Lionel’s leg’s been out of the cast for four or five days now and it hasn’t even been three weeks since he broke it and Lombardi wants him to start running. Vince means it, too. Bob Long is trotting already, less than a month after his knee operation, and Coach thinks it’s time for Lionel to be running too. Lombardi has got to have the highest threshold of pain in the world; none of our injuries hurts him at all.”
Why offensive guards obsess
I began thinking about Alex Karas, the defensive left tackle of the Detroit Lions (who he’ll be blocking in an upcoming game). As far as I’m concerned, the two toughest tackles in the league are Karas and Merlin Olsen of the Rams, and I never, never say that either one is better than the other, because I don’t want to get either of them angry. Playing against Karas is like playing a chess game. If you try to pop him he’ll beat you like a stepchild. You’ve got to be thinking all the time. About the move he beat you with two years ago. You’ve got to remember that everything with him is countermove. Obviously I spend a lot of time thinking about defensive tackles.
A teammate discovers Kramer’s notes
A lot of the guys are taking a big interest in my book. I took some notes the other day, during the movies (study of game film), and I happened to leave them lying around the locker room and Gilly picked them up and read them. He didn’t seem to mind them, even a part where Lombardi was chewing him out. I guess most of the guys figure whatever I say, I can’t be any rougher on them than Vince was in Look (Lombardi has written and insiders piece for that magazine).
Max (McGee, the team’s leading womanizer) has been insisting that only a bachelor can write the full story of what it’s like to be a professional football player. He says he’ll give me some material that’ll make the book sell like Peyton Place. If I don’t use his material, he says, I’ve got to call the book Only Half of It.
They (Colts) got the ball on our 34-yard line, and then our defense held them to four yards in three plays. On fourth and six, Unitas faded back to pass, saw that all of his receivers were covered and decided to run. He scrambled and stumbled for seven yards, barely enough for a first down. On the next play, Unitas threw a pass to Willie Richardson for a touchdown. They beat us, 13-10.
The locker room was awfully quiet afterward. Everyone felt disgusted with the way we’d lost the game (they’d blown coverage on a Colts last minute on-side kick). I was near the coaches’ room and I heard Lombardi screaming. “Damned stupid high-school play like that. Damned stupid play. What in the hell were we doing? What in the hell were we waiting for?” Bob Hyland, the big rookie, was sitting with a towel over his face like he might be crying. Tommy Joe (Crutcher) slouched in front of his locker and kept shaking his head. “Wouldn’t have played it any different if I had to do it a thousand times,” he said. “Wouldn’t have tried to bat that kick down. I felt the further it went, the better chance we had of getting it’”
We actually felt that we had won the ball game, that we’d outplayed them, that they’d scored more points. Ray Nitschke kept saying, “Helluva ball game helluva a football game.”
Lombardi in mid-season form
Lombardi’s pulse rate quickened today. He screamed louder and longer and at more different people than he had all week. He’s really gotten himself ready for a game. I wish we could suit him up. He was jumping around this morning before we watched movies of the Bears, and he shouted, “Boy, I’m getting a Bear itch. I’m getting ready. I don’t get excited very often. . .” He stopped and thought for a second or two “. . . Maybe three or four times a day,” he said. “But I’m sure as hell getting excited now. Boys, I hope you are too.”
I think we are.
How it feels to win. (The Packers beat a great Rams team 28-7 to win the Western Conference Championship. . .a big step toward the $25,000 per man payoff if they win out)
“Magnificent,” Coach Lombardi said when we reached the locker room. “Just magnificent. I’ve been very proud of you guys all year long. You’ve overcome a great deal of adversity. You’ve hung in there, and when the big games came around. . .” He couldn’t finish the sentence. He broke up, and the tears started trickling down his cheek. He just knelt down, crying, and led us in the Lord’s Prayer. We thanked God that no one had been injured.
Guys walked around the locker room hugging each other. Nitschke actually was kissing and hugging everybody. He came up to me and said, “Thank you, Jerry,” and he turned to Gregg and said, “Thank you, Forrest, “and he thanked all his teammates. “I just wish the game hadn’t ended,” Henry Jordan said. “I sure could have played another half. I had so much fun.”
Lombardi’s pre-game speech for that incredible 20-17 Ice Bowl win over Dallas
“Coach Lombardi talked to us this morning about the third world championship, about how much it would mean to all of us all our lives.
‘I want that third championship,” Vince said. “AND I DESERVE IT. WE ALL DESERVE IT.”
Then he lowered his voice and talked about the type of men who play for Green Bay. ‘Lots of better ballplayers than you guys have gone through here,’ he said. ‘But you’re the type of ballplayers I want. You’ve got character. You’ve got heart. You’ve got guts.” He got all worked up, very emotional, and then abruptly, he stopped. ‘OK, that’s it,’ he said, ‘That’s my pregame speech. Let’s go!”
Packers’ Locker Room Following the Ice-Bowl block
“I loved Vince. Sure, I hated him at times during training camp and I had hated him at times during the season, but I knew how much he had done for us, and I knew how much he cared about us. He is a beautiful man, and the proof is that no one who ever played for him speaks of him afterward with anything but respect and admiration and affection. His whippings, his cussings, and his driving all fade; his good qualities endure.
Over and over and over, perhaps twenty times the television cameras reran Bart’s touchdown and my block on Jethro Pugh. Again and again, millions of people across the country saw the hole open up and saw Bart squeeze hrough. Millions of people who couldn’t name a single offensive lineman if their lives depended on it heard my name repeated and repeated and repeated. All I could think was, “Thank God for instant replay.”
So there you go. Again, Kramer amid the Green Bay Packers blood, sweat and tears paints this vivid NFL picture. Knowing that they’d go on to beat Oakland 33-14 in Super Bowl II, I read and reread Kramer’s moving post-game instant replay of the historic block that beat Dallas in the Ice Bowl. Suddenly I found myself in the mood for a post victory celebration. Kramer had taken me along for the ride during one hell of a season and as it approached its fitting conclusion I wanted to huddle up with the team, pop a bottle of champagne and snap locker room towels with Kramer and my fellow Packers.
For a copy of Instant Replay, ask your librarian, order through your independent bookseller or try Amazon.com where you can buy Jerry Kramer’s 1968 diary for about the same low-ball number the “more conservative” Packers voted to give front office personnel when they divvied up their Championship winnings. Simply click on the book’s cover.