Kramers roll into Canton with NFL Royalty
Editors Note: Daniel Kramer is Jerry’s Kramer’s son and has a B.A. in Journalism and an MFA in Photojournalism.
By Daniel Kramer
Exclusive to the Press Times
My dad, Jerry Kramer, played right guard for the Green Bay Packers from 1958 to 1968.
During that span, Vince Lombardi’s Packers won five National Football League Championships in seven years including three in a row.
In the 1967 NFL Championship game against the Dallas Cowboys, known around the world as the Ice Bowl, my dad threw what would become the most famous block in NFL history which allowed Bart Starr to score and the Packers to advance to Super Bowl II.
In 1969, my dad was chosen by Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors to the all-time NFL team selected to commemorate the league’s 50th anniversary season.
In other words, the Hall of Fame voters selected my dad as the greatest player at his position in the first 50 years of the NFL.
Dad’s first year of eligibility for the Hall of Fame was 1974 and he was a finalist that year.
He was also a finalist in 1975, 1976, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1984, 1987 and a Senior Candidate in 1997.
I was in New Orleans with dad on the set of ESPN’s The Sports Reporters when Dick Schaap received the news that he had once again been passed over.
Prior to that rejection, being nominated as a Senior had been considered a shoo-in for induction.
Dad had brought a large part of his family to witness the occasion, and his friends had planned a big party.
Schaap even had t-shirts made up.
As Vince Lombardi once said, “What the hell is going on out there?!”
A lost generation
• Eleven years later, in 2008, NFL.com chose my dad as the Number 1 player not in the Hall of Fame.
• In 2010, Steve Sabol called Jerry Kramer the Best Player not in the Hall of Fame.
• In 2013, dad was selected by Sports Illustrated as the Best Guard Not in the Hall of Fame (one of the runners up was Dick Stanfel who was inducted in 2016).
• In 2014, The Sporting News listed Jerry Kramer as the ninth greatest Green Bay Packer of all time and added: “Easily the most egregious omission in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and arguably in any sports’ hall of fame…”
• In 2016, USA Today selected Jerry Kramer as the starting Right Guard for the All 50th Super Bowl Team.
• Dad had also been chosen by John Madden in 1991 as the starting Right Guard for the All 25th Super Bowl Team.
Finally, in 2018, after a multi-year social-media effort and at the age of 82, dad was finally inducted 45 years after he became eligible.
I mention all of this to try to convey to the reader the emotional impact of our long weekend in Canton for LeRoy Butler’s enshrinement ceremoy with the Class of 2022.
It’s not really something that can be conveyed with words.
It’s one of those things that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
I’m so grateful that dad was finally enshrined, but I’m also sad that he missed all those years of reuniting with Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Ray Nitschke, Willie Wood, Herb Adderley and even competitors who later became friends like Merlin Olsen.
Dad missed his entire generation.
Father and son road trip
So this year, as LeRoy Butler was being enshrined, I told dad I wanted to go to Canton with him. We met in Green Bay on Thursday, Aug.4 and flew to Canton on a private jet that same day.
Friday morning dad passed on the NFL Legends Health Benefits breakfast and the annual Gold Jacket group photo in front of the Hall of Fame so that he could attend the National Child ID meet-and-greet event.
Dad has been involved with this charitable project for about seven years and is one of its leading spokespersons.
The Ray Nitschke Luncheon
At 11:30, dad attended the Ray Nitschke Luncheon.
I was not allowed to stay in the room for this event.
I wheeled dad into the room, spied James Lofton and pushed dad into a spot next to him and went outside to wait.
Lawrence Taylor was one of the first former players to leave the room, and I asked him if he’d sign a football I had brought to collect signatures for the weekend.
He signed it and then I saw Marcus Allen emerge from the room and got a selfie and an autograph.
Then Tony Dorsett came out and was also kind enough to sign my ball.
Then I spied Ron Wolf, Gilbert Brown and Santana Dotson at one end of the lobby and said hello.
Finally, after about two and a half hours, the players began emerging from the luncheon.
I went in to get dad, and as we came out, he was immediately asked to sign memorabilia for charity.
When that was done, we ran into Charles Woodson, who graciously signed my ball and posed for a picture.
After an hour of downtime, it was time to get ready for the Gold Jacket Ceremony Dinner.
As I wheeled dad into the room, we saw Dave Robinson, his son Dave Robinson Jr. and Junior’s daughter Michelle.
A few minutes later, Suzanne Jordan, daughter of Hall of Famer Henry Jordan, joined us for dinner.
The Jordan’s lived across the street from us in Green Bay as we were growing up.
Then ESPN’s Chris Berman came into the room and sat down to join us.
Then Toni Adderley, daughter of Herb Adderley, stopped by to say hi and pose for a group picture.
After dinner was finished, we got pics with “Mean” Joe Green and Howie Long.
Backstage at the Gold Jacket Ceremony
Our next stop was the waiting room backstage at the Gold Jacket Ceremony at the Canton Civic Center.
Gobsmacked, I toured the room shooting a little video on my phone of this gaggle of greatness.
Steve Young stopped by for a picture, then it was time to wheel dad into his spot in the Gold Jacket Gauntlet.
After each returning Hall of Famer was announced, Rich Eisen introduced the new class.
I was standing right next to LeRoy when he came into the arena.
As soon as the new class was introduced, the Gold Jacket Gauntlet disbursed, and I went to get dad.
John Randle put a forearm in my chest as he thought I was just an over-exuberant fan (which I am!), but when I quickly told him I was getting my dad he apologized and let me through.
Now we headed back to the hotel and to the post ceremony party.
I spied Bill Cowher and asked him to come over and say hello to my dad.
After that it was Jerry Rice, Steve Hutchinson and then Jim Kelley.
After joining Franco Harris’ conga line around the room, it was time to head back to our room. Wow, what a day!
Saturday morning dad and I shared a ride with Steve Young to the Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium for the enshrinement ceremonies.
As we waited in the Green Room, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft stopped to visit and his son, Jonathan, mentioned that his dad had bought dad’s book Instant Reply for him when he was a kid and he had enjoyed it immensely and still had it.
I then wheeled dad onto the stage and ducked back into the green room for some air conditioning and refreshments.
Soon more guys were coming from onstage and grabbing some food or something to drink.
There’s Mel Blount in his cowboy hat.
There’s Michael Irvin telling a story about Darrell Green.
I fixed dad a brat and some chips and brought it out to him.
It was really starting to get uncomfortably hot on stage.
No wonder the Hall of Famers were not wearing their Gold Jackets.
Thankfully most of the speeches were short, except for Dick Vermeil’s, during which I was given the green light to go onstage and hand dad an ice-soaked towel.
He winced and asked me if our escape route was ready (in case you didn’t know, my dad is funny)!
It took about 10 minutes to find our escape guide, and then we made our way out of the stadium and to the transportation area where we caught a ride back to the hotel.
National Child ID Man of the Year
We had about an hour of downtime and then we were off to the National Child ID Jerry Kramer Man of the Year Award Banquet.
Currently there are 38 states that participate in this program, and there were attorneys general from many of those states at the banquet.
Did you know that a child goes missing in the U.S. every 40 seconds?
This is an effort to combat that problem, and I’m proud of my dad for leading the charge.
Dad has worked with Green Bay Packers President Mark Murphy and Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on the project, and consequently, every child in Wisconsin has an ID kit.
Butler’s enshrinement party
The final stop of the weekend was LeRoy Butler’s enshrinement party hosted by the Green Bay Packers at the exact same place where they hosted dad’s enshrinement party in 2018.
It was great to see Dave Robinson, Antonio Freeman, Santana Dotson, Gilbert Brown, James Lofton, Andre Rison, Charles Woodson and Ed Reed show up to support LeRoy.
After a few hours and lots of photos, it was time to pack it in.
Dad and Dave Robinson clinked their glasses, looked each other in the eye and said, “I hope to see you again.”
Wow, what a poignant moment.
And what an amazing trip.
Thanks dad, I love you.
Daniel Kramer’s photographs have appeared in newspapers and magazines worldwide for the past 30 years, and his work is in the permanent collection of numerous museums. In 2016, he published Return To Glory, a coffee-table photography book of the 1995-96 Green Bay Packers’ Super Bowl winning season.