Idaho Vandals

‘I came a hell of a long way from Sandpoint, Idaho’: Kramer reflects on Hall of Fame dream

Boise’s Jerry Kramer tries on his Pro Football Hall of Fame gold jacket

Former Green Bay Packer, Jerry Kramer, has been voted into the NFL Hall of Fame. Kramer will be inducted this coming August. Kramer played for the Packers from 1958 to 1968 under coach Vince Lombardi.
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Former Green Bay Packer, Jerry Kramer, has been voted into the NFL Hall of Fame. Kramer will be inducted this coming August. Kramer played for the Packers from 1958 to 1968 under coach Vince Lombardi.

So many times, Jerry Kramer came close to being enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. So many times, he wound up disappointed and forced to wait.

But the last thing Kramer was waiting for after a fantastic playing career will finally come Saturday. He will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

Kramer was a dominant offensive lineman for the Green Bay Packers from 1958 to 1968, earning seven first- or second-team All-Pro honors. He also kicked in parts of three seasons, making 29 field goals and 90 extra points. A 1954 graduate of Sandpoint High in northern Idaho, he starred at the University of Idaho before being drafted by the NFL’s Green Bay Packers in the fourth round in 1958.

Kramer had been nominated to the Hall of Fame 10 times before. With his induction approaching, he sat down at his Boise home with the Idaho Statesman to reflect on the bumpy path to enshrinement. His comments have been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

7th Annual NFL Honors - Hall of Fame Press Room
Jerry Kramer, center, is flanked by safety Brian Dawkins, left, and linebacker Ray Lewis at a news conference for the Hall of Fame. Kramer had been nominated to the Hall of Fame 10 times. AJ Mast Invision for NFL

It’s been an interesting, long road to get to this point. What was the moment like after waiting for years to get in?

“I first got the call last August that I’d been nominated again. Someone I know called me and said, ‘Congratulations.’ I was like, ‘For what?’ I’d stopped following the machinations of the whole thing. It made my day, but I was 0-10, so it wasn’t something I celebrated long. (Hall of Fame executive director) Joe Horrigan told me his incoming mail would be reduced 95 percent since all the Packer fans would write in. It was a nice compliment, but I wouldn’t know if I got inducted until the Super Bowl (Feb. 3). I was in my hotel in Minneapolis waiting for that knock from (Hall of Fame president) David Baker. I kept waiting and started to get worried. The maid knocked on the door. We scared the hell out of her. Just a few minutes later, David was there. He’s 6-foot-9. I saw him and said, ‘You’re the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen, it’s so great to see you.’ It’s incrementally felt more real. It had been a dream so long.”

In the six months since you’ve known you’re in, what has been most enjoyable?

“Recently, I got the gold jacket sent to me at home to try on, which was pretty surreal. Pretty soon after I got in, they measured me for that jacket and they were measuring me for my bust. I looked at my daughter, Alicia, and she was just crying, almost out of control. It was amazing. All of us that were going to be inducted had a breakfast together the next day. I got to see guys like Ray Lewis and Randy Moss get really emotional, a side of them I don’t think many people saw.”

Were you upset about being the only player on the NFL’s 50th Anniversary All-Time team not in the Hall?

“I understand Terrell Owens’ position, maybe a hell of a lot more than him. I’d been by the Hall, but I’d refused to go in until I was in. (Owens, a 2018 inductee, turned down an invitation to attend Saturday’s ceremony.) I still don’t know why it took so long. I’d been introduced as a Hall of Famer for years, and eventually I just stopped correcting them. There was a little resentment, a little anger. I founded The Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund to help guys that played who needed help. We had guys pretty much on the streets. After we got that going (a decade ago), the commissioner (Roger Goodell) congratulated me and also on getting into the Hall of Fame. He didn’t know I wasn’t in. John Hannah (a 1991 inductee) called me around then asking if he was going to see me at the inductions. He just assumed I was in. It was all kind of awkward. ... I was just wondering what the hell was going on. The more I thought about it, I’ve had a hell of a ride. It was a great career, all the wonderful things it’s given me since. I came a hell of a long way from Sandpoint, Idaho. This is the cherry on the sundae, the ultimate honor.”

There was a long-time, grassroots effort to get you inducted. What did that mean to you?

“There was just a tremendous outpouring of appreciation from fans and former players. Alicia did such an incredible job not letting people forget about me. She and (Boise communications specialist) Randy Simon got letters from other Hall of Famers like Bob Lilly, Merlin Olsen, Roger Staubach and Alex Karras, just a tremendous number of people. I think that helped Alicia confirm her belief that I should be in.”

Super Bowl.jpg
Green Bay Packers head coach Vince Lombardi is carried off the field by team members, including guard Jerry Kramer, right, after the Packers defeated the Oakland Raiders 33-14 in Super Bowl II in 1968. The Associated Press

What will your speech be like Saturday?

“I’ve been thinking about what I’m going to say quite a bit. I’m thinking about when I decided to write my first book (“Instant Replay”), and kept thinking I’d have to use this flowery language. That lasted about two days. I said to myself, ‘Hey fool, it is what it is and you is what you is, so just tell it as accurately as you can and you’ll have no regrets.’ I adopted that philosophy. There’s the inclination to feel that way I did when I sat down to write that first book 50 years ago. But I think I’ll be saying the same thing I have since then about coach (Vince) Lombardi, his philosophies, his principles and the impact it had on my life.”

You’re an Idaho guy, raised here, played in college here and live here now. What does this state mean to you?

“There’s a special significance to your home state honoring you. I got my Hall of Fame plaque up at Sandpoint High (at an event in May). That was really incredible. I remember a stream close to the high school when I was 9 years old, I’d run from home and just sit there. I’d eventually go out fishing, thinking I’d run away, but no one missed me since I wasn’t that far from home. I’d had so many great experiences since, but coming back to that really kind of brought it home. I saw some people I’d graduated with at that event. An event like that means more than just about award I could get. The state Legislature is going to have (Aug. 23) be “Jerry Kramer Day in Idaho,” which is really sweet. I’m going to get my Hall of Fame ring at halftime of the Packers-Vikings game (Sept. 16), so it’s going to be an emotional few weeks in what are both of my homes.”

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Jerry Kramer starred at the University of Idaho before being drafted by the NFL’s Green Bay Packers in the fourth round in 1958. Charlie Litchfield The Associated Press

Any game moments come rushing back to you in the last few months?

“We won five championships (including the first two Super Bowls), and those will always be special, but I remember the Green Bay fans in what ended up being my last game. It was the last home game of the 1968 season. We needed a trainwreck for us to get into the playoffs, but we felt confident. We fumbled with a little more than a minute left (and) we knew we were going to lose. I heard this applause and yelled out, “It’s over! We’re done! What is going on?” But everyone stood up, the whole (expletive) stadium gave an ovation. They knew it was the end of an era. They were saying thank you. Vince had stepped down the year before I was going to retire. It gave me a whole new appreciation for the fans and their understanding of the game.”

Who will be introducing you at the induction ceremony?

“My daughter, Alicia. It was a no-brainer. She’s been working on this for years and doing so much to make this happen. There wasn’t any contest. My ex-wife asked me who was going to present me, and we don’t always agree on everything. She said, ‘That’s wonderful.’ She has just busted her butt for so long. I wanted to be in because a bunch of my friends were in. They had all these great stories, so I wanted to be a part of it. I wish all my buddies were able to go, (and that) they were all with us or healthy. But otherwise, it can’t get much better than finally getting this opportunity after waiting so long.”

KRAMER INDUCTION WATCH PARTIES

The Pro Football Hall of Fame inductions will be televised on ESPN and NFL Network, starting at 5 p.m. MT Saturday. There are a handful of events that day and in the coming weeks celebrating Kramer. Here are a few, courtesy the University of Idaho:

Saturday

Moscow

Where: The Corner Club (202 N Main St)

When: 3:30-6 p.m. PT

Information & RSVP: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/jerry-kramer-hall-of-fame-watch-party-moscow-id-tickets-48181715809

Coeur d’Alene

Where: Caddy Shack (1100 W Prairie Ave)

When: 3:30-6 p.m. PT

Spokane, Wash.

Where: Jack and Dan’s Bar and Grill (1226 N Hamilton St)

When: 3:30- 6 p.m. PT

Meridian

Where: Louie’s Pizza and Italian Restaurant (2500 E Fairview Ave)

When: 4:30-8 p.m MT

Cost: $12 per person, including meal chosen from a special menu.

Nampa

Where: Boise Fry Company Upper Deck (224 12th Ave South)

When: 4:30-8 p.m. MT

Information & RSVP: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/jerry-kramer-hall-of-fame-watch-party-nampa-tickets-47498707914

Cost: $10 per person, including light appetizers and exclusive memorabilia. Space limited.

Westminster, Colo.

Where: BJ’s Restaurant and Brewpub (10446 Town Center Drive)

When: 5-8 p.m. MT

Inland Empire Vandal Celebration - Thursday, Aug. 23

Kramer will be the guest of honor at the annual Inland Empire Vandal Celebration. The event, at the Hagadone Events Center on the CDA Resort Golf Course, is hosted by the Kootenai and Spokane County vandal Boosters and Alumni Chapters. Kramer will be on hand, fresh off his official induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, becoming the first Vandal to earn the highest individual honor in the sport. Festivities begin at 5:30 p.m. PT with a no-host social and silent auction. Dinner will be served at 7 and the program kicks off at 8. The program will include an address from Kramer, as well as a live auction. Tickets are still available. Tables of eight are $1,000 and tables of 10 are $1,200. For more information, contact Shelly Robson at 208-651-7992 or shellyr@uidaho.edu.

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