GREEN BAY — He had said it so many times over the years, his way of putting into perspective the what he knew had been a remarkable life. Jerry Kramer never dreamed of NFL immortality as a kid growing up in Sandpoint, Idaho, and he would often remind himself of that as he wondered why the Pro Football Hall of Fame hadn’t deemed his accomplishments worthy of inclusion in its exclusive club.
“The number of things I’ve been able to do have been amazing. I grew up in a little town in Idaho of 3,500 people. And I thought I’d end up driving a logging truck someday — if I got lucky,” Kramer would say. “Life is good. This has been one hell of a ride.”
On Saturday, 50 years removed from his crucial block on quarterback Bart Starr’s iconic Ice Bowl sneak and 20 years after his Hall of Fame candidacy had last been debated, the legendary Green Bay Packers guard’s ride took its long-awaited turn toward Canton, Ohio: He was chosen for enshrinement by the 48-member selection committee during its annual meeting on the eve of Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis.
“It was something I was afraid to believe in, I was afraid to hope for. So I kept trying to keep those emotions out there somewhere,” a joyful Kramer said after the eight-member class was announced Saturday evening. “But hey, I’m here and I’m part of the group.
“It’s the ultimate honor in our game. It’s the top of the heap. If you make it here, you’ve made it in professional football. So whenever you’ve made it here, it’s a wonderful moment and a wonderful time and a wonderful event.”
Kramer will be joined in the Hall by fellow seniors committee candidate Robert Brazile, a standout linebacker for the Houston Oilers from 1975 through 1984; contributor candidate Bobby Beathard, a longtime NFL general manager who built seven teams that reached the Super Bowl; and five modern-era selections: Wide receiver Randy Moss, middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, safety Brian Dawkins, wide receiver Terrell Owens and linebacker Ray Lewis.
The class was set to be introduced during the league’s annual NFL Honors event at the Cyrus Northrop Memorial Auditorium at the University of Minnesota on Saturday night. Kramer and his fellow Hall of Famers learned of their selections when Pro Football of Fame president David Baker knocked on each of their doors after the selection meeting concluded. For Kramer, there was one false alarm.
“We were in our rooms from 3:30 to 4, and so 3:30 comes by, and 3:35 comes by, and there’s a knock on the door. I’ve got my family with me and a bunch of friends,” Kramer recounted. “So we go to the door. And it’s the maid.”
Each candidate needed to receive at least 80 percent of the vote in order to be selected. Longtime Dallas Morning News NFL columnist Rick Gosselin, a member of the seniors committee who called Kramer “the most deserving player not in Canton” and the Hall’s “biggest oversight,” presented Kramer’s case to the panel at the beginning of the selection meeting Saturday.
Kramer’s selection is also the culmination of his daughter, Alicia, dedicating herself to getting her father into the Hall of Fame. She and Packers fans everywhere were relentless in pushing for Kramer to get another chance.
“(Hall of Fame executive director) Joe Horrigan got on the phone when they announced I was a finalist and Joe says, ‘Jerry, I want you to know that this will reduce my incoming mail by 90 percent,’ ” Kramer said during a news conference after the announcement. “They’re just beyond description and beyond words. They’re sensational.
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“It’s an incredible thrill, and I’m thinking it’ll take a few days or months or years to get over it and really understand it and see what it means to my life. But at this point, it’s one of the best days of my life.”
Kramer hinted his daughter would be his presenter in Canton this summer, calling her a “sensational leader for my parade. I think it might be appropriate for her to do that.”
Kramer, 82, had been a finalist 10 times before, including in 1997, when he was also a seniors committee candidate but was denied. His candidacy was also debated in 1974, ’75, ‘76, ’78, ’79, ’81, ’84 and ’87, but the significant number of Vince Lombardi-era Packers already in the Hall was among the issues that worked against him.
Kramer becomes the 12th player from the Packers’ 1960s teams to be chosen for the Hall.
He now joins former Packers teammates Jim Taylor, Forrest Gregg, Bart Starr, Ray Nitschke, Herb Adderley, Willie Davis, Jim Ringo, Paul Hornung, Henry Jordan, Willie Wood and Dave Robinson, who was elected as a seniors committee candidate in 2013, in the Hall. Kramer is the 25th member of the Packers to be selected.
“It’s wonderful (to join them), but I miss ’em. I wish they were here, I wish we had an opportunity to be here together,” Kramer said. “Bart has been sensational in writing letters and doing all sorts of things, and Hornung has been sticking up for me for 20 years. ... But I miss those guys. I’ve shared so much with them over the years and it would be nice to share this with them.”
Kramer also becomes the fourth enshrine with a significant Packers connection to be chosen in the last five years, joining Robinson, general manager Ron Wolf (2015) and quarterback Brett Favre (2016). After his enshrinement, Favre met up with Kramer during an October 2016 Packers game at Lambeau Field and offered to put in a good word for him with the folks at the Hall.
“And I really liked his comment (back),” Favre said of their exchange in a subsequent interview. “He said, ‘Life’s been too good for me to worry about will I or won’t I.’
“The honor, would it be a bigger, greater honor for him at this point in his life? I think so. But I think he’s at peace with where he is and how he played and what type of legacy he’s left behind. As he should be.
“We all know Jerry and of course pull for him. It’d be a tremendous honor for him, I know. But he’s in a good place, which is good to see and good to hear.”
A five-time All-Pro, Kramer had been the only member of the NFL’s 50th anniversary team not in the Hall of Fame. He’d been widely regarded not only as the greatest Packer not in the Hall but also as the greatest NFL player who hadn’t been given the honor. He was also on the NFL’s 1960s All-Decade team, playing on five championship teams (including two Super Bowl champions) in his 11 NFL seasons before retiring in 1968.
“I still can’t put it all together. It’s just still too new,” Kramer said. “The whole thing is kind of a fantasyland. These are things you dream about and never happen. They are just dreams. But having it happen is over the top. Over the top. It’s great.”