For Packers' Jerry Kramer, Hall of Fame selection 'the ultimate honor'

Pete Dougherty
Packers News
Green Bay Packers alumni Jerry Kramer greets a fan as he signs autographs during the Packers Draft party inside the Lambeau Field Atrium on Saturday, April 29, 2016.

MINNEAPOLIS – Jerry Kramer finally made it.

In his 11th time as a finalist, the former Green Bay Packers guard was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday.

Kramer needed 80 percent of the vote from the 47 voters who were in attendance, which meant that no more than nine could vote against him. The Hall doesn’t reveal the vote totals, but Kramer hit the requisite 80 percent.

According to Hall protocol, after the vote was completed Saturday afternoon, David Baker, the president of the Hall of Fame, visited the hotel where the nominees were staying and notified each individually whether he was in.

“I said that (knock on the door) is it,” Kramer said. “And the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen (Baker), the big hunk down here at the end was standing there with the cameras and stuff behind him. I was over the top. 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. But hey, I’m here and I’m part of the group. Thank you very much.”

The other members of the 2018 class were fellow senior finalist Robert Brazile, and contributors candidate Bobby Beathard, as well as five modern-era candidates: Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher, Brian Dawkins, Randy Moss and Terrell Owens.

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Kramer, 82, becomes the 13th member of the Packers’ dynasty in the 1960s that won five NFL championships in seven years to be voted into the Hall. The others are coach Vince Lombardi, fullback Jim Taylor, tackle Forrest Gregg, quarterback Bart Starr, linebacker Ray Nitschke, cornerback Herb Adderley, defensive end Willie Davis, center Jim Ringo, running back Paul Hornung, safety Willie Wood, defensive tackle Henry Jordan and linebacker Dave Robinson.

Kramer said he had dinner with Robinson on Friday night, just as they had dinner the night before Robinson was voted into the Hall of Fame in 2013. And Taylor was with him Saturday.

Packers coach Vince Lombardi is carried off the field by Jerry Kramer after Green Bay defeats the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl II on Jan. 14, 1968.

“I miss ’em,” Kramer said of his other Hall of Fame teammates. “But I wish they were here, I wish we had an opportunity to be here together. Bart has been sensational in writing letters and doing all sorts of things, and Hornung has been sticking up for me for 20 years. So many of the guys, Willie D (Davis) is a great pal, and Robbie (i.e., Robinson) and Wood and Adderley and so many of the guys in, and (Nitschke) was such a great pal, Forrest Gregg ... we’ve had a lot of guys, 10, 12 guys in the Hall. Jimmy is here and that’s about it, Jimmy Taylor. 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 is the 25th Hall inductee who spent most of his career with the Packers. That’s second most in league  history, behind the Chicago Bears’ 27.

It has been a long road for Kramer to get to the Hall. He was a modern-era finalist (i.e., among the final 15 candidates) nine times in the 14-year period from 1974 through ’87 but never was voted in. Modern-era players and coaches have been retired anywhere from five to 25 years.

Then in 1997, he was the seniors committee nominee (for players who have been retired for more than 25 years) but failed to reach the 80 percent threshold among the selection committee for Hall induction.

But at long last, he’s in.

“I don’t think it can get sweeter,” Kramer said. “It’s the ultimate honor in the game, in our game. It’s the top of the heap. It’s the crown of the trail of this whole process, it’s here. 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. … I told Mr. Baker that this is it, it doesn’t get any better than this. He goes, 'Jerry, this is just the beginning.’ So I can’t wait to see how it turns out.”

Kramer is tied for fourth on the list of most times being a finalist before induction. Lynn Swann was a finalist 14 times before he was voted in, followed by Carl Eller (13) and Hornung (12).

Kramer joined the Packers as a fourth-round draft pick out of Idaho in 1958, the year before Lombardi took over as coach. He started all 12 games as a rookie and then when Lombardi took over became a key player as a pulling guard in the coach’s famed sweep.

Kramer achieved his greatest fame for his block on the Dallas Cowboys’ Jethro Pugh that helped open the way for Starr’s game-winning touchdown on a quarterback sneak in the Ice Bowl for the 1967 NFL championship. It’s perhaps the most famous block in NFL history.

Kramer played all of his 11 seasons with the Packers. Along with being named to the league’s 50th anniversary team, he also was on the NFL’s all-decade team for the ‘60s. He was named first-team all-pro five times (1960, ’62, ’63, ’66 and ’67) and went to three Pro Bowls (’62, ’63 and ’67).

Besides playing right guard, Kramer doubled as the Packers’ kicker for parts or all of the 1962, ’63 and ’69 seasons.

In ’62 he made 81.8 percent of his field-goal attempts (9-for-11) and finished fourth in the league in scoring (91 points). Then in the Packers’ 16-7 win over the New York Giants in the NFL championship game that season, he scored 10 points (three field goals and an extra point).

This was almost surely the last time Kramer would get a shot at the Hall. Because he has been retired from the NFL for more than 25 years, he could become a nominee only through the seniors committee, and this year was his second time making it through as the senior candidate.

He was only the fourth nominee to twice come through the committee, and with many deserving seniors candidates in wait, there was no chance he’d get a third shot. So this essentially was his last opportunity to receive pro football’s highest individual honor.

Kramer and the rest of the Class of 2018 will be inducted Aug. 4 in Canton, Ohio.

Aaron Nagler of USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin contributed.