Kramer deserves place among elites

Three months from now, the Packers will ceremonially retire Reggie White's number. The tribute fits White's tremendous contributions and honors his memory.

White is the just the fifth man to earn this honor. No. 92 joins No. 3 Tony Canadeo, No. 14 Don Hutson, No. 15 Bart Starr and No. 66 Ray Nitschke. Starr is the only surviving member of the retired numbers club.

Reserving this privilege for a tiny percentage makes it prestigious, indeed. A run of retired numbers such as the Bears' bakers' dozen (the most in the NFL) may dilute the honor or at least make assignments a bit dicey come training camp.

But it wouldn't hurt to loosen up just a little.

Another number is headed for retirement sooner than later. No player will wear No. 4 after that sad day when Brett Favre hangs it up.

Are others worthy of enshrinement on Lambeau's north end zone wall of fame?

With a history as rich and prolific as the Packers', the possible candidates require more than one column worth of consideration. Today begins a short series on players whose hats aare in the ring.

My first nominee (drumroll, please): Jerry Kramer.

No. 64 brings to mind many things: The Ice Bowl, a career spanning the entire Lombardi era, roles as offensive lineman, kicker, team leader, author and speaker -- Kramer has filled each of these duties with professionalism and pride.

Kramer's 11 seasons in a Packer uniform got off to a quality start in the draft and held that high standard throughout. He was part of what historians acknowledge to be the most productive draft in team history. The Class of '58 included Kramer, a fourth-round pick out of Idaho, which made him one of several steals that year. Among his draft classmates are two Pro Football Hall of Famers - fullback Jim Taylor from LSU and linebacker Ray Nitschke out of Illinois. Also in the '58 crop were All-Pro linebacker Dan Currie of Michigan State. Currie was the first-round pick that year, followed by Taylor and Nitschke in the second and third rounds, respectively.

Kramer arrived in Green Bay at the end of the "shameful years." Under coach Ray "Scooter" McLean, the team won one game during Kramer's rookie season. Kramer was a leader of this great crop of young players who suffered through that year only to blossom under new coach Vince Lombardi the following season. Together, they turned the team around in a fashion more dramatic than anyone could have imagined.

The lineman will forever be linked with one of the greatest moments in league history. His contribution to history goes beyond an effective block on a frozen field. A few days before the mercury plunged to legendary depths, Kramer approached his coach and pointed out a weakness in the Cowboys' short-yardage defense and suggested a play called a 31 Wedge. Fast forward to the championship game - Starr called a final timeout to ask if his linemen had enough footing to run the play. They decided they did, and Starr would run the play rather than a back due to poor traction. After the snap, Kramer and Ken Bowman handled Dallas defensive tackle Jethro Pugh, then Starr burst through for a touchdown as well as NFL immortality.

"I understood my responsibility," said Kramer. "If I don't get a great block, we don't do it. I understood perfectly. On a block, you can get cute, duck your head and aim for the shoulder. Or, if you can't afford to gamble, you go into the guy with your head up and your eyes open and hit him with your face."

That's not the only magic moment in Kramer's career. He includes all his title game appearances among his favorite memories, especially the 1962 championship on which he made a major mark. Despite brutal conditions, Kramer kicked three field goals and an extra point in the 16-7 win over the NY Giants in the title game, capping perhaps the best season in team history.

As the years wear on, Kramer's contribution as a kicker is often overlooked. His mark can still be found in the Packer record books, as he ranks among leaders in many categories. He stands sixth on the Packers list of most (kicking) PAT attempts in a season (46, 1963). He made 43 of them, which also ranks in the Packers' top 10. Chris Jacke is the record holder with 53 attempts, and second behind Jan Stenerud's perfect '82 season with 52-of-52 PATS made. Kramer made 7-of-7 in a single game (Nov. 11, 1962 at Philadelphia), which is tied for second in Packer annals behind Don Hutson and Don Chandler tied with 8 attempts piece. Chandler also holds the record for most PATS in a game without a miss with eight. Kramer's four field goals vs. Pittsburgh on Nov. 3, 1963 still maintains a second-place tie in the record books behind Jacke and Ryan Longwell who have each had five FGs in a game.

A starter from the outset, Kramer quickly gained notice around the league. He was named All-Pro by at least one of the acknowledged selection organizations from 1960-63, 67 and 68. He as named to the Pro Bowl in 1962, 63 and 68.

Not only was Kramer still drawing accolades at the end of his career, one of his fondest memories comes from his single season A.L. - after Lombardi.

In a story recounted in his books and interviews, Kramer recalls the Packers' home finale of 1968 - their first losing season in 10 years. Late in the game the Packers were trailing by 10. In order to keep their playoff run alive, Green Bay would have to score twice in the waning moments. Based on recent history, there was no reason to believe they wouldn't. The Packers swiftly reached the Colts' 35-yard line, but then coughed up the ball. The reign ended with that fumble. As the reality of the situation sunk in, the 50,861 fans rose for a standing ovation that lasted more than 5 minutes. The cheering continued as the Packers left the field, closing the curtain on their amazing run through the decade. That tribute escorted Kramer off of Lambeau Field for the last time as a player.

After Kramer retired, his number obviously was not. The list of those who succeeded him as No. 64 is long but not illustrious. T Kevin Hunt 1972, G Syd Kitson 1980-81 and 1983-84, NT Vince Villanucci 1987, NT John Jurkovic 1993-95, T Bruce Wilkerson 1996-97 and G Alcender Jackson 2002. The current No. 64 is James Lee, who in his third season has the potential to be tie Jurko as the longest-tenured in the number since Kramer.

Kramer was inducted into the Packer Hall of Fame 1975. He maintains a strong bond with his former teammates and is still a Packer fan, attending a couple of games a year including the annual alumni homecoming, and catches the rest on sattelite.

Offensive lineman don't have the stats that typically carry players to fame. Longevity combined with consistent excellence are the hallmark of a great guard. There is no question that Kramer obtained that and more. Add the intangibles of leadership, dedication to the game and the franchise, and Kramer is the best candidate to add to the Packers' prestigious list.

HEADS UP READER OF THE WEEK: Thanks to Ken Hill, for his response to last week's column on Javon Walker and his holdout predecessors. Ken added another ill-advised holdout to the list with running back Dorsey Levens.

Editor's note: Laura Veras Marran grew up in Green Bay, Wis., and is a longtime sportswriter. Her column will appear each Thursday on PackerReport.com.


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