By ERIC PLUMMER
SANDPOINT — Since he threw the most famous block in NFL history to help the Green Bay Packers win the iconic Ice Bowl in sub-zero temperatures, it seemed almost fitting that a Lambeau-esque frigid breeze was blowing into the seats of Barlow Stadium at War Memorial Field on Sunday as more than 100 locals turned out to honor Sandpoint native Jerry Kramer’s induction into the NFL Hall of Fame.
There were some green and yellow Packers jerseys, jackets and hats, as well as some black and gold Idaho Vandals gear, and of course some Bulldog red among those showing up for a picture that was sent to Jerry Kramer as well as Packers Fans everywhere.
Kramer’s younger sister Carol Anderson, a Sandpoint graduate in 1964, was on hand, along with sister-in-law Tammy Kramer and a few other members of Kramer’s extended family. There were also scores of area residents who are still on cloud nine after Kramer’s recent enshrinement in the class of 2018.
Well-deserved and long overdue were familiar sentiments from the people on hand, but in the end all are thrilled that the 82-year-old NFL legend finally got his just deserts.
Anderson, who called herself the baby of the Kramer family, said the family is thrilled to see Jerry get voted in on his 12th try, as a different generation of voters fixed a grievous slight felt by scores of fans across the country. Anderson said her older brother, who had long professed to be fine with whatever happened, said it best leading up to this year’s vote.
“I love the way he put it. He said he had no confidence after 11 times being short, and ‘what makes you think the 12th would be any different?’” she said, no doubt glad he was wrong. “He’s always been head and shoulders above everyone else, always been bigger than life in our family. I was only 11 when he played, but he’s always been in our family Hall of Fame.”
The community picture was the brainchild of Sandpoint resident John Elsa, who grew up in Madison, Wis., and was proudly wearing a signed Kramer Packers jersey. Despite a wind chill near zero degrees, there was a pretty good turnout, with everyone in attendance sharing their memories and expressing great pride in his accomplishment.
“Back when I was a kid, Bart and Jerry were my heroes,” said Elsa, who first met Kramer years ago when he came to Sandpoint for a fundraiser.
Bill Barlow, a longtime coach and teacher at Sandpoint whose father Cotton Barlow coached Kramer in multiple sports in high school, was on hand with his son Tye and grandson Kobe Barlow. If you count the stadium’s spirit, which is named after Cotton, there were four generations of Barlows in the picture.
“Jerry and my father had an incredible relationship. He’d be tickled pink to see this happen. He felt for a long time that it (Jerry’s enshrinement) should have prevailed. He was always tuned into the Packers,” recalled Barlow, who like most felt the honor was inexplicably late. “It’s a long time coming, that’s for sure. It’s a wonderful thing. I’m sure Jerry is happy, a lot of people are excited, and not just in Sandpoint.”
How excited was sister-in-law Tammy Kramer when she heard the official news that Jerry had been voted into the Hall of Fame?
“I really think my heart skipped a beat. Just a wonderful day. I was so thrilled that he has earned this,” admitted Tammy, who like many can’t wait for Jerry’s induction speech into Canton in early August. “He loves to tell a story, and he tells them so well — in technicolor when he talks.”
Another local resident who grew up in Wisconsin was on hand to pay homage to Kramer, a star guard on one of the great dynasties in sports history and the final member of the NFL’s 50th Anniversary team to get voted into the Hall of Fame.
“How long has the guy been waiting? I grew up with him, watched the first two Super Bowls,” remembered Bruce Macek. “I went to watch them practice as a kid in Green Bay. It was a big deal as a kid.”
Kramer was more than a six-time All-pro guard, he was a star athlete of the time despite playing guard, with ads in Sports Illustrated and occasional spots on television shows. The picture of him carrying head coach Vince Lombardi off the field after Super Bowl II is one of the most famous in sports history.
Sandpoint’s Victor Kollock shared why he wanted to honor Kramer and be in the community picture.
“I’ve been waiting for this to happen. This is long overdue,” he said. “I have my degree from the University of Wisconsin Green Bay. On Sundays, it’s like the town is deserted. It’s a religion. You’re either at the game or watching it, it’s a real community event.”
A. Ross Russell, who graduated from Sandpoint in 1956 and went on to become a major in the U.S. Army and fight in Vietnam, has followed the career of Kramer intently from the time Russell was the Bulldogs’ trainer when Kramer starred on the best team in North Idaho at the time.
Russell said the news of Kramer’s enshrinement was near and dear to him, as he’s been waiting for more than four decades.
“I picked his towels up off the floor,” laughed Russell. “It causes the heart to throb, because it was long overdue. It should have been years ago.”
Chuck Smith, a local videographer who chronicled the special night when Kramer presented a gold football to his high school three years ago, said he felt there was always something petty going on with the previous Hall of Fame voters and feels they finally got it right.
“I was just thrilled. He was so happy. I think Jerry Kramer is Sandpoint’s golden boy,” said Smith. “It’s about time he got the award. We couldn’t be more proud of him.”
Eric Plummer can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @EricDailyBee.