‘You can, if you will’

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Time is now for Idaho to rally around Jerry Kramer

By ERIC PLUMMER

Sports editor

SANDPOINT — We all know why Jerry Kramer should be in the NFL Hall of Fame, it smacks us over the head every time we see footage and pictures from the golden era of football. But we’ll get to his bonafides later.

The question of why he should be in the Hall of Fame is the wrong one to be asking. The question we need to be asking is why in the heck isn’t he already?

Hours upon hours of research on the subject failed to yield any semi-plausible answers. On the contrary, it revealed a cascade of reasons why he should have his bust in Canton, Ohio.

The time is now to for Idaho football fans to get involved and demand an answer. To ask why the greatest player ever from the Gem State, a heart and soul player on a Green Bay Packer dynasty that spanned from black-and-white to color television, continues to get slighted year after year?

You can, if you will.

What does that mean?

Kramer grew up in Sandpoint, a strapping three-sport athlete who played for legendary coach Cotton Barlow in the early 1950s.

One of Kramer’s position coaches at the time pulled him aside one day at practice and said simply “you can if you will.” He was perplexed by the comment, but the more he thought about it, the more it started to make sense.

It wasn’t long before he was starring in college at the University of Idaho, as the starting guard and field goal kicker, before getting drafted with the 39th pick by the then-hapless Green Bay Packers in 1958, one year before a young coach named Vince Lombardi took over.

Soon thereafter the surprisingly lithe and powerful, 6-foot-3, 250 pound Kramer was leading one of the signature plays in NFL history as a pulling guard for the iconic Packer Sweep. He became a well-known star, both in the print and broadcast mediums, which both then and now is an extremely rare occurrence for an offensive lineman.

Kramer is easily the most famous NFL player ever to hail from the state of Idaho. Longtime Sandpoint resident and local historian Jim Parsons Jr., who went to school with Kramer’s older sister and followed his career closely, could only summon one word when asked why Kramer isn’t a Hall of Famer.

“It’s political. It’s as good an excuse as you can find. He’s deserving,” explains Parsons Jr. “I don’t know why, I really don’t. He was a heck of a ballplayer.”

It’s high time Idaho football fans get a more satisfactory answer.

We can, if we will.

‘A Packer national treasure’

It’s no secret that Kramer has been overlooked by Canton. He’s the No. 1 player on NFL Network’s list of top 10 players not in the Hall of Fame. Countless Hall of Famers and former players have lobbied on his behalf, and regional media have beat the drum for his election.

But for decades, it seems to fall on deaf ears.

His Hall of Fame résumé sparkles, with six All-Pro seasons, five NFL Championships, two Super Bowls, and a rightful selection on both the NFL 50th Anniversary team and the NFL All-Decade team of the 1960s.

But those are merely accolades and victories. What makes Kramer’s case so much more compelling and perplexing is the key roles he had in some of the most iconic moments in NFL history.

He threw the block that sprung quarterback Bart Starr for the winning touchdown in the Ice Bowl, helping the Packers beat the Cowboys in the 1967 NFL Championship game, played in minus 20 degree conditions. It’s still one of the most famous plays of all time.

In the 1962 NFL Championship, played at venerable Yankee Stadium, Kramer kicked three field goals and an extra point to lead the Packers to a 16-7 win over Frank Gifford and Y.A. Tittle’s New York Giants. When was the last time a guard also blasted clutch field goals, as Kramer did for his three years as the Packer’s toe-punching kicker?

The photo of Kramer carrying Lombardi off the field after winning Super Bowl II is one of the iconic photos in sports history. The two, who shared a tight bond, had just won their seventh and final championship together.

But for some odd reason, Kramer remains the lone member of the NFL’s 50th Anniversary team not in the Hall of Fame. Surely there must be a viable reason.

Gilbert Brown, a popular former Packers player, beat the Kramer drum recently during a radio interview when he switched the topic to No. 64, sharing a popular sentiment about the Packer great not being in the Hall of Fame.

“I can’t believe he’s not in there yet. Whenever he comes to town, I stick to him like a sponge,” admits Brown. “I could sit there and listen to him talk for hours and never get bored. I’m just sitting there like a little groupie. To me, he’s a Green Bay Packer national treasure.”

Too much of a good thing?

One of the many ham-handed explanations proffered for his glaring omission is that too many Packers from Kramer’s era are already enshrined. That theory took a roundhouse to the chin in credibility when former Packer linebacker Dave Robinson, a longtime teammate of Kramer’s, earned the Senior Selection Committee’s nod and enshrinement three years ago. It’s not that Robinson wasn’t a worthy candidate, but damned if it didn’t feel a little like salt on a wound.

Another theory out there is some of the media voters, there are only 48 Hall of Fame voters, didn’t like the two books Kramer and sports journalism legend Dick Schaap collaborated on, and held a grudge. Some contend the writers were jealous of how well the books did, others feel Kramer violated an unwritten code by peeling back the curtain for a behind-the-scenes look at the NFL in the 1967 National Best Seller Instant Replay.

The best excuse out there, and coincidentally maybe the worst, is that most people assume he’s already in. Countless times at public speaking engagements over the years he’s been introduced as “NFL Hall of Famer Jerry Kramer,” so many times that it’s become awkward for him to correct anymore.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell once asked Kramer why he never attended the Hall of Fame ceremonies, and was shocked when told he wasn’t a member. Goodell is far from alone.

Former Sandpoint head football coach Satini Puailoa remembers watching Kramer on television as a youth on This Week in Pro Football. Kramer, sporting a crew cut and Packers’ sport coat, was on the show often and Puailoa remembers marveling at how well spoken he was.

“How can he not be in?” asks Puailoa, noting Kramer seems to be in practically every photo you see of legends Paul Hornung, Jim Taylor, Bart Star and Vince Lombardi. “He’s got so much more than so many of those guys that are in.”

It’s time to find out why he’s not.

Again Idaho football fans, you can, if you will.

Why now?

Peter King, one of the most popular NFL writers in the country and a staunch advocate of Kramer’s enshrinement, once said the best advice he could give is for fans to write passionately to the Hall of Fame about his candidacy, and that the voices are heard.

This year the nine-person Senior Selection Committee, the only ones among the 48 voting members with the power to get Kramer on the ballot, get two nominations. Last year their lone choice was Seahawk great Kenny Easley, who was subsequently voted in and now has a bust in Canton.

Kramer, now 81 and living in the Boise area, is long overdue for enshrinement. He’s been on the ballot 10 times over the years, the last time coming in 1997, when nearly everyone assumed he was as good as in. Everyone except the voters, for some inexplicable reason.

Stubby Lyons, a 1953 graduate of Coeur d’Alene High School who played against Kramer, is miffed like many each year when the nominations are announced, sans Kramer.

“I can’t believe the Hall of Fame has not taken him in by now,” says Lyons. “Every year, I look at the nominees and shake my head.”

Kramer has been asked far too many times why he isn’t in Canton, to the point it’s become a source of contention. Let’s make sure he doesn’t have to answer that question anymore, that the Senior Selection Committee has to answer it for him.

The committee will announce its two selections in early August, and meets over the summer to discuss nominees, so right now is the best time to get their attention about Kramer.

One can only imagine how good the induction speech might be from the funny, folksy, authentic, powerful and masterful storyteller. Anyone who’s ever heard him interviewed knows as much. It’s high time we got to hear it.

Please take the time to write a letter and send it to Canton. Let the voters know how we as Idahoans feel about the issue. Who knows, if enough of us make some noise, the voters just might come to their senses and enshrine Jerry Kramer.

Tell them they can, if they will.

Eric Plummer is the sports editor of the Daily Bee in Sandpoint and can be reached at eplummer@bonnercountydailybee.com. To sign an online petition for Kramer’s enshrinement, visit www.bonnercountydailybee.com.

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