Retired Green Bay Packers great Jerry Kramer believes Packers fans played a significant role in his induction this summer into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Shortly after learning of his induction, Kramer heard from Joe Horrigan, the Hall of Fame’s executive director.
“He said, ‘My incoming phone calls are going to be reduced by 90 percent,’” Kramer said, alluding to Packers fans who hounded Horrigan with questions as to why Kramer wasn’t in the Hall of Fame.
“I think the fan base helped a lot,” he said.
Packers fans and how they feel about the players they support are something special, Kramer said.
“The whole relationship goes beyond logic,” he said.
Kramer, 82, spoke about his induction into the Hall of Fame and Packers fans while in Eau Claire Thursday as the featured guest for Junior Achievement’s 22nd annual golf outing at Wild Ridge Golf Course.
After falling short of the required 80 percent of votes 10 times, Kramer was inducted as a senior candidate to become the 25th member of the Packers to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
“O for 10 was not a lot of fun,” Kramer said. “There was always that hole in my resume, always an empty spot.”
After learning of his induction, “all the negative emotions melted away immediately,” he said.
Before this summer, Kramer drove by the Hall of Fame in Canton five or six times but never went inside.
“I won’t go in there until they invite me,” he said of his thoughts on those occasions.
Age and maturity allowed Kramer to take pride in at least being a finalist this year.
“I wasn’t sure I was going in this time,” he said. “I was kind of comfortable with it finally, whether I made it or not.”
Kramer was enshrined at the Hall of Fame during a ceremony in early August. Forty-five Hall of Famers came back to welcome this year’s class of inductees.
“And I knew about 80 to 90 percent of those guys. That was a treat,” he said. “Many of them said I should have been here years ago. That was a nice moment. It surpassed all my expectations.”
Kramer said it was surreal having every inch of his head measured for his bust that appears at the Hall of Fame.
“I never had the measurements taken for a bust before,” he said. “I’m either president of the United States, or I am going into the Hall of Fame. It’s one of those two.”
Kramer hasn’t worn the gold jacket he received as a member of the Hall of Fame since the induction ceremony.
Ring of Honor
He expects to wear it Sept. 16 when the Packers present him with his Hall of Fame ring and unveil his name in Lambeau Field’s Ring of Honor during the Packers’ game against the Minnesota Vikings.
“That will make the whole world go around for me,” he said.
Kramer still has a special bond with Packers fans and vividly remembers retiring as a player following the 1968 season.
“I thought I would be remembered for a few years,” he said.
Fifty years later, Kramer is shocked Packers fans have still not forgotten him.
“I have been stunned by that,” he said.
The Packers finished 6-7-1 in his final season.
Kramer remembers standing on the sidelines in his final home game as a Packer. It was late in the game they would lose to the Baltimore Colts on Dec. 15, 1968.
He could hear clapping from the stands and kept thinking that the season is over, there would be no more championships for this group of players.
But the fans knew that same reality and suddenly gave the team a five-minute standing ovation, Kramer said.
“They knew the moment I knew,” he said. “I went, ‘Wow.’”
Kramer took a moment to remember the late Fuzzy Thurston, the Altoona native who was the other starting guard during the Packers’ championship years in the 1960s.
“Fuzz was like a brother,” he said. “He was just like family.”
Kramer said he was in Eau Claire Thursday for the Junior Achievement fundraiser because it’s important to promote and include children in the events of the day.
“If we don’t do it, there’s only one way we can go, and that’s down,” he said.
As for the prospects of the 2018 Packers, Kramer said he’s a bad gauge for the team right now.
But he does know that as soon as quarterback Aaron Rodgers went down with a broken collarbone last season, “I couldn’t wait for this season to start,” he said.
As for the NFC North, Kramer expects the Vikings to be good and feels the Chicago Bears will be an improved team.
“We’re going to be competitive,” he said of the Packers. “I’m looking forward to it, but I expect the Pack to be in the playoffs.”
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