On this Thanksgiving Day in 1962, friendship was out of the question.
Jerry Kramer was entering the prime years of a career that would earn him the reputation as the best pulling guard in the game. His arch-enemy, the Lions’ Alex Karras, was the game’s most feared defensive tackle, and Karras and the Lions were having it their way in this NFL classic.
“Alex Karras and I weren’t the best of friends,” Kramer said this week, as he reflected on that game from 49 years ago, which the 2011 Packers and Lions will act out in a more modern version this Thursday. Though the players and the way the game is played have changed, one thing hasn’t: The Packers are 10-0 and chasing a title, just as they were in 1962.
A trio of ’62 Lions began the week’s festivities on Monday by bolding proclaiming that, all these years later, they still think they were the better team that season, even though the Packers won the NFL title. The Lions, of course, scored a 26-14 win against the Packers in Tiger Stadium in that ’62 Thanksgiving game. It would be the Packers’ only loss of the season.
“I enjoy all of them,” Kramer said when informed of comments made by Joe Schmidt, Roger Brown and Gail Cogdill. “They’re pals and I would expect they would say it was the way it was. They kicked the (blank) out of us. They gave us an old-fashioned (butt)-whipping. It was the culmination of a lot of frustration by the Detroit Lions. They were so frustrated they were about to go schizo. They were pumped up as much as I’ve ever seen a team pumped up for a game.”
That was then, this is now, and the friendship that was out of the question on Thanksgiving Day, 1962, as the Lions were sacking Bart Starr 11 times and Vince Lombardi stood on the sideline and watched his team fall from grace, is now something greater than friendship. The tone in Kramer’s voice gave him away. He spoke almost lovingly of Karras, or maybe it was just the memory of that day that was etched in Kramer’s voice. Forty-nine years later, it is not such a bitter memory.
“After the season one year, I wrote Instant Replay and Alex Karras came over to the ‘Thousand Yard Banquet’ over in Appleton and he spoke before I did and he said ‘Jerry Kramer is the best guard in football, and if you don’t believe me, then just read his book.’ I got up to speak after him and I said, ‘Alex, who read the book to you?’” Kramer said.
There was a hint of giggle in his voice. He was on a roll now. It was ’62 all over again and Kramer was leading the “Packers sweep” around end.
“There’s only one game Lions fans remember between 1957 and 2011, and it’s the Thanksgiving game in 1962,” Kramer said.
Take that Schmidt, Brown, Cogdill.
Some years after Kramer’s and Karras’ career were over and the two of them were trying to make a buck by breaking into the then-budding TV jockocracy, their paths crossed in Canada, where they found themselves sitting next to each other. It was an awkward moment; neither knew what to say.
“He said we used to really have some great games against each other. I said, yeah, I remember you came through with an elbow and hit me and said stick that in your book,” Kramer recalled.
“It kind of broke the ice and since then we’ve been really good friends. In Distant Replay, I mention him as one of the best players I’ve ever played against. I’m proud of Alex because he has succeeded in two incredibly competitive worlds, the football world and the movie world.”
In fact, Kramer is so proud of Karras, the man responsible for one of the worst days of Kramer’s football life, that he saved his and Merlin Olsen’s names for last, as Kramer ticked off the names of the best linemen he ever faced: Leo Nomellini, Art Donovan, Charlie Krueger, and then came Olsen and Karras, “the two best defensive tackles I ever played against,” Kramer said.
With all due respect to the bigger, stronger, faster crowd, please forgive me if I seem to be gushing at the story I’m telling you. It’s for a legitimate reason. I love it.
“So wadda ya gonna do on Thursday, Jerry? You gonna watch it?”
“I’ll probably watch it at home, with my daughter and my wife. We may sneak off to a Packers bar in Boise,” Kramer said.
“Who’s gonna win?” he asked.
“I think the Packers win,” I said.
Then he told me about pickpredict.net, where I could pick the winner and predict the score of the game.
It made me smile. The guy can still set a trap-block. Additional coverage - Nov. 22