DENVER – Since last missing out on induction as a Pro Football Hall of Fame finalist two decades ago, Jerry Kramer had come to peace with the fact that it just wasn’t to be.
“I had come to an acceptance,” Kramer said in a phone interview with packers.com from his home in Idaho. “I’d had a wonderful career, a wonderful experience with football. The Packer fans were sensational, and still are.
“If I wasn’t slated for the Hall, then that’s OK. It’s been a helluva ride and I wouldn’t change it. If that’s the way it’s gonna be, I’m comfortable with that. I had argued myself into that position.”
Then Thursday happened.
The Hall of Fame’s senior committee named Kramer one of two finalists for induction in the Class of 2018, along with former Oilers linebacker Robert Brazile.
A Packers guard on Vince Lombardi’s five title-winning teams of the 1960s, Kramer had no idea any announcement was forthcoming from Canton, Ohio. The five-time, first-team All-Pro and author of “Instant Replay” had long ago stopped paying attention after being a finalist 10 times, nine during his regular modern-era candidacy and once as a senior nominee in 1997.
He got a congratulatory call from an acquaintance in Kenosha, Wis., and wasn’t sure what was up. Then he noticed he had missed a couple of calls from Hall of Fame President and CEO David Baker.
When he talked to Baker to get the official word, all that peace and acceptance was, understandably, interrupted.
“Holy crap,” Kramer said of his initial reaction, as the 81-year-old’s always sharp sense of humor kicked in. “It was kind of a surreal moment to me. I had to check my hole card to see if I’d imbibed too much or was having hallucinations or what the hell was going on.
“My stomach got a little flippy-floppy and my heart started pounding a little bit and I thought, son of a gun, I’ve got another shot.”
Indeed he does as the player many consider the biggest omission from the Hall. No player not yet inducted has been a finalist as many times as Kramer, and he’s the only member of the NFL’s 50th anniversary team not enshrined.
Eleven of Kramer’s teammates from the Lombardi era are in the Hall, plus the coach himself. Two of them received induction via the senior route, defensive tackle Henry Jordan (1995) and linebacker Dave Robinson (2013).
Since Thursday’s news, Kramer has gotten notes from former teammates Willie Davis and Donny Anderson, and he has “a long way to go” to get through the roughly 60 other messages awaiting him. He also got a call from Phil Olsen, younger brother of Merlin Olsen, the late Hall of Famer.
Merlin Olsen was one of dozens of star defensive linemen from Kramer’s era – Alex Karras, Alan Page and Bob Lilly being others Kramer mentioned – who wrote letters of recommendation over the years on Kramer’s behalf, letters that Kramer’s daughter Alicia collected and has presented to keep Kramer’s candidacy alive.
As for his chances this time after so many years, Kramer said he has “no idea.” He’ll need 80 percent of the vote from the full selection committee when it convenes on Super Bowl weekend in Minneapolis.
While he’s obviously hoping the vote finally goes his way this time, Kramer has decided getting to the finalist stage again is an event to celebrate in and of itself.
“This is an honor, a wonderful thing to have happen, especially at my age,” Kramer said. “It’s sensational. If nothing else happens, it’s going to be sensational.
“If we happen to get into the Hall, then we’re going to break the windows out, the door down, let the world know, and scream and holler from the rooftops.”
Kramer said he’s never actually visited the Hall of Fame over the last few decades because he refuses to stop in unless he’s invited. The invitation will be sent, or not, in early February.
Between now and then, though, he’s going to set it aside and not “live or die with it.” He’s determined to keep his long-forged perspective intact.
“When I look back, coming out of Sandpoint, Idaho, with 3,500 people, and getting a scholarship, being the first child in my family to go to college … the whole ride has been a fairy tale,” he said. “I couldn’t imagine a life like I’ve led. I didn’t have the brain capacity to imagine writing a best-selling book and being in five championships and two Super Bowls and on the cover of ‘Sports Illustrated’ carrying Coach off the field, all those kind of things.
“I’ve been saying I had 100 presents but I didn’t get one, but the one I didn’t get wasn’t going to ruin my other 100.”
But if gift No. 101 finally arrives in a little less than six months, he promises “a helluva celebration,” especially if the Packers are a part of Super Bowl weekend again.
The last time Kramer was a finalist, he awaited the selection committee’s decision in a New Orleans hotel the day before the Packers won their first Super Bowl since he played.
He’d love for history to repeat itself, with one small change.
“I’ve done my part. You’d think they’d do theirs,” Kramer joked about the upcoming Packers season. “Tell them I insist. I insist they join me at the Super Bowl in Minneapolis. I’m planning on it.”