The Pro Football Hall of Fame will formally welcome its Class of 2018 on Saturday. This week, Yahoo Sports is highlighting memorable moments for each member of the eight-man class, leading up to the big ceremony.
On just about any topic in NFL history, you’ll find an argument.
Greatest team? You’ll hear 10 answers. Greatest game? No consensus. Greatest player? Greatest quarterback? Hope you have a couple hours to debate.
But here’s one that has only a single reasonable answer: The most famous — and likely the greatest — block in NFL history was thrown by Green Bay Packers guard Jerry Kramer in the “Ice Bowl.”
That’s almost indisputable. There are few moments through almost 100 NFL seasons that shine a spotlight on an offensive lineman, but Kramer leading Bart Starr’s quarterback sneak into the end zone did. That’s what made Kramer’s Hall-of-Fame wait so strange. He was the rare guard who acquired a bit of fame, and he had the type of resume that generally earned inclusion into Canton.
And his greatest moment is etched in NFL lore.
The ‘Ice Bowl’ will live in NFL history forever
Anyone with a bit of appreciation for NFL history knows the backstory of Kramer’s block, but let’s set the stage anyway.
If you did ever engage in that “greatest NFL game” debate, the “Ice Bowl” would be mentioned right away. The 1967 NFL championship game was the coldest game, temperature-wise, in NFL history. It was 13 degrees below zero. The Packers were trying to win their third straight NFL title, and advance to Super Bowl II. The Dallas Cowboys were an upstart looking to make their own history.
The Packers jumped out to a lead. The Cowboys fought back. In the final minutes, Dallas led. Somehow, in impossible weather conditions, the Packers drove to the 1-yard line with less than a minute to go. Two handoffs went nowhere on the frozen turf. Starr huddled with Vince Lombardi on the sideline during a timeout, and had an idea: He’d call “31 Wedge,” but keep it himself for a quarterback sneak. If he was stopped short, there was a good chance the clock would run out. Lombardi agreed to it.
To call that play in that situation meant Starr had the ultimate confidence in his right guard, Jerry Kramer.
Kramer had a phenomenal career
It’s not surprising that with one of the NFL’s greatest games on the line, Starr trusted Kramer, who was finishing his 10th season for the Packers, and would be named to his fifth All-Pro team that season.
Kramer was a key part of the Packers dynasty and it was an odd story for years that he couldn’t make the Hall of Fame. Before this year’s class was voted in, nobody who retired before 2010 had more first-team NFL All-Pro selections than Kramer and wasn’t in the Hall of Fame (Johnny Robinson and Jim Tyrer had six All-Pro nods but many of them were in the AFL).
During the 1967 season, Kramer was also working on a book called “Instant Replay,” which is a sports classic. It was speculated for a long time that Kramer’s peek inside the locker room was a reason he was held out of Canton.
Kramer’s assignment on “31 Wedge” wasn’t easy. Cowboys defensive tackle Jethro Pugh was big, young and talented. He ended up playing 14 seasons for the Cowboys, starting until he retired after the 1978 season. But Kramer felt good.
“Before I went to the sideline I asked Jerry Kramer if his footing was good enough to run a wedge play on Jethro Pugh and he replied, ‘Hell, yes,’ ” Starr said, according to the Capital Times in Madison, Wisconsin.
The stories of that game more than 50 years ago have been told often. They always include the Packers linemen noting that Pugh played high, which meant Kramer and center Ken Bowman could get underneath him on the snap. Lombardi put in the wedge play the week before the Cowboys game after his linemen noted during film study that Pugh came straight up out of his stance.
What happened next will be seen on NFL Films footage forever. Kramer got underneath Pugh and with double-team help from Bowman (who has been upset for years over how little credit he gets), they created enough of a crease for Starr to sneak in.
The Packers won, then went to Super Bowl II and won there. The Super Bowl win over the Raiders was Lombardi’s last game with Green Bay. However, in the aftermath of the most famous block ever, there was some controversy.
Some controversy on Kramer’s block
The question with the “Ice Bowl” will always be: Did Kramer commit a false start?
In slow, frame-by-frame film footage, he seems to leave a fraction of a second early. Probably not enough to earn a penalty. But Pugh never forgot.
“Kramer got to move before the snap, and that’s what I was thinking about,” said Pugh, who died in 2015, according to the Capital Times. “I mean, I never was blocked like that in my life. The only reason I could get blocked like that is for somebody to get a jump. It doesn’t take much. Kramer was a good guard, but not that good.”
In the book “Instant Replay,” Kramer wrote: “I wouldn’t swear that I didn’t beat the center’s snap by a fraction of a second. I wouldn’t swear that I wasn’t actually offside on the play.”
A little controversy made the “Ice Bowl” even more memorable. Kramer retired after the 1968 season. He waited a very long time to get his call to the Hall of Fame, but it finally came in February. It adds to his measure of fame, as did his block more than 50 years ago.
“Millions of people who couldn’t name a single offensive lineman if their lives depended on it heard my name repeated and repeated and repeated,” Kramer wrote in “Instant Replay,” discussing how often Starr’s sneak got replayed after the game. “All I could think was, ‘Thank God for instant replay.’ ”
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