GREEN BAY, Wis. — Thirty years ago, Jerry Kramer desperately wanted to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He watched as 12 of his former teammates were inducted and wondered when his turn would come. Kramer’s daughter even started a social media campaign in an effort to have her father be enshrined.
But as the decades passed, the call still never came. Eventually, the emotions of it subsided.
As Kramer set off to spend five days with Green Bay Packers fans all across the state on the team’s annual Tailgate Tour, the guard who helped the franchise win five championships in the 1960s is no longer dwelling on the topic.
"The game of football has been very, very good to me," Kramer said. "It’s just been a wonderful ride."
Kramer has a different perspective on it now at age 79 than he used to. In his younger days, he imagined what he’d do if the Hall of Fame finally did give him the nod.
"I got my lip out and, boy, ‘If they call me, I’m going to tell them where to put it; I ain’t going,’" Kramer said. "But you do a lot of gymnastics mentally. But I am pretty comfortable right now. The game has been so good, and they’re still nominating me to teams — the all-century teams, the top-10 Packers of all time and more and more and more.
"And there’s just a wonderful groundswell of support here in the state for that, and it’s just wonderful. But it’s lost a lot of its glamour to me. So many of the guys that I played against or played with are no longer there, so there’s a bunch of young guys that I don’t know. It’s like coming to a ballgame here with a bunch of guys that I don’t know and have no relationship with and never really spent much time with it. It’s OK, and it’s fun and it’s great to be with them, but there’s not that relationship that you had with Bart (Starr) and Paul (Hornung) and Max (McGee) and Fuzz (Fuzzy Thurston) and all the guys. It’s just a totally different thing.
"I’m very comfortable with where I am, and if the Hall comes along, it’d be great. If it doesn’t come along, life is great."
Thurston died in December 2014, McGee died in 2007 and Starr is currently trying to recover from a stroke and heart attack. That Kramer is able to still live his life in the way he wants makes it a lot easier for him to accept not being a Hall of Famer.
"Well, it’s kind of bittersweet," Kramer said. "It’s sweet because I’m kind of the last guy standing in a lot of ways. And it’s bitter because Bart’s having a tough time and several of the other guys are having a tough time.
"I can’t remember something once in a while, which is fairly normal, but I go, ‘Oh, is this it? Is that the end of it?’ So I’m aware of it, acutely aware of it, and worry about it. But so far so good. My mouth still works, and my brain still works and I feel good. My golf game sucks like always, but everything else is working well."
Kramer has spoken with Starr’s wife, Cherry, on several occasions in recent months. Kramer has passed along information that he found on the recovery of former hockey player Gordie Howe, trying to make sure the Starrs have as much knowledge as possible.
"Gordie had a massive stroke, and he went to a stem-cell clinic down in Mexico and made a marvelous recovery; just an incredible recovery," Kramer said. "So I sent Bart Jr. and Cherry all the information I could find on that clinic.
"Bart was having trouble walking. He was having trouble talking. I haven’t talked to Cherry for three or four weeks, but the last time I talked to her, he was home and he had gone outside by himself, and he walked around the patio by himself, and they were getting ready to go for a ride, so that was very encouraging and very hopeful. But he’s having a tough time."
Kramer lives in Idaho, but he’s still very fond of everything representative of Green Bay and its fan base. It’s many of those fans he’ll meet on the tour who are now more upset about his lack of inclusion in the Hall of Fame than he is.
"I’ve been having a love affair with the fans since about five years after I retired," Kramer said. "I finally figured out who was paying our salary and responsible for all this wonderful time here. So I’ve been spending a lot of time with the fans. I’ve got more time now than I had before, and focused on different things. It’s really a pleasant thing.
"I have a wonderful balance between here and (Idaho). And it’s nice to be here. It’s just a fun thing. It’s great to see the guys, and the fans are just so complementary, and they’re so thrilled to see you. And their faces light up and it’s like it’s Christmas morning for them. How can you not enjoy that?"
Kramer is enjoying every moment of it, whether he’s a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame or not.