Fighting History: The campaign to get Jerry Kramer in the Hall of Fame
"My number one play is the power sweep. There is nothing spectacular about it. It's just a yard gainer." – Vince Lombardi, Green Bay Packers head coach
The power sweep was a conventional play during a conventional offensive time in professional football, an era defined by its linemen and its running backs. Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung gained as much notoriety, if not more, by carrying the ball through Lombardi's famous alleys as Bart Starr did tossing it over the top.
Of the players who won five NFL Championships and two Super Bowls under Lombardi from 1959 to 1967, 11 are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. The last player from those teams inducted into the Hall of Fame was defensive tackle Henry Jordan, in 1995.
"If you look at this play, what we're trying to get is a seal here, and a seal here, and try to run this play...in the alley." - Lombardi
An alley needs two strong walls. If one side is strong and the other isn't, it collapses on itself. It seemed simple enough, and it was. It still is.
Yet of the 11 Packers from that era in Canton, just two are offensive linemen. One is center Jim Ringo, who called where the sweep should be run, leading up on either a defensive tackle or middle linebacker. Another is Hall of Famer is tackle Forrest Gregg, who would crash down on the unblocked man called by Ringo.
Yet this play could not be executed – Hornung and Taylor could not run – unless a guard pulled around to create the alley, to seal the side. He had to be quick enough off the ball and out of his stance, fast enough to swing around Ringo and the tackle and beat the handoff from Star to the running back, then strong enough to create that alley.
Jerry Kramer was such a guard for the Packers for 10 years, his No. 64 pulling around the edge becoming nearly as iconic as Hornung and Taylor's bursts upfield in many a highlight video from that era.
It was a conventional play from a conventional era, one being forgotten by the passage of time. YouTube clips and re-mastered NFL Films specials are nearly all that's left, as the game pushes on through the air.
So it seems fitting that 44 years after Kramer's retirement, a push to revive his legacy as a vital cog in the Packers' dynasty has been undertaken in a most unconventional way: through social media.
This isn't a fan like Tommie Mackie writing letters and sending packets on behalf of former Denver Broncos running back Floyd Little, it's Kramer's daughter Alicia taking it to the cyber streets, exploding the Twitterverse and connecting personally with fans, current NFL players and her father's contemporaries, all in an effort to jog the memories of Hall of Fame voters.
"People have started campaigns but we never really knew what we were up against," Alicia Kramer said. "There have been so many separate movements, so many separate campaigns by people trying to help, but nobody really got on the same page. That's what social media is really helping with, getting all these different people who are trying different things together as one voice in one way and directing their efforts to the Hall. And it's documenting it where everybody can see. It's different."
Jerry is letting Alicia run this show, deferring formal media requests about this campaign to her. For his part, the 76-year-old has made a sort of peace with his exclusion. Too often he and his family, Alicia included, rode the rollercoaster when he was thisclose to induction, beginning with the first of 10 times he was a finalist in 1974. Yet, she chose to ride it again.
"It's very frustrating," Alicia Kramer said. "This has been very personal. People have said things that have been very hurtful. Not a lot, but there have been some people digging in there. That's one of the hardest things, to take on the negative stuff, digest it and not take it personally and keep moving forward and keep doing what I'm doing. That comes with everything, and I've learned that."
She admits she is a novice at this, and learning on the fly. As the movement grows, she disconnects slightly from those supporting her father on Twitter and Facebook, as its become impossible to personally thank everyone. Like Mackie, she has also collected traditional, written endorsements and is compiling highlights from the NFL Films vaults, but she hopes this new style of grassroots campaigning strikes a nerve.
"I would say about 90 percent of it is good and then the other percent is just fighting history and fighting time," she said. "Because dad's contemporaries are dying off, people who championed him are gone. That's the biggest struggle I'm fighting right now, is his time."
Alicia has no idea if this will work, if her father will get any more attention than before. She wouldn't do it if she didn't think it could, but there's no real measure for how much traction she's gotten, or how much longer the road truly is.
Some have told her she needs more testimonials from the men who lined up with, and against her father, as well as more video. She's also been told there are other deserving Packers from those teams as well.
She also has no idea how voters will react to the attention and testimonials given over Twitter, Facebook or email rather than by traditional means.
"Some reporter said to him, 'Jerry, your daughter is making you more famous for not being in the Hall of Fame than you are now' and that really hurt dad, and then that hurt me because dad was upset," she said. "I was like, God, if this doesn't work, I've got all this attention, I'm going to feel like an ass. So I worry about that."
She did say that if this movement fails, if her father is not voted in this summer as a member of the Class of 2013, she will pull back, and try to find the peace he discovered long ago.
Until then, this most unconventional of campaigns for a key figure in one of football's most conventional plays, will search for that necessary second seal to create the alley to Canton.
"The thing I hear the most is that people just assumed that Dad had made it, so they kind of checked it off in their head and never thought about it again," she said.
"People announce him at golf tournaments and speaking engagements as a Hall of Famer, so people just assume. My job right now is not to really whine and beg people but to educate them and make them aware."
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