I talked with Jerry Kramer today. If you don’t know who Jerry Kramer is, you don’t know football. He’s probably the greatest guard to play professional football.
I have been a fan of his since I sat on the living room floor watching the Packers play on a grainy, black-and-white Zenith television.
Jerry Kramer was awesome to speak with. He showed interest in my work as a photojournalist and some of his questions seemed to indicate that he had checked out my work on my website. During the conversation there were a couple of times that it was difficult to tell who was the fan. Was I his biggest fan? Or was he mine?
Before ending the conversation, I asked him, “Mr. Kramer, as you think back over your career with the Packers, what play most often comes to mind?”
He didn’t miss a beat and replied, “The final push in The Ice Bowl”.
Two of the images that stick out in my mind both come from “The Ice Bowl”.
Football fans in Green Bay have always been loyal to the Packers. Many people expected the stands to be nearly empty on December 31, 1967 when the Packers faced off against the Dallas Cowboys in what has become known as The Ice Bowl.
At Lambeau Field in Green Bay, the temperature at kickoff was 13 degrees below zero; the wind chill brought the frigid air down to a minus 48 degrees. More than 50,000 fans packed into the stadium and watched as the Packers got their third consecutive NFL title with a 21-17 victory that was won in the final four minutes of the game.
The Wiscon State University at La Crosse (today the University of Wisconsin at La CrosseO) were scheduled to perform the pre-game and half-time shows. When they were warming up though, clarinets froze and lips froze to the brass instruments and the rest of the performances were canceled. Seven members of the band were taken to a local hospital with hypothermia and one elderly fan died from exposure.
But the game would go on.
The first 56 minutes of the game were typical football with players slipping and sliding over the ice rink called a gridiron. The ball exchanged hands; first the momentum was with the Packers and then the Cowboys and then back with the Packers.
With 16 seconds left and third and goal to go on the Dallas two-foot line, Quarterback Bart Starr went to talk with Coach Vince Lombardi and Kramer. Starr asked Kramer if he could get enough “traction” on the icy turf for a wedge play. Kramer didn’t hesitate. He said yes.
While Pat Summerall and the CBS crew were preparing for a roll-out pass, Starr told Lombardi he wanted to keep the ball instead of handing it off to a fullback as the playbook called for. Lombardi consented, telling Starr, “Run it, and let’s get the hell out of here!”
Center Ken Bowman snapped the ball. Bowman and Kramer teamed up to take out Dallas tackle Jethro Pugh. With Pugh tied up Starr surprised everyone and dove over the goal line for the score.
When asked about the play later Starr said, “We had run out of ideas. However, Lombardi put it another way, “We gambled and we won.”