NFL legend Jerry Kramer returns to Sandpoint
SANDPOINT — One of the most iconic photos in the history of sports shows Green Bay Packers guard Jerry Kramer carrying coaching legend Vince Lombardi on his shoulders after winning Super Bowl II.
It was the second straight Super Bowl win and fifth NFL championship for the pair, both of whom retired from football shortly thereafter.
So it’s little wonder that Kramer, returning to the very field he played on in Sandpoint more than 60 years ago to present his high school with a gold NFL football, spoke with great fondness of the big jeweled Super Bowl ring that adorned his massive hand on Friday night at Barlow Stadium.
“This ring’s my favorite. We had won three straight NFL titles and people had been studying our film for two years. And it was Lombardi’s last season as coach,” Kramer told a crowd of fans lined up to shake his hand, get his autograph and share memories of old family members. “It was a long year. We had the Ice Bowl, a playoff game with the Fearsome Foursome, it was a good year. Everything he (Lombardi) ever told us, we used.”
It was just one of the myriad stories Kramer shared with many on the special night, and anyone familiar with him knows he’s as gifted a storyteller as they come.
The NFL flew Kramer and several of his family members into town to present the gold NFL football to Sandpoint High School, part of the 50th Anniversary celebration of the Super Bowl, as the NFL is presenting a commemorative football to the high school of every former coach and player to take ever part in arguably sports’ biggest spectacle.
For Kramer, the homecoming plucked on many heart strings.
“So many memories, a mishmash of all kinds of things,” recalled Kramer of returning to venerable War Memorial Field. “Teammates, victories, defeats, an overwhelming mess of emotions.”
To understand the spot Sandpoint and Barlow Stadium hold in Kramer’s heart, consider that he tried to write a speech to read on Friday night, but teared up and ended up throwing it away. He told his son Matt, one of three generations of Kramers in attendance, that he would just speak from the gut.
He did just that for about five minutes at halftime, receiving several voracious applauses.
“It was a huge thrill to play on this field so many times,” said Kramer, who vividly remembers the first time he ever heard the Star Spangled Banner played as a sophomore. “For the rest of my life, I could be anywhere in the world, the L.A. Coliseum, Yankee Stadium, Cowboys Stadium, in a thousand other locations. But when I heard the Star Spangled Banner, I transported back to Memorial Field.”
Kramer, who went from Sandpoint to the University of Idaho to Green Bay and ultimately into NFL history, stuck around to speak in the Bulldogs’ locker room after the game.
It’s a safe bet he didn’t talk about the famed Packer Sweep, one of the most signature plays in NFL history, where he was a pulling guard for the likes of Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung.
He probably didn’t tell the players about the Ice Bowl, one of the most famous games in NFL history, in which he made the key block on the goal line to spring the winning touchdown.
Nor would he tell them how he kicked three field goals — yes, the 6-3, 250 pound All-Pro guard was also a kicker — to help the Packers beat the New York Giants 16-7 in the 1962 NFL Championship. Or that Lombardi often called Kramer his favorite player.
No, he’s far too humble, and that’s simply not Jerry’s style. Instead, he probably told them they could do anything they wanted if they worked hard at it and paid the price, in the folksy, down home style that only he can.
Also at halftime, Kramer recalled what his old high school assistant coach Dusty Klein told him when he was a fresh-faced sophomore football player.
“I’ve got big feet and fat hands. I was awkward as a calf. He said ‘you can, if you will.’ I said ‘can what, if I will what?’” regaled Kramer, drawing laughs from the crowd. “I’m telling these young men here tonight that they can if they will.”
Kramer played for local coaching legend Cotton Barlow, for whom the stadium at War Memorial Field is named, and spoke with great reverence about his first coach.
“He was like a strict father. I have a great respect for him, a great appreciation for him. He was a hard, tough coach, but he was fair,” described Kramer of Barlow. “You could stand it if it was fair. Ultimately, you look back and say ‘what an experience learning from one of the best.’”
Current Sandpoint head coach Satini Puailoa first met Kramer in 1994, and says Kramer is one of the guys from the golden era of football that helped make the game what it is today. Puailoa remembers growing up as a kid and watching ‘This Week in the NFL,’ long before the days of 24-hour news and highlights.
Puailoa still remembers seeing Kramer often on the show, tanned, with his signature crew cut, and always wearing a Packers blazer with a tie.
“He was so articulate. He’d say ‘Mr. Lombardi says this, Mr. Lombardi says that,’” remembered Puailoa. “It was mesmerizing how he carried himself.”
When Kramer was inducted into the first Sandpoint Hall of Fame class in 1994, he talked with Puailoa, then in his first year guiding the Bulldogs. Kramer asked if he was a rah-rah guy, or an execution guy. Puailoa answered that he had a saying that you have to do things 1,000 times. Kramer was happy to hear that, adding that was how Lombardi was.
Years later Kramer and Puailoa were down in Moscow while the Vandals were practicing, and Kramer was happy to see former Bulldog Brian Smith playing guard. He soon noticed a flaw in Smith’s technique, and in typical style, decided to do something about it.
“Jerry’s in the huddle coaching Brian,” recalled a stunned Puailoa. “I said ‘that’s the darndest thing.’ He was going to go help that Sandpoint kid.”
Kramer also got a rousing ovation Friday night when he told the crowd to get out and vote on Nov. 3 to make sure a new stadium gets built at War Memorial Field.
He was asked his thoughts on the upcoming city election, where citizens will vote for a one-percent sales tax to help fund a new stadium.
“Is there anything in our life more valuable than our children,” he answered. “This game gives so much to the community.”
One of the best moments of the night came when Sandpoint principal Tom Albertson showed Jerry his No. 38 SHS jersey, which along with David Lyon’s No. 64, are the only two retired jerseys. Kramer was moved to tears, having no idea that anyone ever kept it, before signing it and giving it back to Albertson.
Former teammates Art Miller, Don Albertson and Dan Hull were among those who sat next to Jerry during the game, no doubt waxing nostalgic and swapping old Sandpoint stories.
So just how special was the evening for Kramer?
“I was at Monday Night Football at Lambeau talking to 80,000 people,” he told Tom Albertson, noting many of the Packer greats from the first Super Bowl were on hand for the recent ceremony. “This beats that. This one’s from the gut. This one’s hitting home for me.”