A month ago, Jerry Kramer was inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame in Canton Ohio. Hailing from Jordan, Montana and playing for the University of Idaho, Jerry was a fourth round draft pick in 1958 by the Green Bay Packers. He played offensive guard for 11 seasons winning five world titles including the first two Super Bowls.
Why the 82 year old had not been inducted before this is anyone’s guess. But being inducted this year has a special meaning to football fans and especially Packer fans everywhere.
As the Green Bay Packers took the field to begin their season last Sunday, they began their 100th season on the gridiron. If Kramer had to wait for his gold jacket, he got to wear it at the beginning of the most historic season in football history. The Packers are the first team to celebrate a centennial.
If there ever was a team that personified the pursuit of perfection, the Green Bay Packers are that team.
And that came from their coach who took them from a 1-10-1 season record the year before he arrived in Green Bay to five world titles and two Super Bowl victories in less than a decade.
“Perfection is unattainable,” Lombardi told his team. “But if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.”
And catch excellence they did. So much so that the most sought after trophy in sports bears his name. The Lombardi Trophy is presented to the world champions at the end of each Super Bowl.
There has never been any other team in my family beside the Packers.
But I come by it honestly.
When I was seven, I moved in with my grandparents. My mother died before I was two. She was only 22 when she passed away and for the next five years I lived mostly with my father’s mother, his grandparents, or occasionally with aunts and uncles.
But every Saturday, my mother’s parents would pick me up to spend the weekend with them and bring me back after Bonanza on Sunday night. All week long I looked forward to Saturday morning and hoped Bonanza wouldn’t end on Sunday night.
My mother’s parents were granted full custody of me as they were moving to Bowling Green Kentucky where my grandfather was moving his division of Cutler-Hammer from Milwaukee, and again three years later to Asheville.
I learned almost everything I know about the Green Bay Packers from my grandfather.
Grandpa’s relationship with the Packers was like many born and living in Green Bay in the early part of the last century.
He would happily recount how on Saturday afternoons his father would take him to the high school football field to watch his dad’s friend Curly Lambeau (Curly was one of the managers of the Indian (Meat) Packing Company and my great- grandfather had a farm) play and coach this new team of the Indian Packers (two years later renamed the Acme Packers as the Indian Meat packing Company was purchased by Acme in 1921).
Grandpa would tell me how he learned about football from his days sitting there beginning when he was eight years old in 1919, the first year the Packers took the field. I learned the storied history of the Packers (who got their name from the packing company who Lambeau convinced to buy the team their first uniforms), and heard the tales of the blue and gold (the original Packer colors) and the early NFL comprised of city teams such as the Duluth Eskimos, the Milwaukee Badgers, the Racine Iroquois, the Oshkosh Professionals, the Sheboygan Company, and the Stambaugh Miners.
I knew all about Johnny Blood, Don Hutson, Cal Hubbard, Ray Nitschke, Bart Starr, Paul Hornug, Willie Wood, and Vince Lombardi before I could read.
But I learned much more from Grandpa than the Packers. He taught me, more by example than by words as I watched him closely for years as he touched and influenced the lives of his employees, neighbors, and friends. He taught me kindness and respect for others, especially those less fortunate.
He would always make sure I had money to put into the “Poor Box” after mass. Thirty odd years after he left Bowling Green, former employees would still call him for advice and to see how he was. Grandpa’s door was always open.
My hope and wish is that everyone had a Joe Goetz in their lives.
In concluding his Hall of Fame acceptance speech, Jerry Kramer shared advice he received from Coach Lombardi after winning their second consecutive Super Bowl.
“After the game is over, the stadium lights are out, the parking lot’s empty, you’re back in the quiet of your room, the championship ring on the dresser, the only thing left at this time is to lead a life of quality and excellence, and to make this old world a little bit better place because you were in it.”
Vince Lombardi, Jerry Kramer, and Joseph Goetz did just that.