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Better (44 years) late than never

The Professional Football Hall of Fame has righted a wrong which has existed for more than 40 years.

Jerry Kramer, the legendary right guard on the Green Bay Packer teams coached by Vince Lombardi, is finally earning his bronze bust in Canton.

WHAT TOOK THE HALL OF FAME SO LONG?

Kramer was one of the best guards who has ever played the game, past or present. He and Fuzzy Thurston led the Green Bay sweep, the single most feared offensive play of the 1960s. There are few playbook diagrams in football lore which are more recognizable than the sweep. When you say sweep in a football contest, Lombardi’s Packers should always come up first.

Anyone who grew up watching football in that era, who has caught up by watching NFL Films like I have, can picture Kramer (#64) and Thurston (#63) leading Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor around the flanks of some of the NFL’s best defensive units assembled, including Minnesota’s Purple People Eaters, the Rams’ Fearsome Foursome, the Cowboys’ Doomsday, and some defenses without names but led by Hall of Famers, like those of the Colts (Gino Marchetti and Art Donovan), Lions (Joe Schmidt), Bears (Dick Butkus) and Giants (Sam Huff).

How powerful was the Green Bay sweep? Tom Landry, the genius who led the Cowboys for 29 seasons (1960-88), developed the Flex defense to combat it. In that alignment, the left end and the right tackle–in the Cowboys’ case, Bob Lilly–off the line of scrimmage in order to better ready the play instead of getting caught in the mess that is the line of scrimmage. Lilly ran the Flex to perfection and was a first ballot Hall of Famer in 1980. Lilly, in my opinion, is the greatest defensive tackle to ever play the game. He is the sine qua non for the position, now and until the end of time–or at least the end of my time on earh.

Kramer was drafted by Lombardi’s predecessor, Scooter McLean, in the fourth round of the 1958 draft out of Idaho. Kramer grew up in Sandpoint in the Idaho panhandle, and with the University of Idaho right there in Moscow, it made sense.

When Lombardi arrived from the Giants in 1959, he installed Kramer at right guard, where he stood between two men who have already earned their busts in Canton, center Jim Ringo and right tackle Forrest Gregg. The Packers went 7-5 in 1959, their first winning season since 1946, and in 1960, Green Bay won the Western Division at 8-4, spurred by Hornung’s then-NFL record 176 points–in 12 games–a record which stood until LaDanian Tomlinson broke it during a 16-game schedule in 2006.

The 1960 Packers lost a thrilling 17-13 decision to the Eagles in the NFL championship game in Philadelphia, with Jim Taylor tackled inside the Eagles’ 10 on the game’s final play by Chuck Bednarik, who played every snap of the game at center and linebacker. Bednarik was a no doubt first ballot Hall of Famer in 1968.

In 1961, the Packers won their first NFL championship since 1944, destroying the Giants of Huff and Y.A. Tittle 37-0 in the title game at what was then known as City Stadium (renamed Lambeau Field in 1965). As good as the 1961 Packers were, going 11-3, the 1962 Packers were even better.

How good was Lombardi’s fourth squad? So good to be considered one of the greatest teams ever to take the field in the NFL>

Green Bay outscored its opponents 415-148 in 1962. It destroyed the Eagles 49-0 in Philadelphia, holding ridiculous advantages in total yardage (628 to 54) and first downs (37 to 3). Jim Taylor won the NFL rushing championship and was named the Associated Press’ most valuable player. It marked the only time during the nine-year career of Jim Brown (1957-65) that he did not lead the league in rushing.

The Packers’ lone defeat was a 26-14 setback in Detroit on Thanksgiving, a loss which may have steeled Green Bay’s resolve for the stretch drive.

In the championship game, the Packers and Giants met again, this time in Yankee Stadium. The temperature at kickoff was 18 degrees Fahrenheit (minus-8 Celsius), and the winds were gusting as high as 45 miles per hour (70 kilometers per hour), dropping the wind chill to minus-18 (minus-28 Celsius). Some Packers insisted the conditions in the Bronx that day were more brutal than a certain game in Green Bay five years later, one which will come up later in this post.

The star of the NFL championship game? Jerry Kramer. Not only did Kramer and his line mates help Taylor gain 85 yards against the rugged Giants defense, but #64 kicked three field goals, which were the difference in the 16-7 Packer victory. Kramer was pressed into emergency duty at kicker after Hornung was unable to kick due to leg injuries.

Hornung was suspended for the 1963 season after it was discovered he and two Lions, Alex Karras and John Gordy, were betting on NFL games. The Packers went 11-2-1, but the two losses were to the Bears, who went on to defeat the Giants for the NFL championship.

Kramer was a first team All-Pro in 1963, the third time in four years he earned the honor. He only missed out in 1961 due to missing six games with an ankle injury which required surgery. Gregg moved over from right tackle to right guard and earned All-Pro honors in Kramer’s stead.

It got worse for the Packers, and specifically Kramer, in 1964. While Hornung returned to the fold, Green Bay slumped to 8-5-1, and Kramer missed all but two games with severe internal injuries which required a colostomy. The injuries were, in fact, life-threatening, and some believed Kramer had passed away due to erroneous radio reports which had him confused with an ex-Packer.

Kramer and the Pack were back in 1965, defeating the Colts in an epic overtime playoff to determine the Western Division champion. Green Bay defeated Cleveland 23-12 at a muddy Lambeau Field for the NFL championship, with the iconic play of the game coming when Kramer and Thurson escorted Hornung on the sweep to the game’s final touchdown. It turned out to be Jim Brown’s last football game; he retired in July 1966 to pursue a movie career in a contract dispute with Browns owner Art Modell.

(Brown knew Modell was a snake oil salesman from the start. Too bad most in Cleveland didn’t learn that until 1995 when Modell took the Browns to Baltimore.)

Kramer was a first team All-Pro again in 1966, helping Green Bay go 12-2 and win its fourth NFL championship, a stirring 34-27 win over the Cowboys in the Cotton Bowl. The Packers clinched the victory on the game’s final play, when future Hall of Fame linebacker Dave Robinson pressured Don Meredith into throwing a wounded duck which was intercepted in the back of the end zone by Tom Brown.

The victory gave the Packers the privilege of playing in the first AFL-NFL World Championship Game, where they would meet the Kansas City Chiefs. The buildup to the game was so intense that Lombardi reportedly drove his team harder than he ever had prior to a game. The other NFL owners, led by Modell, Wellington Mara and Carroll Rosenbloom, kept wiring Lombardi messages how important it was that the established league dominate their upstart counterparts, even though the AFL-NFL merger had been hammered out by Tex Schramm, Lamar Hunt and Rozelle in June 1966.

The Packers’ second touchdown was on a sweep, with Taylor following Kramer and Thurston to paydirt. The Chiefs were within 14-10 at halftime, but the Packers dominated the final 30 minutes and went on to win 35-10.

The 1967 Packers struggled during the regular season, but their 9-4-1 record was enough to win the weak Central Division over the Lions, Bears and Vikings. In the Western Conference championship game, Green Bay yielded an early touchdown to the Rams, but rolled from there, winning 28-7 at Milwaukee against a team which it lost to two weeks earlier in Los Angeles.

The Cowboys destroyed the Browns to win the Eastern Conference, setting up a rematch for the NFL championship, this time in Green Bay.

On the morning of New Year’s Eve, the Packers, Cowboys and more than 62,000 other residents of Green Bay awoke to a Wisconsin version of Siberia.

In a span of 18 hours, the mercury had plunged from 25 degrees Fahrenheit (minus-4 Celsius) to minus-16 Fahrenheit (minus-27 Celsius). The wind was howling out of the northwest at 25-30 miles per hour (40-48 kilometers per hour), creating a wind chill of minus-36 Fahrenheit (minus-38 Celsius).

Unlike baseball, football is played in all kinds of weather, so the game kicked off as scheduled at 1:05 p.m. Central. By then, the mercury had risen all the way to minus-13 (minus-27).

The Cowboys looked like they would be blown out of Green Bay in the first 17 minutes, falling behind 14-0. However, the Packers got sloppy, allowing Dallas to narrow the deficit to 14-10 by halftime.

Through the first 25 minutes of the second half, the 1967 Packers bore a striking resemblance to the teams which would represent Green Bay for the next 24 seasons: bumbling and ineffective. The Cowboys had only one big play in that time, but it went for a touchdown on a 50-yard halfback option pass from Dan Reeves to Lance Rentzel.

With just under five minutes left, Green Bay took over at its own 32-yard line following a punt.

What followed was one of the most memorable drives in NFL history.

The Packers found they could move the ball with short passes in front of the Dallas secondary, which was playing especially deep, fearing a big pass from Starr to clutch receiver Boyd Dowler, who caught a long touchdown pass in the second quarter. Starr took full advantage, using two running backs to devastating effect.

The running backs were not Hornung, who retired after being selected in the 1967 expansion draft by the Saints, and Taylor, a Louisiana native who was traded to the Saints that summer. Instead, it was Donny Anderson, the Packers’ first round draft choice in 1966, and Chuck Mercein, whom Lombardi claimed off the scrap heap after he was waived by Giants coach Allie Sherman.

A 19-yard pass from Starr to Mercein brought the ball into the red zone, and on the next play, Mercein almost scored when he took a trap to the Cowboy 1. The play, called 65 Give, saw left guard Gale Gillingham, who replaced Thurston in the starting lineup in 1967, pull right, and Lilly followed him instead of staying home. With left tackle Bob Skoronski sealing off Cowboy end George Andrie, who scored Dallas’ first touchdown when he returned a Starr fumble 9 yards, Mercein had daylight. Only a tackle by Cowboy cornerback Mike Johnson saved the touchdown.

Johnson’s tackle almost saved the championship for Dallas.

On first and second down, Starr handed off to Anderson, but he slipped on the icy field and never reached the goal line.

The field was rock solid frozen due to a miscalculation by Lombardi and stadium grounds crew. The night before the game, a tarpaulin was placed on the field, and a heating grid installed underneath Lambeau Field for $80,000 ($591,000 in 2017 dollars) would be able to melt any ice and keep the field soft.

Instead, the heating element instead created condensation on the tarp, which froze immediately when removed due to the bitter cold. The heating element was never designed to work in temperatures below 20 degrees (minus-7), and instead of keeping the field in playable condition, it made things worse.

Lambeau Field’s gridiron was now as hard and slick as a supermarket parking lot following an ice storm. Traction was next to nothing. The Cowboys, who didn’t think it would be that cold, did not have sneakers, and not surprisingly, they had a devil of a time staying upright all game. The Packers didn’t fare much better, but at least they had footwear for the occasion.

With 16 seconds to play, the Packers called their last timeout prior to third down. Green Bay could have opted to send in kicker Don Chandler for an 8-yard field goal (the goalposts were on the goal line from 1933 through 1973) and play overtime, or try to win the game right there, knowing that if the Cowboys held, the Packers would not have time to line up and run another play, or get the field goal team on the field, unless they wanted to play with 10 men and let Kramer kick the field goal.

Starr suggested to Lombardi that they run a wedge play, which normally would call for the ball to be handed off to the fullback, in this case, Mercein. However, Starr decided on the sideline with Lombardi to keep the ball himself, thinking he could get good enough footing at the south goal line of the stadium to follow Kramer and center Ken Bowman into the end zone.

Kramer felt he could wedge the Cowboys’ other defensive tackle, Jethro Pugh, whom had a higher center of gravity than Lilly, who had his way with Gillingham most of the day, save for the run by Mercein which got the ball to the 1.

Lombardi may have been portrayed as an autocrat, but in reality, he was very open to suggestions by his players and gave Starr the freedom to call audibles and make the blocking calls at the line for Kramer, Gregg and the rest.

The ex-Block of Granite from Fordham told Starr to “run the play and get the hell out of there”. Lombardi did not want to take his chances in overtime, remembering well what happened in the 1958 NFL championship game, when he was an assistant for the Giants and Johnny Unitas led the Colts to the winning touchdown on a run by Alan Ameche.

Starr brought in the play, 31 Wedge, to the huddle. Mercein thought he would get the ball, but when Bowman snapped it to Kramer, Bart began to move forward.

Indeed, Kramer found enough of an opening to push back Pugh, and Starr followed him and Bowman into the end zone.

Green Bay 21, Dallas 17. The Packers had another NFL championship, and two weeks later, they routed the Raiders 33-14 in Super Bowl II at Miami’s Orange Bowl to cement Lombardi’s fifth championship in seven seasons. Green Bay’s 1965, ’66 and ’67 teams are the last to win three consecutive NFL championships.

What nobody knew was one more lasting legacy was in the works.

Throughout the season, Kramer chronicled the season in a diary. Following Super Bowl II, he and sportswriter Dick Schaap turned the diary into a book, Instant Replay, which is one of the greatest tomes ever written by an athlete. The title Instant Replay was directly related to the replays of the final play of the Ice Bowl which Lombardi watched with CBS broadcaster Tom Brookshier in the Packers’ locker room following the game.

Kramer was a second team All-Pro in 1968, even though the Packers slumped to 6-7-1 under Phil Bengston. He retired after the 1968, joining a list of Lombardi-era Packers to hang it up. Gillingham would be the last of that group to call it a career, playing until 1976, by which time Starr was in his second season as Packers coach.

In 1974, Kramer first became eligible for the Hall of Fame. He was a finalist 11 times with the selection committee, but never got the requisite 80 percent approval to receive his gold jacket and bronze bust.

Lombardi was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1971, less than a year after his death due to colon cancer. Taylor was the first player from the great Packer teams to earn enshrinement in 1976. Since then, Starr, Hornung, Gregg, Ringo, Robinson, Willie Davis, Henry Jordan, Ray Nitschke, Willie Wood and Herb Adderley all earned induction, as did later Packer legends James Lofton, Reggie White and Brett Favre. I’m not saying Kramer should have come before all of them, but certainly it should have occurred long before 1988, his last year of eligibility on the main ballot.

Kramer must be rated one of the five best guards to ever play the game. If I had to select a 22-man all-time team, Kramer would be my starting right guard, with Patriots legend John Hannah at left guard. The rest of the line would be Anthony Munoz (Bengals, 1980-92) at left tackle, Gregg (Packers, 1957-69) at right tackle and Bednarik (Eagles, 1949-62) at center.

Hannah, who played for New England for 13 seasons (1973-85) but did not win a championship (the Pats made Super Bowl XX in Hannah’s final season and were crushed 46-10 by the Bears) and the Raiders’ Gene Upshaw are the only two I can think of who would be on Kramer’s plane. Hannah, in fact, would have my vote as the greatest Patriot of all time, even ahead of Thomas Edward Brady.

And no, Brady is not my starting quarterback. Not even on my roster. Give me Unitas, Montana, Peyton, Sammy Baugh, Bradshaw, Tarkenton, Jurgensen, Staubach and Graham. Heck, I’ll take Stabler, Dawson, Griese and Tittle before TB12.

Other guards in the Hall of Fame–Billy Shaw, Joe DeLamielleure, Randall McDaniel, Larry Little, Mike Munchak, Will Shields and Russ Grimm among them–were fine players, no doubt, and are worthy of their spots in Canton. But Kramer, Hannah and Upshaw were on another level, at least in my opinion.

Kramer is the oldest player being inducted this August, having turned 82 last month. Thankfully, he is alive to receive this honor, unlike Lombardi and Henry Jordan, who were honored posthumously.

Three of this year’s inductees are players I really didn’t like: Ray Lewis, Randy Moss and Terrell Owens. But I knew they would be getting in eventually, so there’s no use to complain. Brian Dawkins and Brian Urlacher were a little surprising to me getting in on such a loaded ballot, but they are deserving.

Robert Brazile, a standout linebacker for Bum Phillips’ Oilers, joins Kramer as a seniors inductee. Phillips’ defense was one of the greatest of the 1970s, if not all time, as evidenced by three Hall of Famers: Brazile, end Elvin Bethea and nose tackle Curley Culp. The problem was, the Oilers were in the same division as the Steelers, whose Steel Curtain had Joe Greene, Jack Ham, Jack Lambert and Mel Blount.

Bobby Beathard, the architect of the Redskins’ Super Bowl XVII and XXII championship teams, was inducted as a contributor. Fitting, since coach Joe Gibbs is already in the Hall, and standouts Grimm, Art Monk, John Riggins and Darrell Green were inducted previously. Dexter Manley might have made it if not for drug issues, and Dave Butz and Joe Jacoby should be in.

Many years ago, NFL Network did a show on the 10 best players not in the Hall of Fame. Kramer was #1, Stabler was #2. That needs to be updated, thankfully.

Super Bowl LII starts in just over six hours. I am soooooo excited….so excited I would rather get a root canal. Without anesthesia. This looks like a blowout, but the Patriots could pull it out late and piss everyone off like they did against the Seahawks and Falcons. Either way, if New England wins, the Brady and Belichick butt sniffers will once again be telling us how they are the greatest who ever lived and you’re stupid if you don’t believe that.

ENOUGH. Actually, it was enough the LAST TIME the Patriots played the Eagles in the Super Bowl, and that was in February 2005.

Lots of questions and answers

For the second time in the last three Fridays, I have executed my “trivia trifecta”, playing at Buffalo Wild Wings Shoal Creek (near Liberty), Buffalo Wild Wings Zona Rosa, and Minksy’s on Barry Road. I’m playing my first round at Minsky’s after spending four and a half hours at both Buffalo Wild Wings location. That’s right, save for the drive on Missouri Highway 152 from Shoal Creek to Zona Rosa, I have been playing trivia non-stop since 11 a.m.

At Shoal Creek, there was a question which listed five famous people, and I had to pick the one who was not born in Missouri. One of the choices was Walter Kronkite.

OOPS.

I know Walter CRONKITE was born in St. Joseph. However, it was embarrassing that nobody at Buzztime proofread this. Yes, Cronkite has been dead since July 2009, but he is one of the most famous men to ever report news in any country. How can they not know how the man spells his name? I made sure to let Buzztime know on Twitter.

I am hungry. Really hungry. Larry bought me lunch at Shoal Creek, and I had a large order of cheese curds. I’m trying to avoid meat on Fridays for the next two weeks, since Lent starts on Valentine’s Day and I won’t be able to eat meat on Fridays until the end of March. I did not eat at Zona Rosa, since I did not want to eat B-Dubs twice in the same day. A pizza at Minsky’s sounds good right now.

Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of Vince Lombardi’s retirement as coach of the Green Bay Packers. Lombardi led Green Bay to five NFL championships, including victories in Super Bowls I and II, in nine seasons in Wisconsin. Lombardi retired as coach in order to focus on his duties as general manager, but he became quite bored during the 1968 season. He did all he could to not bother his successor, Phil Bengston, the assistant coaches, most of whom worked under Lombardi, and the players. Green Bay went 6-7-1 in 1968, its first losing season since 1958, and it began a long, dark period in “Titletown USA”.

From 1968 through 1991, the Packers made the playoffs just twice, and one of those came in the strike-shortened season of 1982. Many Packer teams lost double digit games, bottoming out by going 4-12 in 1986, 1988 and 1991. Fortunately, Green Bay made massive changes after the ’91 season, hiring Ron Wolf as general manager and Mike Holmgren as coach, then trading with Atlanta to acquire Brett Favre, who was really hated by Falcons coach Jerry Glanville.

Lombardi eventually left the Packers in 1969 to become coach and general manager of the Redskins. He led Washington to a 7-5-2 record that year, the first winning record for the Redskins since 1955. Sadly, he would be dead of colon cancer by September 1970.

Washington abruptly changed course under George Allen, who was hired in 1971. Save for Larry Brown and a few others, Allen gutted the Redskin roster in 1971 and ’72, trading for as many veterans he could find. The Redskins made Super Bowl VII, where they lost to the Dolphins.

The Packers have pretty much been consistent winners for the last quarter century, adding two more Super Bowl championships in 1996 and 2010.

I’m hungry. I had better eat or I might collapse.

Soul-crushingly bad list, part I

Today, CBS Sports’ website listed the most “soul-crushing” playoff loss for each NFL franchise.

The list is beyond stupid, and incredibly short-sighted.

All of the losses listed occurred in my lifetime, which means the person or people who put it together can’t remember anything beyond 10 minutes ago, the same way people claim Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback (or NFL player) who ever lived and Bill Belichcik is the greatest NFL coach (if not all of professional sports) who ever lived.

Here is the link to the list:

https://www.cbssports.com/nfl/photos/each-nfl-teams-most-soul-crushing-playoff-loss/33/

Here are my BIG problems with the list, starting with five teams:

CHICAGO BEARS

The selection: 2010 NFC championship game vs. Green Bay

How the heck can a playoff game involving JAY CUTLER be a soul-crushing loss? The fact the Bears got to within one win of Super Bowl XLV with Cutler is a miracle in and of itself, just as reaching Super Bowl XLI with Rex (Wrecks) Grossman is just as miraculous.

My choice: 1942 NFL championship. The Bears came in as two-time defending champions. Their opponents, the Washington REDSKINS, lost to Chicago in the previous two NFL championship games by the combined margin of 110-9. The Bears won 73-0 at Washington in 1940 and 37-9 at Wrigley Field one year later.

Instead of a three-peat, the REDSKINS pulled off a 14-6 stunner at Griffith Stadium, Washington’s last championship until John Riggins, Joe Theismann and the Hogs helped Joe Gibbs win the first of his three Super Bowls in 1982.

Losing the 1934 NFL championship game after going undefeated in the regular season hurt. So did losing 47-7 to the Giants in 1956. As for post-George Halas playoff losses, the divisional round flameout in 1986 vs. the Redskins at home one year after rolling through the NFL and squashing the Patriots in Super Bowl XX is a much better choice than 2010.

DALLAS COWBOYS

The selection: 2014 NFC divisional playoff at Green Bay, the game where Dez Bryant apparently caught the game-winning touchdown pass, only to be overruled by replay.

Apparently, the Cowboys’ 29 seasons under Tom Landry never existed, and the Cowboys did not lose three Super Bowls in the 1970s.

In fact, the Cowboys did lose three Super Bowls in the 1970s, and the combined margin of those defeats was ELEVEN points. ELEVEN. To lose games by 3, 4 and 4 points has to be soul-crushing, right? RIGHT?

The Cowboys forced SEVEN turnovers vs. the Colts in Super Bowl V. The Cowboys’ defense was so good that day that linebacker Chuck Howley was named the game’s Most Valuable Player, the ONLY player to ever earn the honor while playing for the LOSING team. Howley intercepted two passes, one of those in the end zone when the Colts were driving for the tying touchdown early in the fourth quarter.

Dallas led 13-6 at halftime after knocking the great Johnny Unitas out of the game with injured ribs, but the Cowboys could not handle success. They fumbled at the Baltimore goal line early in the third quarter, and in the fourth, Craig Morton (Roger Staubach was strictly a spectator) was intercepted twice, once by Rick Volk to set up the tying touchdown, and the second by Mike Curtis which led to Jim O’Brien’s game-winning 32-yard field goal with five seconds left. Soul-crushing? For the time being, it was, but the Cowboys bounced back by demolishing the Dolphins 24-3 in Super Bowl VI.

Super Bowl X was a tough loss for the Cowboys, but I don’t consider it to be soul-crushing. Dallas was a substantial underdog to the defending champion Steelers, and Dallas led most of the game until Pittsburgh dominated the fourth quarter, scoring what turned out to be the winning points on a 64-yard touchdown pass from Terry Bradshaw to Lynn Swann on a play where Dallas defensive tackle Larry Cole gave Bradshaw a concussion. The Cowboys didn’t quit, though, cutting the margin to 21-17 on a touchdown pass from Staubach to Percy Howard (the only catch of his NFL career) and then driving into Steeler territory in the final seconds before Staubach was intercepted by Glen Edwards.

Super Bowl XIII? Soul-crushing to the extreme. Jackie Smith’s dropped pass. The phantom pass interference call against Benny Barnes when Swann was too clumsy to get out of his way. Umpire Art Demmas throwing a block on Charlie Waters which allowed Franco Harris to score a touchdown. Randy White fumbling a botched kickoff and leading to the score which made it 35-17. Dallas scoring twice in the final eight minutes before finally running out of time.

Yet HOW the HELL is the 2014 divisional game vs. Green Bay more soul-crushing that Super Bowls V and XIII, or the 1994 NFC championship game which ended Dallas’ bid for a three-peat?

DENVER BRONCOS

The selection: 2012 AFC divisional playoff loss to the Ravens, after giving up a 70-yard TD pass to Jacoby Jones to tie the game, then losing in double overtime.

Have the Broncos not lost FIVE Super Bowls? Yes, they have. Three of them–XII vs. Dallas, XXI vs. the Giants and XXIV vs. San Francisco–had Denver as huge underdogs. I’ll give the Broncos a pass.

The other two? Not so much.

In Super Bowl XXII, the Broncos were favored over the Redskins, albeit by a field goal or less in most sports books. The teams were thought to be evenly matched, except at quarterback, where Denver had John Elway, who was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 1987, while the Redskins had finally settled on Buccaneers and USFL alum Doug Williams in the playoffs after Gibbs vacillated between Williams and Jay Schroeder throughout the 12 games played by union players. (One game was canceled due to a players’ strike, and three others were played using replacement players, although several union players crossed picket lines. Nobody on the Redskins did.)

Although Washington still had several players who were on the Super Bowl XVII winning (and XVIII losing–more on that later) squad, the Redskins’ quarterback quandary led many to believe the third time would be the charm for the Broncos, who were one year removed from a 39-20 pasting by the Giants in the big game.

It started so well for the Broncos, who led 10-0 by the middle of the first quarter. Through the first 21 Super Bowls, no team had overcome a deficit of more than seven points to win.

Then the second quarter arrived, and the Redskins morphed into the greatest offensive juggernaut the NFL has ever seen.

Williams threw FOUR touchdown passes in the period, and Timmy Smith ran for a 58-yard touchdown on his way to a then-Super Bowl record 204 yards rushing. By the end of the onslaught, it was 35-10, and Marion Barry announced the plans for the Redskins’ victory parade later that week during halftime.

Final: 42-10. Denver was crushed even worse in XXIV (55-10), and Elway was branded a loser despite his impressive resume. In the final two years of his career, Elway redeemed himself with victories over the Packers and Falcons in XXXII and XXXIII.

Following the win over Atlanta, Denver didn’t get back to the Super Bowl until it faced Seattle in Super Bowl XLVIII, the first Super Bowl to be played outdoors in a temperate climate, at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.

It was expected to be one of the greatest Super Bowls ever, with the Seahawks’ league-leading defense, “The Legion of Boom”, facing Peyton Manning, who came to the Broncos in 2012 following 13 seasons with the Colts. Manning led the Broncos to the highest scoring season in NFL history, threw 55 touchdown passes, and won his fifth NFL MVP award.

On the first play from scrimmage, the expected great game turned into a great stinker, at least as for the Broncos.

That play saw Denver center Manny Ramirez (not the famous baseball player) snap the ball wide of Manning. The pigskin rolled into the end zone, where Knoshon Moreno had to bat it over the end line for a safety to avoid yielding a touchdown.

Manning later threw a pick-six to Malcolm Smith, and Denver looked as outclassed as Elway’s teams were by the Giants, Redskins and 49ers.

Seattle won 43-8. Manning and Denver won Super Bowl 50 two years later, but Broncos fans still cringe when mentioning the Seahawks and that game.

Now tell me how a playoff game in an early round is more soul-crushing than losing two Super Bowls in which the Broncos were favored, or at worst an even-money bet?

DETROIT LIONS

The selection: 2014 NFC wild card game at Dallas, which the Lions lost 24-20. In the game, a defensive pass interfernce penalty was not called against the Cowboys with Detroit leading 20-17. Had the Lions gained the automatic first down, they very well may have run the clock out.

Okay, the Lions have been mostly wretched for the last 60 years. Not much playoff history to go on. But I can cite some games which far outweigh the above:

  • 1970 NFC divisional playoff at Dallas–in the lowest scoring playoff game in professional football history, the Cowboys prevailed 5-0 at the Cotton Bowl. Detroit, which came in riding a five-game winning streak, reached the Dallas 29 in the final minute, but Greg Landry’s last pass was intercepted by Mel Renfro at the 11.
  • 1983 NFC divisional playoff at San Francisco–the Lions had a chance to reach the NFC championship game, but usually reliable kicker Eddie Murray missed a 47-yard field goal in the final minute, allowing the 49ers to escape 24-23.
  • 1991 NFC championship at Washington–the Lions enjoyed a spectacular regular season, thanks to the prolific running of Barry Sanders, but the Redskins rolled 41-10 on their way to crushing the Bills in Super Bowl XXVI.
  • 1993 NFC wild card vs. Green Bay–the Lions lost 28-24 on a last-minute touchdown pass from Brett Favre (WHO?) to Sterling Sharpe. Detroit has not hosted a playoff game since.

GREEN BAY PACKERS

The selection: 2003 NFC divisional playoff at Philadelphia, when the Eagles converted a 4th-and-26 en route to the tying touchdown. Favre threw an interception in overtime, and the Eagles converted it into the game winning field goal.

Right city, wrong year in this case.

Try the 1960 NFL championship game.

In Vince Lombardi’s second season as Packers coach, Green Bay had gone from 1-10-1 in 1958 to 8-4 and the NFL Western Division championship, earning it the right to play the Eagles at Franklin Field for the league title. There was no Super Bowl in this era, so it was all or nothing on the day after Christmas.

The Eagles, led by quarterback Norm Van Brocklin and “Concrete Charlie” Chuck Bednarik, the NFL’s last two-way player (center and middle linebacker), trailed 6-0 early in the second quarter before gaining the lead on a touchdown pass from Van Brocklin to Tommy McDonald. A field goal later in the period sent Philly to the locker room ahead by four.

The score stayed that way until early in the final stanza, when Bart Starr hit Max McGee (already establishing himself as a big-time performer in big-time games) from 7 yards out to make it 13-10 Packers. The Eagles regained the lead with 5:21 to go on a 5-yard run by Ted Dean, leaving Green Bay plenty of time to win.

The Packers reached the Eagle 22 in the final seconds with no timeouts. Starr found Jimmy Taylor on a flare pass, but he was tripped up by rookie Bobby Jackson then pounded to the ground by Bednarik at the 10 as the final seconds bled away. The gun sounded, and Bednarik growled to Taylor, “You can get up now. This game is over!”.

Philadelphia hasn’t won a title since, losing in Super Bowls XV and XXXIX. The Packers would fare much better, winning five NFL championships and Super Bowls I and II under Lombardi. Green Bay added titles in XXXI and XLV later.

Part two includes: someone forgot the Colts once played in Baltimore and a certain guarantee; the longest NFL game ever; and “The Greatest Game Ever Played”.

 

I’m a Jerry’s Kid

I first learned about the Green Bay Packers dynasty of Vince Lombardi in the mid-1980s. I learned the names of the stars of the team which won five NFL championships and two Super Bowls between 1961 and 1967: Starr, Hornung, Taylor (the most important for those growing up in Louisiana), Nitschke, Davis, Adderley, et. al.

And of course, the right guard leading Hornung and Taylor on the power sweep, #64, Jerry Kramer.

Kramer is by far the most famous athletic graduate from the University of Idaho. If you think it’s anywhere near Boise State (or Idaho State for that matter), think again. It’s way, up in Moscow, in the northern panhandle. It’s only 8 miles from Washington State (the university in Pullman). It’s in the Pacific Time Zone for crying out loud.

Kramer played 11 seasons for the Packers. In 1964, he nearly died due to actinomyosis, a bacterial disease which produces large abscesses in the mouth, lungs and intestines, and those abscesses can break open and spill pus filled with bacteria all over the body. He recovered and played four seasons after that, helping Green Bay win the NFL championship in 1965, then Super Bowls I and II the next two seasons.

In 1969, Kramer was voted as one of the guards on the NFL’s 50th anniversary team. He finished his career as a five-time first team All-Pro, and he was a second team All-Pro in 1968, his final season, despite playing on a 6-7-1 Packers team under Phil Bengston, who succeeded Lombardi as coach (Lombardi remained as general manager in Green Bay in 1968 before taking over as Redskins coach in 1969. He would be dead of colon cancer before the 1970 season began.).

Eleven of Kramer’s teammates–Starr, Hornung, Taylor, Nitschke, Adderley, Willie Wood, Jim Ringo, Willie Davis, Henry Jordan, Forrest Gregg and Dave Robinson–are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Why the hell is Gerald Louis Kramer not in the Hall of Fame?

Shame on you, PFHOF voters. You have kept this deserving man out of the hall longer than I have been alive! Kramer’s first year of eligibility was 1974. Okay, maybe he didn’t deserve to be inducted on the first or second ballot, but why was he not in by the late 1970s, by which time Taylor, Gregg and Starr were all inducted? Certainly he should have been in by 1984, the year Gregg succeeded Starr as Packers coach.

The seniors’ committee has been in charge of Kramer’s nomination since 1989. What the hell?

Let’s not forget Kramer was not only the leader of the famed and feared Green Bay Sweep, but he was also an accomplished author, writing Instant Replay, his diary of the 1967 season, and Distant Replay, which was a 1985 update on the Packers who played in Super Bowl I.

Also, Kramer could do more than block on the football field. In the 1962 NFL championship game, Kramer kicked three field goals despite 35-mile per hour winds swirling around Yankee Stadium, which dropped the wind chill to zero. Hornung, the regular kicker, had a sore leg, and Lombardi pressed Kramer into duty. As it turned out, those three field goals were the difference in the Packers’ 16-7 win over the Giants, capping a remarkable season in which Green Bay outscored its foes 431-155 and lost only once–at Detroit on Thanksgiving–in 15 games.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame website lists 44 offensive linemen (tackles, guards and centers) who played in the modern era (post-1950) in the Hall of Fame.

I look at some of the guards on the list, and wonder why the hell Kramer isn’t in, yet they are.

I can live with John Hannah in the Hall. I watched him play late in his career with the Patriots, and he was still as effective as ever. He may be the only one on the list who was better than Kramer.

Gene Upshaw? Didn’t care for him as NFLPA president, but no doubt he was a great one with the Raiders.

Larry Little? If he’s in the Hall, Kramer has to be. He was helped playing next to Hall of Fame center Jim Langer, and another guard who deserves serious consideration, Bob Kuechenberg.

But Joe DeLamielleure in ahead of Kramer? NO. NO. NO. He made his name off of blocking for O.J. Simpson in Buffalo. He blocked for Brian Sipe in Cleveland when he was the NFL’s MVP in 1980, but I can’t really think of much else which distinguishes him ahead of Kramer.

Tom Mack in ahead of Kramer? NO. He was helped playing with a tremendous unit, including Hall of Fame tackle Jackie Slater in the final years of his career with the Rams.

Billy Shaw in ahead of Kramer? PLEASE. Other than the Bills’ back-to-back AFL championships of 1964 and 1965, not much else I can think of which would make him more worthy than Kramer.

Russ Grimm in ahead of Kramer? It’s all because he played for The Hogs, who became notorious for blocking for two of football’s biggest hams, Joe Theismann and John Riggins. Yes, the Redskins won three Super Bowls with Grimm up front, but if Grimm is in, why isn’t left tackle Joe Jacoby?

To me, the Pro Football Hall of Fame is not complete until Mr. Kramer has a bust in Canton. Voters, do it in 2017 so he can enjoy this honor while he’s still alive.

Sunday, silly Sunday

The last Sunday of 2015 is one I won’t soon forget.

I frittered away another eight and a half hours of my life at Buffalo Wild Wings Zona Rosa. Actually, it was very enjoyable. Got to spend the day with some very nice people, as in the employees, as well as my buddies Dawn and Robb Amos, whom I didn’t know last year at this time. If I had to pick two people I’m very glad I met in 2015, they would be at the top of the list. It didn’t start so well, especially my meltdown in April on Opening Day of the Major League Baseball season, but it’s been wonderful since.

There was a couple challenging me at trivia yesterday. At first, they were keeping up in the shortened lunch games, which are seven questions compared to 15 in Countdown. But I posted a perfect score (7,000) in the final lunch game at 1:45, then proceeded to serious ass kicking in Countdown for three games.

With the Chiefs playing at noon and a big game between the Packers and Cardinals at 3:25, it was full. The bar was packed, with no seats available. From noon until a little after 6, a gentleman wearing a Steelers hoodie sat at the barstool to my right. I expressed my sympathy as his team was losing to Pittsburgh’s hated rival, the Baltimore Ravens, who have been a train wreck this season, but somehow beat the Steelers twice. The same Steelers who beat the Cardinals in October.

Except for the guy next to me, nobody in the establishment shed a tear for Ben Roethlisberger and his mates. The Steelers’ loss, combined with the Chiefs’ 17-13 victory over the Browns, meant KC was playoff bound, regardless of what happens next week to the Chiefs at Arrowhead vs. Oakland. Andy Reid’s team can still win the AFC West if Denver loses either to Cincinnati tonight or San Diego next Sunday, and the Chiefs beat the Raiders.

Meanwhile, I got to know Ashley, the girlfriend of Lazlo, one of the employees at Buffalo Wild Wings. She was pulling hard for the Seahawks, who were struggling against the Rams in Seattle. Her family was at the game at CenturyLink Field, and to add insult to injury, it was a typical Seattle day: lots of rain. Ashley was impressed with my trivia knowledge, and she also helped me with a few answers in my friendly battles with Dawn and Robb.

The Cardinals surprised the hell out of me yesterday. I never dreamed they could have beaten Green Bay as badly as they did. With Tyran Matthieu out for the season after tearing knee ligaments last week in Philadelphia, I feared Aaron Rodgers might shred Arizona’s weakened secondary.

Rodgers hardly got to test the secondary. He was sacked eight times and under pressure almost all game. The Cardinals returned two fumbles for touchdowns and had no trouble whatsoever in a 38-8 rout. I’ve been watching the Cardinals for over 30 years, and I’ve never seen them look that impressive against a quality team. The only game which comes close was the 2008 divisional playoff game when they went to Charlotte and shredded the Panthers. If the Cardinals are in Charlotte Jan. 24, it will be for a trip to Santa Clara and Super Bowl 50.

As for the Pittsburgh fan, I’ll say he enjoyed the second half of his stay much more.

The Steelers fan went to the restroom shortly after his team lost. He asked me to guard his beer, which I did. Meanwhile, a fashionably dressed lady walked in and sat down two seats to my right. When the Steelers fan returned to the stool to my right, he and the lady began talking.

They kept talking. By 5:45, it had progressed to kissing and playing footsie.

Nice.

The making out part didn’t throw me–I saw a woman with a hand all over a guy’s privates at the Buffalo Wild Wings in south Overland Park in January–but what did was two married people who didn’t know one another a little under three hours earlier were going at it. And she did not take off her wedding ring.

I felt a bit like a social leper. I guess I’m person repellent. I guess I have something to discuss with Crista at our next session.

On the other hand, I was in my little zone playing trivia, and if it weren’t for Ashley and I striking up a conversation, and Dawn and Robb showing up, I probably would have been in my zone until I left the place at 7:30.

I hated leaving at 7:30. I felt like I abandoned Lindsey, who was behind the bar at 5 after taking over for Seekou, who was fabulous as usual.

I beat the bad weather back to the hotel and enjoyed my strip from Outback Steakhouse. I may be getting intimate with my room at the Courtyard Briarcliff today. The weather looks bad.

I’m glad the last Sunday of 2015 at Buffalo Wild Wings was 1,000,000,000,000% better than the first one (Jan. 4), when was asked to leave after melting down. That’s progress.