4 August 2018, Canton, Ohio, USA
We’ve got to go back to Sand Point High for just a minute. Wonderful town, wonderful times. Small town – 3,000 people, big lake. We had a great football team. This clumsy ox, a sophomore, showed up for practice one fall. I had grown about a foot and I couldn’t walk and chew gum at the time. I was just a mess. I wanted to be a fullback. I didn’t want to be a lineman. I wanted to be a fullback. My coach says, ‘Well, Jerry, that’s wonderful. If you want to be a fullback, you’ll sit on the bench. But if you want to be a tackle, you’ll probably start.’
Oh, boy, I don’t want to sit on the bench. I think I’d rather start.’ So, I started but I wasn’t all that excited about playing in the line. We had a line coach, an older fellow named Dusty Klein, that came up one day and knew who I was and knew that I was struggling. He grabbed my hand and looked at my hand and said, ‘Son, you’ve got big hands, you’ve got big feet. One of these days, you’re going to grow into them. He said, you’re going to be a hell of a player one of these days.’ I looked at him and I was curious and a little amazed, a little amused, a little bit of everything and looked me in the eye and said, ‘You can if you will.’ He started to walk away and I said, ‘Can what?’ He said, ‘You can if you will.’ And he walked away and left me to think about that.
The feeling of team is a wonderful thing. It’s the thing that I think most of us play for is because there’s a team and we want to be part of the team. I got drafted in the fourth round by the Green Bay Packers. My classmate, Wayne Walker, who played with Detroit for 15 years, was waiting for me when I came out of class. He said, ‘You got drafted!’
I said, “‘Great, what round was I?’”
“’Who drafted me?’”
“‘Green Bay? Where the hell is Green Bay?’”
“We honestly got a map. ‘Oh, it’s way back there by Chicago. Oh, it’s by a big lake. Oh, that is a big lake.'
We were having a wonderful time playing football in Green Bay. We were professional football players and we were making a few bucks and life was good. Our record wasn’t so hot. We were 1-10-1 (in 1958) and had the worst record in the history of the Green Bay Packer organization. We played the Baltimore Colts one Sunday afternoon. They beat us 56-0. They had a white colt that ran around the field every time they scored. We damn near killed him.
We went onto Green Bay. I went to the Shrine Game and had a big contract negotiation. I’m sure these young guys would be excited by the numbers and the whole process. We’re playing in the Shrine Game and the general manager for the Packers calls me over and says, ‘We’d like to talk contract with you.’ We didn’t have agents, we didn’t have any information that was printed, we didn’t have any idea what the guys were making. I go to my college coach, I said, ‘What kind of money should I ask for?’ He said, ‘Jerry, if you can get $7,000, you’ll be doing really good.’ So, I went to San Francisco and went in to negotiate with the guys and my general manager said, ‘Jerry, we’d like to sign you to a contract. What are you thinking about?’ I said, ‘$8,000.’ (He said) ‘OK, sign here.’ So, I left a few bucks on the table. But then I recovered quickly. I said, ‘I want a signing bonus, too.’ He said, ‘What about $250.’ (I said) ‘That’d be great. That’d be super.’ I get to Green Bay and we get our first game check after the preseason and there’s a $250 deduction from my check. I go to the general manager and he says, ‘Jerry, that was an advance. That wasn’t a bonus.’ So, I didn’t get a bonus.
Coach Lombardi arrived and the world turned around. First of all, he came in and said, ‘I’ve never been a loser and I’m not about to start now. If you’re not willing to make the sacrifice, to pay the price, to do the things that you have to do to win, then get the hell out!’ We kind of looked at him and said, ‘Can’t be that bad.’ He said, ‘We’re going to work harder than you’ve ever worked in your life. There’s only three things in your life: your God, your family and the Green Bay Packers.’”
He worked us harder than we had ever worked in our lives. We had guys losing consciousness every practice. Every exercise session, two, three guys would lose consciousness. One kid showered after practice, got on the bus, went back to the dormitory, got to the line in the chow hall and passed out. We were not real receptive to his philosophical comments but he would talk to us every night about principles that he believed in. He started with preparation – how you must be physically, mentally, emotionally prepared for the game. He would go on and on and on and we’d go, ‘Well, everybody’s got to be prepared. We’ll give you that. We’ll give you preparation. But that’s it!’ Then he would talk about commitment – mind, body, heart, soul and most of all self. ‘Well, maybe. You’ve got to be committed if you’re going to do something. If you’re really going to be involved, you might as well be committed. So, I’ll give him commitment, too.’ And discipline. ‘You don’t do things right once in a while, you do them right all the time.’ So, we got into discipline, consistency, pride, tenacity, belief in your team and believe in yourself. It was an incredible experience to be with him.
He could be both very, very harsh and very, very gentle. We’re working awfully hard and I’m having a bad day. We’re all having a bad day on offense. We’re on the 1-yard line and we’re scrimmaging the defense and we’re about 30 to 40 minutes into practice and we’re getting stopped and we’re really having a difficult day. I missed a block and I come in for some attention. A little bit later, I jumped offside. The coach comes running across the field and he gets about 10 inches from my nose and he goes, ‘Mister, the concentration period for a college student’s about 5 minutes, high school’s about 3 minutes, kindergarten is 30 seconds! And you don’t have that? Where’s that put you?’ (Kramer hangs his head.) It put me checking my shoe shine. “Practice ended shortly after that and I go up to the locker room. He’s out with Bart (Starr) and the wide receivers for about 40 minutes longer and I’m sitting in front of my locker, took my hat and my shoulder pads off, looking at the carpet and wondering what I’m going to do with the rest of my life. I’m thinking about maybe another football team, maybe another job, maybe something else. I’m deep in thought and totally wrapped up in it and he comes in the door, sees me down at the far end of the locker room, comes down, pats me on the back of the neck, messes up my hair, slaps me on the shoulder. ‘Son, one of these days you’re going to be the best guard in football.’ A surge of energy entered my breath and filled me up. It was his approval and belief in me that he was passing on to me and it made a dramatic difference in my life. Approval and belief, Mom, Dad, approval and belief. Powerful, powerful tools. From that point on, I wanted to play a perfect football game. If he believed in me, I could believe in me. So, I tried to play a perfect game and we had a wonderful group of guys.
Just an incredible group of guys but we also had a wonderful team that believed in team, that played as a team and lived as a team and enjoyed one another as a team. My best example of that is the 1965 season. I had nine operations. I came back the next season and weighed 189 pounds at one point during the offseason. When I got done, I got up to 218 and I went into the coach’s office to talk contract with him. He said, ‘Jerry, go home. Just go home. I’ll pay your salary, take care of all of your hospital bills, take care of everything. Just go home.’
“‘Coach, I can’t go home. If I go home, I’ll never play again. I’ll miss the whole season, I’ll probably never play again.’”
“‘Well, I can’t count on you.’”
“‘I don’t care if you can count on me. I’m going to play.’”
“‘Jerry, I wish you’d just go home.’”
“‘No, I’m not going home.’”
“We did this for 45 minutes. Finally, he says, ‘OK, I’m going to put you with the defense.’ I said, ‘Great, I always wanted to play defense, anyway.’” So, I was (a little) cocky because I was getting on the field and I certainly wasn’t prepared for it. Months later, I’d take the field and I’m about 220. We had a tradition when we’d run three laps around the field. I ran a lap-and-a-half and my lungs seized up. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t get any air, I couldn’t do anything at all. Don Chandler, my teammate and kicker, came over to me and said, ‘What’s wrong, pal?’ I said, ‘I can’t breathe.’ He says, ‘How much did you run?’ I said, ‘a lap-and-a half,’ He said, ‘I’ll run the other lap-and-a-half.’
“He said, ‘You and I are going to sit together during calisthenics. You’re going to do whatever you can do. If you can only do five sit-ups and they do 50, I’ll do 45. I’m a kicker and I don’t have to do anything if I don’t want to and I don’t normally. If they do 50 push-ups and you can only do three, I’ll do 47. Between you and I, we’ll do what one of those guys does.’ So, Don Chandler set beside me for 35 days and he helped me every step of the way. At the end of 35 days, I could do the calisthenics. I weighed about 235 at that point and I could do all the exercises, so they put me back on offense and we won a title in ’65, we won one in ’66, we won one in ’67, my book was published in ’68, so a great part of my life followed that probably would never have been without Don Chandler.
I’ve got a couple thoughts from other voices that I’d love to share with you about accomplishments and approval and those kinds of things. There’s a poem called, ‘Invictus’ (by William Ernest Henley). If you’re go be an achiever, you’re going to be a doer, you’re going to make something out of yourself, there’s certain principles and certain qualities you need. At this point, it kind of reflects the thought process of an achiever. It goes something like:
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
There was a fellow by the name of William Jennings Bryan who was a warrior and a really brilliant man. He said, ‘Success in life is not so much a matter of chance as it is a matter of choice.’ We choose to do the right thing and we choose not to do the right thing. So a great deal in life is a matter of choice. Coach Lombardi, to sum it all up, after the game is over, the stadium lights are out, the parking lot’s empty, you’re back in the quiet of your room, championship ring is on the dresser, the only thing left at this time is for you to lead a life of quality and excellence and make this world a little bit better place because you were in it. You can if you will. You can if you will. Thank you.