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A daughter’s quest, a father’s crowning moment — Alicia, Jerry Kramer revel in Hall of Fame enshrinement

August 5, 2018

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, left, and David Baker, president of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, applaud after Jerry Kramer received his gold jacket from his presenter and daughter, Alicia Kramer, on Friday night in Canton, Ohio.

GREEN BAY — Alicia Kramer was in awe. Born four years after her father’s remarkable football career had ended, she didn’t quite understand just how beloved he was.

While somewhat aware of his NFL success, she didn’t know him as Jerry Kramer, the Green Bay Packers legend. Or Jerry Kramer, the right guard who’d thrown the crucial block on Bart Starr’s iconic Ice Bowl-winning quarterback sneak. Or Jerry Kramer, the Renaissance man who’d written books and given fans an inside look at the Packers’ Vince Lombardi-era championship teams.

To her, he was just ... Dad. Until their first visit together to Lambeau Field.

“I was about 12 years old when Dad first took me back to Green Bay for a game,” Alicia recalled in advance of her father’s long-awaited induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame Saturday night in Canton, Ohio. “We were walking through the parking lot with all the fans, and I saw how they were gravitating toward Dad and his teammates from that era.

“The Packers fans are really loyal, and they want you to succeed. It really struck me how much they loved him.”

Alicia, 45, is one of Kramer’s six children, and the oldest in his second family. She did the honors on Friday night when her father donned his gold Hall of Fame jacket for the first time. At Saturday night’s ceremony, she presented him for official induction via a video presentation.

“Seeing all those Hall of Famers slap Dad on the back and the tears welling up in his eyes as he’s walking through the gauntlet, I can’t trade that feeling for anything in the world,” she said Friday night. “It’s just an amazing time for Dad. I’m just so proud of him and how far he’s come throughout his whole life that I can’t even put it into words. It was a very emotional moment, but I (said), ‘We’re here. It’s really real. We’ve done it. Dad, you’re in the Hall of Fame.’”

And if not for his daughter’s unrelenting campaign to make that happen, he might not be.

‘The most deserving player not in Canton’

A five-time All-Pro, Kramer had been the only member of the NFL’s 50th anniversary team not in the Hall of Fame. He’d been widely regarded not only as the greatest Packer not in the Hall but also as the greatest NFL player who hadn’t been given the honor. He was also on the NFL’s 1960s All-Decade team, playing on five championship teams (including two Super Bowl champions) in his 11 NFL seasons before retiring in 1968.

And yet, he was on the outside looking in for decades.

It was longtime NFL columnist Rick Gosselin who presented Kramer’s case to the 48 selectors at their Super Bowl week meeting in February and believed “the credibility of the committee” was at stake if they didn’t rectify “the biggest oversight in the Hall” and induct Kramer, whom he called “the most deserving player not in Canton.”

Gosselin’s voting brethren agreed, and when Hall of Fame president/CEO David Baker knocked on his hotel room door after the vote, Kramer – after being a 10-time finalist, including in 1997 as a seniors committee nominee – finally received his Hall pass in Minnesota after long ago writing off his candidacy as a dream permanently deferred.

It was longtime NFL columnist Rick Gosselin who presented Kramer’s case to the 48 selectors at their Super Bowl week meeting in February and believed “the credibility of the committee” was at stake if they didn’t rectify “the biggest oversight in the Hall” and induct Kramer, whom he called “the most deserving player not in Canton.”

Gosselin’s voting brethren agreed, and when Hall of Fame president/CEO David Baker knocked on his hotel room door after the vote, Kramer — after being a 10-time finalist, including in 1997 as a seniors committee nominee — finally received his Hall pass in Minnesota after long ago writing off his candidacy as a dream permanently deferred.

“I was pretty emotional about it 30 years ago when my guys went in. I got my lip out and (said), ‘Boy, if they call me I’m going to tell them where to put it. I ain’t going,’” Kramer admitted. “(But) in our game, that’s the highest you can go. That’s the top of the heap, that’s the No. 1 honor in professional football. To have a great career, and not have that, is incomplete. It kind of closes the gap for me and makes it complete. It’s a wonderful feeling and wonderful experience. It’s a thrill.”

It’s impossible to know whether Kramer would have been inducted Saturday night without Alicia’s quest, which began almost by happenstance in 2009, when flooding in the garage of the family’s home in Boise, Idaho, led to water damage of some of the memorabilia her father had accumulated over the years. She started sharing the pieces she’d rescued on social media with family and friends, and soon, it spread to Packers fans — who re-ignited the question of why her father was the odd man out of the Hall among all the Lombardi-era greats.

As it snowballed, Alicia learned more and more about her father’s career through video clips collected by NFL Films and the Packers Hall of Fame, newspaper clippings from his playing days and photos by team photographer Vernon Biever.

“And then football fans, they would reach out (and say), ‘I know about your dad and respect your dad’s career, and he should be in the Hall of Fame,’” Alicia said. “That was really flattering, and the only way I would have ever known it was because of social media. Otherwise, I’m out in the potato fields of Idaho and I have no idea what’s going on in Green Bay or what people are thinking.

“I just kept sharing, and the more that I shared, the more that I realized what people were saying about Dad were true. It just made me take a moment to look at his career, and the more that I learned about him, the more I felt he belonged there. And I wasn’t sure why he wasn’t there.”

‘I’m going to give this my best shot’

In 2011, she decided to go all-in, and start pushing for her dad to get another look. She started a Twitter account, @JerryKramer4HOF, to share information about her father, present testimonials she’d collected from his peers (roughly 60, including from Alex Karras, Merlin Olsen and Sam Huff), educate fans on the selection process; and disseminate mailing addresses, email addresses and websites where supporters could write to the Hall or to the selection committee members and express their hopes for her dad. (Since Jerry was voted in, the Twitter account has been deactivated.)

While she was enthusiastic, her father had some reservations.

“We had quite a discussion about it at the beginning,” Kramer recalled. “I said, ‘I don’t think we should do this.’ And she said, ‘Well, I’m going to do it!’ And I learned not to argue with her mother after about 40 years of pain and anguish and disappointment. So I said, ‘OK.’”

Said Alicia: “Dad’s always been supportive of me — in sports, in life — and so once he saw that I was trying to do it in a way that was not negative, trying to be very positive, I think he was comfortable with that. But he’s not a braggart, he’s very down-to-earth, a would-give-you-the-shirt-off-his-back kind of guy, so he doesn’t really like all the fuss and attention. But in some way, I think he was glad I was doing it. He enjoyed hearing from his old teammates, he enjoyed seeing these letters come in. It just meant a lot to him. And I think he feels differently today. But then, he was scared — that I was going to make a mistake or not follow through with it.

“I was worried about disappointing Dad, because I had taken this on and pushed for it so hard and with so many people. I was worried I would embarrass him. And I thought to myself, ‘I’m going to give this my best shot. I’m going to produce all this information for fans and voters to see and read.’ I really didn’t care about what anybody said, and I thought if I shared enough information — true facts and statistics — it would prove itself. And that’s what happened. Dad’s career spoke for itself, and I just kind of helped it along.

“(But) every kid wants to please your parents — well, maybe not every kid, but I do. I wanted to make him proud of me and not embarrass him.”

The response was overwhelming. Alicia was disappointed when other deserving candidates got the seniors committee’s nominations, but when the committee nominated Kramer again last summer, she could feel the momentum. The people had spoken — and the Hall had listened.

“(Hall of Fame executive director) Joe Horrigan got on the phone with Mr. Baker when they announced I was a finalist,” Kramer recounted. “And Joe says, ‘Jerry, I want you to know that this will reduce my incoming mail by 90 percent. Those people in Green Bay have questioned my manhood, my heritage, my intelligence. Everything. This is going to reduce my mail dramatically.’”

The voters still had to make the call, and they made it following Gosselin’s presentation in Minneapolis. Since then, it’s been a whirlwind for father and daughter, one that culminated in Saturday night’s ceremony.

“I can’t believe we’re here today,” Alicia said. “Most people will say, ‘I never wavered in my belief. I never waffled.’ That’s not true in my story. I did waffle when Dad’s name didn’t get called. I did waver. But I kept coming back to it. And as long as you dedicate your time and your energy and put all your heart and all your power into it, something will come to it. Just maybe not when you expect it. This happened much later than what I ever expected, but I also think this probably happened at a better time for our whole family and Dad than if it had happened years ago.”

A closer relationship

Her father agrees wholeheartedly. Having made peace with the idea of never getting the call — “I said to myself, ’The game’s given you 100 presents. It’s just been a sensational life. And you’re going to get upset because it didn’t give you one more? That’s kind of silly,” Kramer said — he gained something far greater than a gold jacket: A closer relationship with his daughter, whom he calls “a sensational leader for my parade.”

Asked how that made her feel, Alicia began to cry.

“I grew up with Dad traveling a lot. That’s how he made his living — traveling and motivational speaking. And so I didn’t spend as much time with Dad. He was a great father, but he was a provider,” she said. “I didn’t understand the man who played football. I didn’t understand how he got there. I didn’t understand how he got in that position and became so successful. I had watched Dad for so many years and I wanted to be like him in some way.

“Dad and I have had a great relationship throughout our life. He’s been one of my best friends. I’m fortunate to say that. But we’ve had our times where we butted heads, and we have not been on good terms at times. But I tell you, at this later part in Dad’s life, and where I am now in my life — I’ve matured, I’m a mom now — I feel like I understand my dad better than I ever understood him my whole life.

“If you care for your parents as they age — especially Dad, he’s been such a Superman all my life — you see the person they are, and I am much closer to my dad. And I am so thankful for that part of it. Just so thankful. And our family is closer in a way because of that, too.

“Dad is the glue that holds us together. And I’m awfully proud of him.”

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