State Your Case: Ron Kramer
One of three tight ends named to the NFL's 50th anniversary team
(Published July 2016)
Ron Kramer was selected to the NFL’s Golden Anniversary team, identified by the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee as one of the 45 best players in the league’s first 50 seasons.
Forty-two of the players named to that team are now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Kramer and two of his former Green Bay teammates, guard Jerry Kramer and flanker Boyd Dowler, remain the only three stragglers. But Jerry Kramer has been a finalist for the Hall 10 times — 10 more times than the other Kramer has been discussed by the Hall-of-Fame selection committee.
Ron Kramer has been forgotten, as has been his skill set. Kramer played tight end during an era when the position called for a blocker first, a receiver second.
Back in the late 1950s and early 1960s, tight ends were considered extra tackles along the offensive blocking front. Few tight ends in the game’s history blocked better than Kramer, who became a key element in the fabled “Packer power sweep” of the Vince Lombardi coaching era.
Hall-of-Fame tackle Forrest Gregg would pick off the defensive tackle, Kramer would seal the strongside linebacker, Dowler would block down on the end and pulling guards Jerry Kramer and Fred Thurston would then mow down anyone left standing in the path of Hall-of-Fame running backs Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor.
That play powered the Packers to three consecutive NFL championship games from 1960-62 and two titles. In 1962, Taylor won the NFL rushing crown with 1,474 yards and 19 touchdowns in a 14-game season — the only season Hall-of-Famer Jim Brown did not win the rushing title in his nine-year career.
Kramer was selected as the first-team tight end on the 1962 NFL All-Pro team and also was named to his lone Pro Bowl. In 1969, when the Hall-of-Fame selection committee voted on the 50th anniversary team, Kramer was chosen as one of the three tight ends, along with Hall of Famers John Mackey and Mike Ditka.
Then the selection committee forgot about Kramer as his position evolved over the years from blocker to pass catcher.
Once a staple for the position, blocking has now become optional. The candidates on the horizon for Canton are now the elite pass catchers – a Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates and Jason Witten. Players at that position are now judged on what they contribute down the field, not at the line of scrimmage.
So an invisible wall has been erected to keep the best blockers at the tight-end position out of Canton, which has short-changed a Kramer, Fred Arbanas, Russ Francis and Mark Bavaro in the selection process.
That’s not to say Kramer had hands of stone. The Packers scored 14 passing touchdowns in 1962, and Kramer owned half of them. He averaged 15.6 yards per catch during his seven seasons with the Packers and was the leading receiver in the 1961 NFL title game with four catches for 80 yards and two touchdowns.
But Kramer wanted to play closer to his hometown of Detroit, so he asked the Packers to trade him to the Lions. When Lombardi would not honor his request, Kramer played out his option in 1964 and became one of football’s very first free agents. He signed with the Lions, who sent a first-round draft pick to the Packers as compensation.
Kramer played three more seasons on pedestrian Detroit teams — while the Packers were winning three more NFL titles — before retiring to go into private business. He established his own steel company, Ron Kramer Industries, before passing away in 2010 at the age of 75.
But this was one talented athlete. Kramer also lettered in basketball at the University of Michigan and led the Wolverines in scoring in two of his three seasons. He was a two-time All-America in football and the fourth overall pick of the 1957 NFL draft, ahead of Hall-of-Famers Jim Brown, Jim Parker and Len Dawson. Kramer was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1978, and his jersey number 87 has been retired by the Wolverines. The NFL honored him with a spot on the Golden Anniversary team.
There are only eight tight ends in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. There deserve to be more — and Ron Kramer is among those who should be near the top of the list for consideration.