Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Bound to the Past: Instant Replay

Growing up in the early 80's, Green Bay Packer football was awful for the most part, and continued to be well into that decade.  At one point, as I was lamenting their mediocrity, my father let me know that they were once great.


"Yes, Rob.  As a matter of fact they won the first two Super Bowls."

I may have had a cerebral aneurysm at that point.  That information was staggering. 

That was an actionable statement from the old man. I began to check out books from the library and rent NFL Films videos from the local mom-and-pop on that very subject, The Lombardi-era Packers.  I was energized with the incredible footage of the machine that was Vince's teams.  The skill of their offensive execution, the power of their defensive dominance was regaled in pages of old library books,
and those old dusty VHS tapes that no one but me ever rented.  Watching the Ice Bowl was a staggering event to behold, and to think that it wasn't just the Green Bay Packers, my team, but it happened just a short jaunt to the North of where I was born and raised.

Names were frequently tossed about in my painstaking research (which was required to steel myself in the team's history, so I could put knowledge to use in the acquisition of these great men's bubble gum cards) like Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Willie Davis, Jim Taylor, Herb Adderley, Ray Nitschke, and Jerry Kramer.

Jerry Kramer.

Fast forward to the winter of 1985.  Waco, Texas.

I was a new kid in the area, having just moved there in October from Wisconsin.  I filled weekend hours with walks, often to the local Richland Mall.  In these days, the mall was different.  I could spend hours there.

First and foremost, a little known fact is that Texas in the summer is just 18 degrees cooler than Hell itself, and the mall was exquisitely air conditioned.

Secondly, Camelot Records was there.  This place was where I began to build onto a record and tape collection of Rock Music and comedy that was just in its infancy.

Third, Waldenbooks and B. Dalton.  A side effect of solo time is vast quantities of reading, and these two stores along with the library provided me with my fodder.  One Friday December evening, while waffling through the sports section at B. Dalton, I came across it.

"Instant Replay" by Jerry Kramer with Dick Schaap.

Kramer was the guard who opened holes for Taylor and Hornung, and one of the protectors of Bart Starr.  He was among the 5 masters of execution on that great Lombardi O-line that helped win 5 NFL Championships in 7 years and 2 Super Bowls.

"Instant Replay" was his diary of the 1967 Season and some 18 years later, it was a descent into a time period, a sports era, and the mind of a young man who was motivated to greatness by one of the greatest coaches in NFL history.  The observations of what was minutiae of every day life to an NFL player was fascinating to me, but the sharp contrasts in what life as a player in that 1967 league to the flash of 1985's version was even more compelling.  I must have read that book 3 times.  The humble nature of this man, while living a life swirling in glorious moments, always brought a smile to my face. The comraderie, the battles, and those small moments...  I learned more about Lombardi's team from that book than all those other sources combined.

This past weekend Jerry Kramer was finally voted, about 30 years late, into the NFL Hall of Fame.  It's true the Hall is filled with Lombardi's soldiers, and that cannot be argued.  In effect so many, that it's reasonable to believe that writers who vote for the players nominations may have been fearing over-saturation of players from that era of the Green Bay Packers.

I thought that was bullshit.  Study the film, guys.   Jerry was a monster.

I'm happy for Mr. Kramer.  He claims it didn't bother him much that he wasn't in, but you could see by the reaction upon his induction that he was overwhelmed with joy.

I met Mr. Kramer about 10 years ago at a signing, where I brought a vintage copy of "Instant Replay" that my mother got for me at a garage sale.  It was just after Replay's co-author had passed away, and I managed to pass along my condolences as well as tell him how much the book meant to me.  He thanked me on both counts, was gracious as hell, and I'll never forget his huge hand as he shook mine.

The book he signed is not the one I stumbled across at B. Dalton all those years ago.  Sadly, along the way, that dog-eared copy with its awkwardly designed cover art and all, vanished.  They both mean the world to me.

Congratulations, Jerry Kramer.  And again, thank you.

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