Aaron Rodgers and the Packers head into Detroit today hoping that history does not repeat itself. The last time the Green Bay Packers were 10-0 heading into Thanksgiving, they lost to the Detroit Lions 26-14 in 1962. That was the only loss of the season, and the Packers went on to win their second consecutive NFL title that season.
I bet if you polled most fans, they think Jerry Kramer is in the Hall of Fame. However, neither he, nor the dominant defensive tackle for the Lions, Alex Karras, has been selected for induction. Year after year, the veteran’s committee makes selections that bypass these two individuals.
We’ll take Kramer first. He started for 9 seasons, and missed almost all of another one in the middle of his career, being selected for 3 pro bowls and 5 first team all pros. With Dick Stanfel being selected as one of the Senior Nominees this year and likely to be enshrined, Kramer will be the only guard who played since 1950 who is eligible for the Hall with 5 all pro selections, but not in. (Larry Allen and Alan Faneca will soon be eligible, and Steve Hutchinson is still active).
The legitimate arguments, I suppose, against Kramer would be career longevity (his 9 starting seasons is on the low end) and the number of great teammates he played with, who may obscure whether he was winning awards on reputation and teammate quality. His 130 games played is on the low end for Hall of Fame guards, as only Billy Shaw played in fewer games, and Russ Grimm in about the same amount.
As for teammate quality, yes, the Packers were the dominant team of that era, and had many Hall of Fame players. 1961, though, a year in which Kramer missed half the season with a broken ankle and thus was not selected to an all pro team, actually speaks to his value.
I went through the 7 games he played, versus the 7 he did not. Here were the splits, running and passing, for Green Bay in those games.
First 7 games with Kramer (6-1): 95 for 157 (60.5%) for 1421 yards (9.05 yards per attempt); 239 rushes for 1315 yards (5.5 yards per carry), 16 rush td’s
Last 7 games without Kramer (5-2): 82 for 149 (55.0%) for 1081 yards (7.26 yards per attempt); 235 rushes for 1035 yards (4.4 yards per carry), 11 rush td’s
Yes, the Packers went on to win the NFL Championship that season, without Kramer. With him in the lineup, though, in a season where we have a split of games, his Packers averaged over a full yard more per run and almost two yards more per pass when Kramer played. That was a season in which he did not win an all pro selection because of injury. With five other full seasons as an all pro, you can see why he was selected the best lineman of the first half century of the NFL.
Of course, the real reason he is not in is likely politics and personal gripes. Kramer wrote a book, Instant Replay, with Dick Schaap after the 1967 Super Bowl season, where he kept a running diary of the season and let people inside the locker room. He was the Ball Four of the football world, and some writers and league members may still be holding a grudge. Between the lines, he merits the Hall of Fame, and year after year, he is bypassed.
Alex Karras, the Detroit Lions star lineman who later went on to an acting career, is also likely not in because of what happened off the field, rather than on it. His case for inclusion going forward, though, is more tenuous. In 1963, both Karras and Green Bay running back Paul Hornung were suspended for a season for gambling activities, detailed in this Tex Maule piece in Sports Illustrated in the Spring of 1963.
Karras and Hornung were tied together in that suspension. Hornung, though, eventually was selected for the Hall of Fame, so morality is inconsistent in this case. Karras was a first team all pro in four seasons and a second team all pro in four others. He was a dominant force in what was a very good Lions defense during the 1960’s. This is reflected in the “Approximate Value” figures at pro-football-reference. The Approximate Value is determined by the overall quality of a defense in points per drive, then dividing that value among the starters, with players receiving awards and honors receiving higher shares. Karras’ approximate value for his career places him 64th all-time, easily within the Hall of Fame standards.
In fact, you could argue pretty easily that Karras was more dominant at his position than Hornung was at his. Karras will likely never get in, and if the Hall wants to take a strict stand on the gambling issue, that is their right. They didn’t do that with Hornung, though.
Kramer, on the other hand, didn’t violate any moral or legal obligations, and was one of the best guards in the history of the NFL. His sin appears to be that some writers on the committee have an axe to grind, rather than to serve dispassionately and fairly.
[photo via Getty]