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Kramer remembers gridiron life

Football great enjoys exciting year, strives to make living better for others

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Posted: Saturday, April 2, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 2:14 pm, Mon Apr 4, 2011.

It has been more than a month, but he still remembers the overwhelming celebration.

It was Feb. 6, 2011, when Jerry Kramer, 75, watched from comfort of the Green Bay Packers' executives suite at Cowboy Stadium in Dallas and realized the significance of his Packers defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers in the biggest game on the planet.

"It's very special when the Packers get to the Super Bowl for me, it brings back a lot of old memories and warm feelings and wonderful thoughts," he said.

It has been 43 years, but Kramer, still remembers the finite details of the final play of one particular overwhelming victory.

It was Dec. 31, 1967, when Kramer, then 31, sprang from his three-point stance on the frozen turf at Green Bay's Lambeau Field, and guided the way for what now is the most famous play in NFL history. Green Bay defeated the Dallas Cowboys 21-17 for the NFL Championship and won the berth to their second straight Super Bowl.

"We assumed we'd play a few years and be remembered for a couple years and drift off in the midst of time somewhere," Kramer said.

Well, Kramer and his Green Bay Packer teammates have not been forgotten.

Between winning the first two Super Bowls and watching this year's Packers claim the 45th Super Bowl title, the Vince Lombardi Packers are still widely considered the gold standard for NFL franchises. They won five NFL championships from 1961 to 67, including a record-three straight from 1965 to 67.

Kramer has helped keep his former coach and teammates fresh in the minds of readers through four books he co-authored with his friend and award-winning journalist, the late Dick Schaap.

"I grew up with Jerry," said Schaap's son, Jeremy, an award-winning reporter for ESPN and Jerry Kramer's godson. "Jerry and my father were best friends. Jerry is in a lot of ways my father's hero and he's certainly my hero. Jerry is a remarkable guy. Everyone knows what kind of an incredible athlete he was - one of the greatest at his position in the history of football - but he's always been so much more than a football player."

Reaching goals

Goals have always been in front of Kramer.

From an early age, his father, Charlie, planted one certain goal in the minds of his six children.

"He talked to me when I was growing up maybe being an engineer and go to college at an engineering school," Kramer said. "He said maybe you could even go to MIT."

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology was the "golden cathedral on the hill" to Charlie Kramer.

But to Jerry Kramer, the esteemed Boston institution was "unreachable."

Kramer did not want to be an engineer like his father, who owned a TV and radio shop in their hometown of Sandpoint.

Instead, Kramer wanted to be Crazy.

In his youth, Kramer remembers watching the 1953 movie "Crazylegs," starring Los Angeles Rams halfback/end Elroy "Crazylegs" Hirsch, and playing for the Rams became his goal.

"I put that in my high school year book, that I wanted to be a Los Angeles Ram," he said. "I liked their helmets, I guess, plus they were on the West Coast, probably the closest team to us."

Kramer did not end up being like Crazylegs and playing for the Rams. Instead, Kramer excelled without the ball. At first it was at Sandpoint High, then as the first all-American at the University of Idaho and eventually a five-time All-Pro offensive guard for the Lombardi's Packers.

"The fact that I got to be in Green Bay when coach Lombardi was there was just a sensational opportunity for me and all the other things kind of came from the association with Green Bay," he said "It's been such a wonderful ride, it's been a great experience and it keeps on keeping on."

Replay of health

When Kramer was playing in the NFL, the league introduced a disturbing study.

"I was only supposed to live until 54, according to the NFL stats," he said.

Kramer, now 75, remembered his teammates and opponents alike when he went through a new stem cell injection into an ailing hip a couple months ago.

"I told him, ‘Doc, I've got about 10,000 buddies and every one of them needs something, whether it's a shoulder or a hip or a knee or a back or something. so, I'd love to have this work so I could let them know about it.'"

Through two different conversations with two different friends, Kramer discovered there was a need for an organization that would do preventative medicine.

"It was an interesting time in medicine with the Internet and the rush of knowledge coming down the Internet," Kramer said. "We started looking at the system and seemed to be in need of an organization that would do preventative medicine."

Fast forward to life

After a life of football, injuries and successful business ventures, Kramer has a new project.

He doesn't know why people can't live longer.

His dilemma eventually took him to that "golden cathedral on the hill." And a man who used to intimidate on the gridiron was intimidated.

He spent 11 years in the NFL (1958-68) trying with all his might to knock anyone to the turf. But on this day in 2002, Kramer was standing in MIT's Glenn Laboratory for the Science of Aging, anxious to meet department director Dr. Leonard Guarente.

"I was a bit imitated," said Kramer, who stood 6-foot-3 and weighed 245 pounds during his playing days. "He said, "Jerry, Jerry, call me Lenny, as in Lenny Moore, I'm a huge Packer fan.'"

"I was just stunned to be there," Kramer said.

Kramer, whose best-selling 1968 book, "Instant Replay," gave readers their first glimpse into the world of professional athletes, is a father of six and grandfather to four. And he's ready to release another forward-thinking idea to the world.

"We call ourselves the 120 Plus Club, thinking that you can live to be 120 years and the plus is the vitality, the mentality, the relationships, you're family, your children, everything about life that makes it worthwhile," he said.

That is why Kramer, who lives in Boise, is busy traveling back and forth to Scottsdale, Ariz. In the next four to six weeks, he and his 15 business partners, the seven-person medical research staff hope to open the doors to the 120 Plus Club.

Instead of reactive medical treatment, Kramer's new venture applies proactive diagnosis and preventative, predictive and individualized medicine. They don't actually practice medicine.

"It's an exhaustive physical and look at your genetics and look at your whole package and we try to find illnesses before symptoms appear," Kramer said. "Oftentimes an illness will lay dormant in your body for years and then symptoms will appear and its too late. Pancreatic cancer is a really good example of that."

Returning to roots

After retiring from football in 1968, Kramer, his second wife, Edwina, and their three children, Alicia, Matt and Jordan lived on a cattle ranch near Parma.

"Life was as good as it could get out there," Kramer said. "I just had a wonderful time and life out on the ranch. it doesn't get any better."

After Jordan left to play football at Idaho in the mid-1990s, the couple sold the ranch and moved to Boise.

Kramer has continued to stay busy, working as a television commentator and helping start businesses from diving to films to the 120 Plus Club.

To many, Kramer is a football great, a best-selling author and speaker. But to Alicia Kramer, he's someone else.

"He's my dad," she said. "He's one of my best friends, he's my confidant, my big rock. He's all those things people think, but he's such a good dad and good person. He'd give you his shirt off his back and keep giving."

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