If you were to compile a list of the most memorable plays in NFL history, these four would make it: Alan Ameche's sudden-death touchdown run that gave the 1958 Colts the championship over the Giants in what is still called "The Greatest Game Ever Played"; Franco Harris' "Immaculate Reception"; Dwight Clark's catch sending the 49ers to Super Bowl XVI, and Bart Starr following Jerry Kramer's block into the end zone on fourth and one with 13 seconds left to beat Dallas in the 1967 NFL championship.
Ahh, The Block.
Kramer still hears about it. He was in San Francisco a couple of years ago, about to cross a street, when a driver rolled down his window and called out at him, "Jerry Kramer?"
"Right," Kramer acknowledged.
Kramer kept a diary of that 1967 season that he called "Instant Replay." He is back now with the same co-author, Dick Schaap, and a similar title, "Distant Replay," a warm reminiscence about a reunion of the 1966 Packers, the team that won Super Bowl I. It is a book about love, and how hard it is to express, and about creeping anonymity, and how hard it is to face.
Kramer writes of a recent conversation he had with his beloved teammate, Fuzzy Thurston: "We started talking about depressing things, about growing old and being forgotten, and Fuzzy said something I'll always remember. 'You know, Jerry, nobody wants to be Fuzzy anymore.' It captured in six words the sadness of being an ex-athlete, the loss, the void. When we were young, when we were champions, everyone envied us. Everyone wanted to know us. Everyone wanted to be us. It wasn't just the kids in the schoolyard shouting, 'I'm Paul Hornung!' 'I'm Fuzzy Thurston!' It was the schoolteachers, too, and the lawyers and the stockbrokers. Professional football was a soaring sport, and we were its soaring stars. We were everybody's heroes, and we knew it would never end."
What a team that was. Six Hall of Famers: Starr, Jim Taylor, Ray Nitschke, Willie Davis, Forrest Gregg, Herb Adderley. Seven, counting the revered coach, Vince Lombardi. And Hornung, Thurston, Kramer, Max McGee,, Willie Wood, etc., etc. "Perfection isn't attainable," Lombardi told them, "but if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence."
How much the game has changed. Kramer, a flat-faced, ham-fisted man, was a 225-pound guard when he reported to the Packers in 1958. Hornung ran a five-flat 40. "We weren't big, and we weren't fast," Kramer said. "I look at today's players and I'm awed and confused. They're so pumped up, so awesome. Where's the valve? They've got to have a valve somewhere, where you put the air in."
How many of the great old Packers would definitely make the NFL today? Just on physical talent, not heart, not brains. How many wouldn't be spit out by the computer as too weak, too small, too slow?
Kramer thought about it, and after a while he smiled.
"Herb Adderley would make it," Kramer said convincingly, and he didn't push the list any longer than one.
But it's apples and oranges, isn't it?
Those Packers were right for their time, and perhaps no single play better exemplified what they were about as a team than the one that brought Starr and Kramer into history.
We've seen The Block so many times now that we can almost feel the raw and bitter 16-below temperature they played in. We can close our eyes and remember how condensation turned the players' breath to fog that rose like papal smoke into the mean air. And we can chuckle recalling the captions the next day, the witty lift from the popular advertising slogan: Starr Uses Right Guard, Leaves Cowboys Defenseless.
Since two timeouts preceded the play, each team had ample time to prepare for the game's climactic snap. Today's fan would doubtless assume that the specific play was called on the sideline and given to Starr by the forceful Lombardi. In fact, during the first timeout, Lombardi suggested that the ball be handed to fullback Chuck Mercein for the "44-dive," but he left the final decision to Starr, who called his own plays.
The way Kramer tells it, "we were ready to huddle when the second timeout was called. Bart went over to talk with Coach, but he came back rather quickly because Coach was out of plays. Bart came back empty. No new suggestion. Zero. We huddle and Bart says, 'Has anybody got anything? Anybody?' "
(Fourth and goal from the one. Dynastic Green Bay left with one last play, trailing, 17-14. The NFL's most celebrated team coached by its most celebrated man, and the quarterback bops into the huddle taking requests. Now, how cool is that?)
"Normally, in that situation, everybody's got a suggestion. I might want a trap; Fuzzy might want to go off-tackle; the ends might want a quick slant, or a post. Everybody's got an idea. But in this particular situation, 10 guys looked down and checked their shoeshines. Not a sound. Not one sound.
"And Bart asked again, 'Anybody? Anybody got anything?'
"Finally, Gale Gillingham, playing on the left side next to Fuzzy, he says, 'Run it between Jerry and Forrest. They'll get it for us.'
"Gilly volunteered me. I couldn't back out of it then. Not hardly."
Starr said he'd run the play, "61-wedge," and because the field was frozen, a slippery sheet of ice, he'd keep the ball himself rather than risk handing it off to either Mercein or Donny Anderson.
Kramer laid The Block on Jethro Pugh, Starr nudged into the end zone, Green Bay had its third straight NFL championship, and fame was a bottomless cup.
"Winning is not a sometime thing here," Lombardi often admonished his team. "It's an all-the-time thing; you don't win once in a while. You don't do things right once in a while; you do them right all the time. There's no room for second place here. There's a second-place bowl game, and it's a hinky-dinky football game, held in a hinky-dinky town, played by hinky-dinky football players. That's all second place is: hinky-dinky."