So rich is pro football in spectacular passing and thunderous running that its other rewards often are only dimly perceived. Jim Taylor hits the line for Green Bay; everybody sees and appreciates. The wise spectator sees more because he looks for more. He pays particular attention to a certain beat-up and belligerent lineman when he tenses, as in the illustration at the left, for the snap of the ball. And when he sees that man coming out mean and hard, leading a running play as in the picture at the right, he is prepared to savor the superb block that will surely follow.
The player is Jerry Kramer, Packer right guard and the best blocker on the finest blocking team in the game. Nearly as valuable is his teammate at left guard, Fred Thurston. Together they are the spectator's key to the Packer offense. "The guards," says Coach Vince Lombardi, a man who got to know the position himself as one of Fordham's famous Blocks of Granite, "are the focal point of the offense. Everything they do is critical. They open the holes for the quick openers, break the way for the sweeps and bodyguard the passer."
In photographs and drawings on the following pages Kramer and Thurston demonstrate the blocking techniques that are as vital to the Packers as the more showy wizardry of Hornung, Taylor and Starr but are too often missed by the spectator in his concentration on the men with the glamour. In the text that follows Kramer and Thurston take the reader on an inside tour of their special and ferocious world.
Kramer, a cheerful, blond giant and biggest man on the Green Bay line (6 feet 3, 255 pounds) has a youthful charm disconcerting in a man so large. Off the field, that is. On it he is lethal. "Nothing intimidates him," Lombardi has written. "He not only ignores the small hurts, but the large ones, too. And the evidence of his indifference is all over his body."
September 6, 1964
In the affectionately rough banter of the Packer locker room Kramer is Old Zipperhead; he has a six-inch scar on his neck as the result of an operation for a chipped vertebra. His right hand is permanently half-clenched as the consequence of a shotgun accident. His ankle has been broken and for a time was held together by a two-inch pin. He once played despite the misery of a detached retina.
Thurston, smaller but chunkier (6 feet 1, 245 pounds), is the gloom chaser of the Packer training table and one of the team's iron men. He has not missed a game in five years.
Every move Kramer and Thurston make begins from the three-point stance. With feet spread 20 inches apart, the toes of the right foot even with the left arch and weight forward on the knuckles, they are in perfect position to pull quickly on a sweep or trap play, to explode ahead on a quick opener or to stand their ground against a pass rush.
"Strangely enough," says Kramer, "the most difficult thing for a guard is to find a comfortable stance. After seven years in the pros my body should fall into position the first time a whistle blows in training camp. For some reason it doesn't. It takes six weeks to get the stance so that it feels right.
"And it has to be right. Shrewd defensive tackles—especially old ones with bad legs but plenty of savvy—are always looking for tip-offs. If I unconsciously reveal my intention of, say, pulling for a sweep, I can forget about it. I won't be going anywhere. The tackle will grab my jersey and anchor me. If necessary he'll tackle me. It's not legal, of course, but it's smart football and more often than not he can get away with it."
As Lombardi affirms, guards are notorious tippers of plays because of the nature of their jobs. Kramer, however, is not only an expert at concealing his intentions but is himself a keen "reader" of the opposition.
"There are two kinds of rushers," he says. "The impatient type is going to bust in head on the instant the play begins. The cautious type pauses for a second to try to diagnose the play before committing himself.
"I have learned that the second type—the reader—varies the position of his feet, depending on whether he is going to move inside or outside.
"If there is a linebacker in the gap [the space between defensive linemen] then it's the hands I watch. If he has his weight on his knuckles then he'll probably shoot the gap. That is a sign for me to get out in a hurry, perhaps even anticipate the snap by a split second if my assignment is to pull."
There are times when the rusher comes in so fast and follows Kramer so closely that there is no simple way of keeping him out of the play. "When it is a trap play," he says, "there is nothing to be done. I let the rusher go and hope the quarterback will be quick enough to get away or have time to hand off to an alternate ball carrier. If it is a sweep, I might call out to Forrest Gregg, the tackle beside me, 'You go,' and let him lead the interference while I take the charger."
Unlike Kramer, Fuzzy Thurston does not try to read the defensive charge. "I play percentages," he says, "and let Jerry do the reading. For instance, on pass rushes, players have a tendency to go either inside or out most of the time. I know from experience which to expect and concentrate on."
"At pass blocking," says Kramer, "Fuzzy hasn't a peer." An opponent complains, "I just can't shake that man. He's like a kid brother—always in the way."
Thurston places pass rushers in two categories: bulls and dancers. He says, "The bulls you pop [uncoil from the three-point stance upward into the defender's chest or chin, head up and forearms working]. They usually head straight in on the passer so you move them to the outside by keeping low with your feet spread wide and with your back to the passer.
"With the dancers you can't commit yourself too soon. What you do is fake and dance with them until they have to make their move. Then you hit."
"Some of the bulls," says Kramer, "are just too big to handle with a normal pass block. Big John Baker [Pittsburgh's 270-pound defensive end] likes to run over pass blockers. The pass block is too passive to handle him, so I drive-block to get momentum and even things up." Kramer and Thurston agree that the Rams' Merlin Olsen, the Giants' John LoVetere, the Bears' Stan Jones and the Lions' Roger Brown are the National Football League's best and toughest bulls.
Artie Donovan of Baltimore was a dancing master. "I never touched him the first time I played against him," Kramer says. "I felt like Ned getting his first look at the Third Reader. He'd give me a shake right, a shake left and be past. Then Ray Krouse came in and gave me the same stuff, so I leg-whipped him. Krouse spent the rest of the afternoon coming at me all arms and elbows. That was fine by me. I didn't have to worry about him getting to the passer." Both Kramer and Thurston regard Detroit's Alex Karras, the huge defensive tackle returning this year after a season's suspension, as the best pass rusher in football. He is a maddening dancer with the strength of a bull.
If Kramer seldom deceives Karras into mistakes he frequently does so with less canny defenders. "The first time I tried to fool somebody in this league," he says, "I was in my second year. Late in a game with Washington I conned Bob Toneff, their left tackle. I kicked the mud out of my cleats and dug in as if to bust right through him. He figured the play for a run, so he submarined. I fell on top of him laughing like mad. 'Hey Toneff,' I yelled, 'I was only fooling. It's a pass, a pass.' By that time, of course, it was too late for him to do anything about it.
"Once in a game with Dallas I was pretty badly fooled myself. My man was a real humpty-dumpty, but in the third quarter he made an unexpected move and conned me. I couldn't let him get by. Fuzzy would never have let me forget it. I grabbed him, held him by the jersey and kept him away from the passer. That was one of the few times I've held, and I got away with it. The guy turned to me and said, 'What did you do that for? Only time I beat you all day and you had to go and hold me.' "
Needless to say, Kramer and Thurston are magnificent trappers and pullers. On the majority of Packer running plays either or both guards pull or trap—and Green Bay is the runningest team in pro football.
Kramer has been notably less successful with a scheme that he has been trying to pop past Lombardi. "Every year," he says, "I ask Vince Lombardi to switch me to defensive tackle. He never answers me."