“In 1967, when Jerry Kramer was a thirty-one-year-old Green Bay Packers offensive lineman, in his tenth year with the team, he decided to keep a diary of the season. “Perhaps, by setting down my daily thoughts and observations,” he wrote, “I’ll be able to understand precisely what it is that draws me back to professional football.” Working with the renowned journalist Dick Schaap, Kramer recorded his day-to-day experiences as a player with perception, honesty, humor, and startling sensitivity.”
“Little did Kramer know that the 1967 season would be one of the most remarkable in the history of pro football, culminating with the legendary championship game against Dallas now known as the “Ice Bowl,” in which Kramer would play a central role. Nor could he have anticipated that his diary would evolve into a book titled Instant Replay, first published in 1968, that would become a multimillion-copy bestseller and be celebrated by reviewers everywhere, including the Washington Post’s Jonathan Yardley, who calls it “to this day, the best inside account of pro football, indeed the best book ever written about that sport and that league.”
Instant Replay: The Green Bay Diary of Jerry Kramer (Amazon) is a classic in the sports world. However, I would like to say that you don’t have to be a fan of the NFL or football in general to read and enjoy this book. Instant Replay transcends sports to just being an excellent book about a man on the edge of retirement, working for one of the hardest and best bosses the industry had ever seen.
Growing up in Green Bay, I was immersed in football. The duplex next to our house was owned by someone who rented to Packers players in the early and mid 1970’s, and they played with my older brothers in the back yard. My dad used to take me to see the Packers practice during training camp every summer. One of my brothers went to school with one of Jerry Kramer’s sons. When we went out to eat at Sammy’s Pizza, I kid you not, most of the times we went, the Hall of Famer Ray Nitschke was also dining there. You can’t live in Green Bay and not be surrounded by the green and gold. In the mid-1980’s, Kramer wrote a “sequel” to Instant Replay called Distant Replay (Amazon) and it was heavily advertised. I was about 10 or 11, and even though I hadn’t read it, I decided Jerry Kramer was my favorite Packer from the Lombardi years because he was a writer, too.
Instant Replay starts with training camp and follows the 1967 season, all the way to the famed Ice Bowl, then into the locker room of Super Bowl II. Kramer offers an insightful view of the team’s coach, Vince Lombardi. He was “cruel, kind, tough, gentle, miserable, wonderful man whom I often hate and often love and always respect.”
Training camp is something special in Green Bay. The team stays at nearby St. Norbert College in De Pere, in the college dorms. Kramer describes the dorms as way too cramped, the beds too small, and they had to take a bus to the field and back again. (It’s about a 4 mile ride). Lombardi meant business, with frequent fines for his players who did not toe the line. Players were fined for not being in bed at eleven (and that meant under the covers, not sitting on the edge of the bed), fines for breaking curfew, fines for being a minute late. Money went to charity like the St. Norbert building fund. Max Magee got caught sneaking out and was fined $125. He was told the next time he got caught it would be $250, and sure enough, it happened again. Next time was to be $500. Lombardi told Magee. “If you go again, it will be $1000 fine. Hell, if you find anything worth going out for at that price, I’ll go with you.”
One thing I thought was the most interesting was the section on race relations for the Green Bay Packers. “Vince didn’t care about the color of one’s skin.” One exhibition game in the south had separate accommodations, and Vince couldn’t do anything about it. But when they went to a restaurant for a meal and was told that the Negro players had to use the back door, Vince made sure the whole team used the back door. The next year for a game in the south, the team stayed at an air force base so the team would not be divided like that again.
Another section I found fascinating was the rundown of Kramer’s surgeries. He’d had multiple surgeries throughout the years and including that fabled season. He had surgery on his intestines and one for a tumor on his liver. Kramer wasn’t feeling any better, so the doctors operated one more time. They found four splinters, from 2 1/2 inches to four inches long and an 1/8 of a inch wide. They’d been inside him since he was 17 when he stepped on a plank of wood and the wood flew into his groin. He was operated on at the time, but obviously the doctor missed a few splinters. Those splinters are were on display at the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame when I worked there in 2018, the same year Kramer was finally selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
On of the most popular and well-used stories that Kramer talks about is in this book. Once, he was caught jumping offsides and the team received a penalty. Lombardi chewed him out. “Kramer, the concentration of a college student is thirty minutes, maybe less, of a high school student, fifteen minutes, maybe less. In junior high it’s about five minutes and in kindergarten it’s one minute. You can’t even remember anything for one minute. Where does that put you?”
Instant Replay is an easy, breezy read, with plenty of interesting stories told in a matter-of-fact manner. I enjoyed Instant Replay so much that I immediately went to my husband’s bookshelf and read Farewell to Football (Amazon) , which I had autographed when I met Kramer in 2012, and Lombardi: Winning is the Only Thing (Amazon). There are also excellent books showing an inside look at pro football at the beginning of the modern era.
This is my 11th Audiobook that I’ve listened to as part of my 2021 Audiobook Challenge.
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