Later to become a beloved sports broadcaster, Dick Schaap virtually created the sports autobiography when he collaborated with Jerry Kramer on Instant Replay, one of the best books ever written about football. “The words may not be exactly theirs,” Schaap said of the players he worked with, “but the thoughts and the voice are.”
“Instant Replay: The Green Bay Diary of Jerry Kramer” – 1968
Edited by Dick Schaap
“Gentlemen,” Coach Lombardi said this morning, “today we start the big push.” I think I’ve heard that line before.
Vince had a few nice works for everybody. He said we did a truly remarkable job. But he seemed to be a little confused about our tendency to let down when we have an easy game and to play extremely hard when we have a difficult game. “Well, I guess it’s all right,” he said. “As long as you keep winning the big ones, that’s what we want. But, I don’t know, it isn’t really all right, because if you’re going to let down, you’re going to look like hell sometimes. Hell, I don’t know what to say.” That was a very rare admission for him.
Fuzzy Thurston was one of my guests when I taped my TV show tonight, and I asked him how it felt to be a substitute after so many years as a regular. “Not being a starting guard is kind of hard,” Fuzzy said, “but after ten years, I think I can adjust to it. And if anything happens to you or Gilly, I’ll be ready.”
“You were certainly ready for the Bears when I got hurt,” I said. “You played a fine football game.”
“Yeah,” said Fuzzy. “I was ready. I was the guy who kicked you in the head.”
Vince came up next to me during practice today, slapped me on the back and said, “How you feeling?”
“Great, Coach, great,” I said. What the hell can you say?
“What’s good,” he said, with that big grin of his. “Makes you want to play this game a few more years, doesn’t it?”
“Sure does,” I said. I’m full of clever remarks.
I’ve been talking about quitting and retiring for God knows how long, and it was such an effort to get ready to play this year, but the way Lombardi acts, you get all confused. He screams at you, hollers at you, makes life unbearable until you’re about ready to quit, and then he starts being real nice to you and makes your life enjoyable for a while.
I’ve been wondering about his retiring, too. The talk has sort of quieted down, but just the other day, waiting for the plane to Detroit, I turned to his wife, Marie, and said, “Coach is never going to retire, is he?”
“The heck he’s not,” she said. Obviously, she’s had some household talks with him about it, and her feelings in the matter are pretty clear.
We started serious preparations for the Minnesota Vikings today, and I’ve been warned about a big rookie named Alan Page. He played for Notre Dame last year, and he’s about 6′ 5″, maybe 270 pounds, and he looks real tough in the movies. I guess I’ve got my hands full again. I thought after the Lions I’d have a medium week, but that’s out. I’ve got another miserable week.
The alligator shoes Chandler and I had ordered came in from the manufacturer today, about $1,200 worth, and when we handed them out to the guys and tried to collect the money, some of them started complaining, “These don’t fit. Send them back.” I got disgusted. I told them all to stick it in their ear. They can send them back themselves if they want to. That’s what happens when you try to do something for somebody.
After the workout, I stopped in at Blaine Williams’ office. We’re a little concerned about the portraits. They’re not moving as well as they should. Kraft told us that we should be set up to fill 20,000 orders a day, and we’ve been receiving only fifty to a hundred. Blaine went to Chicago the other day to talk to the Kraft people, to see if we could get another shot of advertising on the Kraft Music Hall. He told me today that we’d get a couple of more shots, that the Kraft people said we were premature in our thinking and our worrying. So I’m going to quit worrying about it.
Coach said this morning that our timing is coming along, that our halfbacks are starting to hit the holes a little better. He said the whole program is beginning to escalate, that we’re moving toward our peak. We sure haven’t reached our peak yet, but I guess things are moving slowly in that direction. “If things start going right, I’ll really be a genius,” Lombardi said. “Everybody’ll say we took it easy the first four games, we didn’t’ rush anything, we didn’t hurt ourselves, and I really must be a genius. . .”
The meeting room was very quiet, until Willie Davis boomed out, “OR…” He didn’t say anything else, but we all got a giggle out of the implication: “Or if things don’t pick up, you’ll be a dummy.” That’s the way the football world works, I guess.
We’re having trouble again getting up for the game, but we really shouldn’t. Minnesota always gives us a rough time. In fact, they were the last team to beat us; they won, 20-17, in the middle of last season. Since then, we’ve gone seventeen games without a defeat—two playoff games, six exhibitions, and nine regular-season games. For some strange reason, the Vikings always seem to think they’re capable of beating us. They have no trouble at all getting up for us. But it’s hard for us to get too worried about them. So far this season they haven’t won a game.
It was raining hard this morning, too hard for us to go out to practice at the usual time. So, instead of having one meeting before practice and another afterward, we had our two meetings right in a row, at the beginning. “Don’t’ worry,” Lombardi said. “We’ll be able to work out after the meetings.” I don’t think any of us were really too worried about not being able to practice.
We all began kidding about how Lombardi controls the weather, at least in this part of the world, and by the time we finished our meetings, the rain had let up and the field was halfway usable. Vince looked up at this sky, like he was looking at one of his assistants, and said, “See, I told you it would clear up.” I think he’s starting to believe he controls the weather.
Max McGee didn’t get to play against Detroit last Sunday—one of the first games he’d sat out completely in a long time—and he was feeling pretty low, pretty dejected. So today Lombardi was cussing Bob Long, riding his tail, kind of making up to Max by being rough on Flakey. “C’mon, Long, c’mon,” Vince screamed. “Let’s see you block. Let’s see you hit somebody.” About three plays after Lombardi chewed him out, Flakey went out to block Bob Jeter on a sweep. Jete started to step around him, and Flakey moved in front of him and pushed him. Jete pushed him back, and Long threw a forearm, and then Jete threw a forearm and cut Flakey’s mouth, two or three stitches’ worth. Flakey promptly began swinging. Somebody broke it up, but things were kind of hairy for a while. We hadn’t had anything like that on the practice field in a few years, and afterward Flakey was going around with a fat lip, and Jete felt bad about the whole thing, because it wasn’t his idea in the first place.
Our workouts, obviously, can get violent. There’s never any tackling, not even on Wednesdays and Thursdays, when we wear pads, but there’s a lot of contact in the line, a lot of forearms flying and elbows swinging. Generally, when we’re working on running plays we concentrate mostly on getting position, coming off the ball fast and moving to the right spot, and we just shield the defensive man; we don’t cut him down or really clobber him. But in blitz drills, with the linebackers charging through to get to the quarterback, the contact is fiercer and more dangerous. It’s not at all uncommon to have someone bleeding during a blitz drill.
The violence of the sessions varies, often, with Lombardi’s mood. If he’s angry, if he’s been chewing the offense, telling us that we’re big cows, we’re going to take it out on the defense. The reverse is true, too. If he’s been hollering at the defense, calling them lazy and stupid, they’re going to hit us a lot harder. The tone of Vince’s voice in the prepractice meeting lets us know how badly we’re going to get beat up.
Most of the scrimmages are controlled, or semicontrolled—we don’t want to injure teammates—but a couple of guys don’t know what control means. Nitschke, as I’ve mentioned, can be a wild man any day. Bob Brown is just as exuberant. With Brown, it’s a little more understandable; he’s a reserve, and the best chance he has to prove himself is in practice. When he gets too excited, when he’s hitting us with too much enthusiasm, we’ll say, “OK, Bob, you win the game watch. You get the game watch today.” Our sarcasm works. He lets us up for a while, then slips back into his violent habits.
Don Chandler and I held out regular Friday kicking contest today. I haven’t been needed as a place-kicker since 1963, but just in case Donny should get hurt, Vince likes me to keep practicing. I kick three days a week—Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday—and I enjoy it. I especially enjoy it Wednesdays and Thursdays, because if I weren’t kicking, I’d have to be running plays for the defense. On Fridays, Chandler and I compete, and the loser has to buy the winner a chili lunch. We started kicking from the 20-yard like today and worked back to the 50, kicking three times from each five-yard stripe. He made sixteen out of twenty-one, and I made seventeen and beat him, which doesn’t happen too often. He wins four times out of five, but every time he does, I needle him about the 1962 championship game, when I kicked three field goals for the Packers and he kicked none for the Giants, and we won the game, 16-7.
As I was walking off the field today, grinning after beating Chandler, Lombardi yelled to me, “I can see you when you’re forty-five. You’ll still be out here kicking. You’ll be trying to make the team as a kicker.”
Not me. I don’t want to be a football player much longer.