While Commander Cody was pounding away on the electric piano in the banquet hall the other night, Jerry Kramer sat at a table at the other end of the hall, quietly going about his work.
Some of you know exactly who that is. For the rest of you, Jerry Kramer was the right guard on the Green Bay Packers’ championship teams of the 1960s. He also is the co-author of “Instant Replay,” one of the first tell-it-like-it-is sports books of the time.
I got my copy of “Instant Replay” in 1968 or 1969. It was hugely influential for a kid who loved the Packers and wanted to write. Years later, I enjoyed “Distant Replay,” the where-are-they-now follow-up also written by Kramer and the late Dick Schaap.
So, yeah, Jerry Kramer was sitting over there, taking care of business, signing Packers memorabilia to be sold. Sitting there in Green Bay, a long block from Lambeau Field, yet all but unnoticed by the 200 or so people there to see Commander Cody.
When the show was over, Kramer was still there, wrapping up the night’s work. He was with a couple of other guys, perhaps his partners in this bit of memorabilia business. A couple of people walked over to say hello. I’d never met Jerry Kramer, so I did, too.
We shook hands. I thanked him for writing his books. “Instant Replay” was a big deal when it came out, and he told me about the culture shock of being an NFL player running with the literary giants of the late ’60s. I assured him that he mattered more — at least to a kid from Sheboygan, Wisconsin — than Gore Vidal or Norman Mailer.
That was it. That was plenty. That it was completely unexpected, completely informal, made it that much better.
I’ve been thinking about famous people, and how we relate to them, since a friend posted a remarkable set of photos on his Facebook page. My friend has had a long career with the FM rock station in our hometown. There he is with Richie Sambora, Rick Allen, Donnie Van Zant, Rick Nielsen, Sarah McLachlan, Kevin Cronin, the Thompson Twins … you get the idea.
Both of us have long been in the media, enjoying the occasional access that comes with it. Meeting people, famous or not, is what we do.
I won’t say the thrill is gone, but the list of famous people I’d like to meet — is that a bucket list? — is pretty short. That’s for next time.
Until then, enjoy a chance meeting with …
“The Lineman,” Sam Spence, from “The Power and the Glory: The Original Music and Voices of NFL Films,” 1998. Don’t know when this was recorded, but from the sound of it, I’d say late ’60s.
Listen to the horns. They foreshadow someone on my short list.