Two-time consensus All-American (1955-56). Three-time All-Big Ten first team (1954-56). Nine-time letterman in football, basketball, and track, with three in each sport. Led both the Michigan football and Michigan basketball teams in scoring across two seasons from 1954-56. Team punting leader in '54, reception leader from 1954-56, and receiving yards leader in '54 and '56. First Michigan receiver to catch three touchdowns in a game (1955). Two-time NFL Champion (1961-62). Three-time NFL All-Pro team (1960-62). Offensive end. Defensive end. Quarterback. Running back. Receiver. Kicker. Punter. Michigan Sports Legend.
Ron Kramer never finished higher than sixth in Heisman Trophy voting during his three years at Michigan (8th in '55 and 6th in '56), but he probably should have. Instead of performing at an elite level at one position, Kramer excelled at almost every spot on the gridiron. He's remembered today as a tight end, but Kramer performed more than the typical blocking and receiving duties while in Ann Arbor. At some point in his Michigan career, Kramer played the role of quarterback, running back, receiver, offensive end, defensive end, returner, kicker, and punter. He did it all, and the aforementioned accolades illustrate that he did it all well.
Beyond being a three-sport stud at Michigan, Kramer helped define some of the early Green Bay Packers teams during the dominant Vince Lombardi-era of the 1960s. Using his 6'3", 230-plus lb. frame, "The Big Oaf," as he was affectionately called by his Packers teammates, played a major part in the success of the "Lombardi Sweep." According to Packers Hall of Fame halfback Paul Hornung - the centerpiece of the sweep - "[Kramer] was the reason the Lombardi sweep was successful. He was the main blocker." But in the humble and philosophical opinion of Kramer, "Everyone was important in the sweep. It's really all of life. We all have to do things together to make this thing we call America great."
In Green Bay, Kramer recorded four straight years of over 500 yards receiving from 1961-64 and 15 touchdowns from 1961-63. His two touchdown catches helped the Packers win the '61 NFL Championship. After the '64 season, Kramer returned to Michigan to finish out his professional career as a Detroit Lion. Although his numbers diminished significantly in Detroit, he managed to end his career with 229 receptions for 3,272 yards, and 16 touchdowns across 128 games in 10 seasons. He averaged at least 10 yards per catch in each season of his NFL career.
But what really makes the case for Kramer getting a spot on Michigan's Mount Rushmore is what he did off the field as well as what others say about him. In 1987, Kramer started a tradition of delivering fruit to the Michigan football team "because he remembered somebody doing that for him when he played at Michigan." After Kramer passed away in 2010, Lloyd Carr pointed out that "he called me after every loss, and that meant a lot because it's a lonely feeling to lose when you're the coach at Michigan." But in Kramer's eyes, he didn't think anything of his support and generosity towards the program. In his own words: "People always say that I am giving back, but I don't consider this giving back. What do I have to give back? My beautiful body isn't so beautiful anymore."
Ron Kramer doesn't hold scores of Michigan sports records. He didn't win the Heisman Trophy. He didn't even play for a team that won the Big Ten. But none of that matters when looking back at Kramer. Bennie Oosterbaan - another Michigan legend and Kramer's head coach - is attributed with the following quote, which describes Kramer best:
"To top off his marvelous physical gifts of size and speed and strength, plus an uncanny coordination, Kramer was one of the fiercest competitors I've ever seen. Nothing was impossible for him - the impossible was only a challenge."
In a fitting gesture, Kramer spread Oosterbaan's ashes around Ann Arbor following the late coach's death in 1990. I suggest reading at least the beginning of that article, as it paints a vivid picture of Kramer's heart. The man may be surpassed by others in terms of raw stats, but it's hard to argue against one simple fact: He did it all.
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