If there is anyone who epitomizes the definition of what U of M football fans refer to as a “Michigan Man” it has to be Ron Kramer who passed away this past Saturday at age 75.
A nine time Letterman at Michigan for football, track, and basketball in the mid-1950s, he was a two time consensus All American end and as captain of the basketball team held the all time scoring record for four seasons. Kramer also graced the cover of Sport magazine with fellow end and best friend Tom Maetnz before embarking on a successful career with Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers.
In Green Bay, Kramer defined the position of tight end as he was part of the famous “Packer Sweep” that opened holes for Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor. Kramer’s two touchdowns in the ’61 championship game lead Green Bay to their first world championship. Kramer won another title with the Packers in 1962, but after the 1964 season he asked to be traded to his hometown of Detroit so he could be closer to his family. He retired from football after the 1967 season, and pursued his business career, while also gaining a reputation for his charity work.
In 1971 Kramer was inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame, in 1978 the College Football Hall of Fame, and his jersey number 87 was retired by the University of Michigan. In 1999 Sports Illustrated ranked the greatest athletes from the State of Michigan and Ron was ranked # 7 behind Joe Louis, Magic Johnson, Charlie Gehringer, Bennie Oosterbaan, Hal Newhouser, and Dave DeBusshere.
I had the pleasure to interview Ron on a few occasions and he was one of the most honest and colorful persons I ever met. He was upfront, blunt, sometimes profane, and often humorous. He really let you know how he felt. He was also very generous to me in sharing contact information for other former players such as former teammate Max McGee who he encouraged me to interview even though Max was suffering from Alzheimer’s. (McGee told me he had so many concussions that his nickname was “Paper Head.”)
Anyone who knew Ron Kramer would say that the man had THE biggest heart, and it went way beyond delivering apples to the U of M football team every Wednesday.
Ron was always concerned with the former NFL old-timers who built the game yet have been screwed with a ridiculous pension and often the denial of badly needed disability benefits. I last spoke to him in July when I helped promote the Gridiron Greats Dinner, a benefit for the down and out former players. He graciously agreed to go on the Mitch Albom Show with Mike Ditka to talk about the event. As he said, “look, I’ll do anything you want. No problem.”
Ron Kramer will be greatly missed.
Today there is visitation at Lynch and Sons Funeral Home from 1 to 6 PM.