This Veteran Packer Has Battled Bears Before

One of the greatest Green Bay Packers of all time, former offensive lineman Jerry Kramer, has played in many Bears-Packers games. Host Scott Simon talks to Kramer about Sunday's NFC championship game and the historic rivalry between the two teams.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

We're joined now by one of the greatest Green Bay Packers of all time, who played in many Bears-Packers games. Jerry Kramer, an offensive lineman for 11 years under Vince Lombardi, a five-time All-Star, a man who threw that block in the Ice Bowl that enabled Bart Starr to score the winning touchdown in the 1967 championship on a frigid field.

Mr. Kramer also co-authored, with the late Dick Schaapp, the bestseller "Instant Replay." He joins us from Phoenix.

Mr. Kramer, thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. JERRY KRAMER (Former Offensive Lineman, NFL; Author of "Instant Replay"): Thank you, Scott. A pleasure being with you and thanks for having me on.

SIMON: Something special about Bear-Packer games?

Mr. KRAMER: Oh, boy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Yes, sir?

Mr. KRAMER: If you're a Bear fan or a Packer fan, or a Bear player or a Packer player, there is definitely something special about a Bear-Packer game.

SIMON: Well, help us understand that.

Mr. KRAMER: Well, I guess the first inclination I got was when I was rookie. So I'm downtown getting a newspaper and I walk out of the shop and there was a little white-haired grandmother walking in the store and she says, are you a football player? I said yes ma'am, I am. And she says, are you ready for those blankety-blank Bears?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KRAMER: In fact, my jaw dropped. I mean I went ahh, ahh, ahh, ahh, ahh. And I said, yes ma'am, I think we are. Yes ma'am. It's a big game, almost as big as a conference championship. Your heart gets pumping and you breathe a little faster and you don't sleep as well, and you get ready for those blankety-blank Bears.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: You know, I haven't been sleeping well this week either and I'm not even playing; Im just watching it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Do the two teams have a similar approach to the game of football historically?

Mr. KRAMER: You know, the Bears have always had a great middle linebacker and I think they have focused on defense much more so than the Packers. You look back at Bill George, at Butkus, at Singletary, at Urlacher today, theyve got, always have had a great middle linebacker.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. KRAMER: We have maybe had a great quarterback with Bart, and Brett and Aaron seem to be following in that tradition. So there seems to be and it's always a defensive struggle it seems like.

SIMON: Mr. Kramer, when you're playing days are all over, can you be friends with a Bear fan or even a former Bear player?

Mr. KRAMER: You know, Mike Ditka and I have become pretty good pals. We used to play in golf tournaments together. And one of my most enjoyable times was beating Ditka at Gin.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KRAMER: We...

SIMON: He's a very serious Gin player.

Mr. KRAMER: Oh, he would get up and hed stomp around the room, the bar and tear the cards in half and throw them against the wall and give me another deck of cards. And I got such a kick out of that. I just loved to get to him.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KRAMER: And he was, you know, we were still competing.

SIMON: Is - as Coach Lombardi said is winning not just the most important thing but the only thing?

Mr. KRAMER: Coach Lombardi's philosophy could better be described as making the total effort to win is everything: fairly, squarely, decently, by the rules. He had another thought that I love, Scott, thats part of one of his speeches. He said all the rings, all the color, all the money, all the display linger only in the memory for a short time and are soon gone. But the will to win, the will to excel, these are the things that endure. And these are the things that are far more important than any of the events that occasion them. So develop in you the will to win, the will to excel.

SIMON: Green Bay Packers great, Jerry Kramer. Thanks so much.

Mr. KRAMER: Thank you. Been a pleasure being with you.

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