NOVEMBER 12, 1956
In the mid-1950s, when they were star ends at Michigan, Ron Kramer and Tom Maentz would keep themselves going through practice by thinking about the barrels of apples that a booster—by the improbably wholesome name of Mr. Chestnut—provided for the team each Wednesday. Thirty years later, when Kramer learned that no one had kept up the tradition, he became the new Chestnut, making the 30-mile drive from Fenton, Mich., to Ann Arbor each week. "One day this lineman grabbed five apples," Kramer, 66, recalls of one of his initial deliveries. "He said to his buddy, 'Who is that old codger who brings all these apples?' "
That old codger is one of only seven Michigan football players to have his number retired. Kramer, a two-time All-America, and Maentz, team captain in 1956, were two of the finest pass-catching ends in the country. They also played defense and even punted the ball. It seems they've done everything together since coming to Ann Arbor from different sides of the state. Maentz was the quiet kid from western Michigan, the son of a banker; Kramer was the unpolished Detroiter. But, says Kramer, they found a "common denominator" in football, and for four years lived in the same dorms and at the Sigma Chi fraternity house.
Both were married in 1957 and fathered boys born a day apart the following July. Both were drafted by the NFL, Kramer fourth overall by the Green Bay Packers, Maentz 18 slots later by the Chicago Cardinals. "He was the finest athlete of our time as far as I'm concerned," Maentz, 67, says of Kramer, a track star who was also drafted by the Detroit Pistons after setting the Michigan scoring record with 1,119 points in three seasons.
Kramer chose the bucks and bruises of NFL life, but Maentz sent his $1,000 signing bonus back to the Cardinals and dived into business. After working in sales, Maentz started an auto parts company, TSM Corporation, in '78. Kramer had two All-Pro seasons and two NFL championship wins in his 10 years as a tight end in the NFL, while nurturing an off-season career as an executive in the steel industry. In 1981 he shifted gears and started Ron Kramer Industries, an advertising specialty business.
Forty-five years after their cover appearance in maize and blue, Kramer and Maentz remain close to Michigan—and to each other. "More than just good friends," Kramer says of a relationship bolstered by golf, trips to Maentz's winter home in Jupiter, Fla., and passionate talk about Wolverines sports. Says Maentz, "Ron has a heart of gold."
Clearly, Maentz and Kramer are still the apple of each other's eye.