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So rich is pro football in spectacular passing and thunderous running that its other rewards often are only dimly perceived. Jim Taylor hits the line for Green Bay; everybody sees and appreciates. The wise spectator sees more because he looks for more. He pays particular attention to a certain beat-up and belligerent lineman when he tenses, as in the illustration at the left, for the snap of the ball. And when he sees that man coming out mean and hard, leading a running play as in the picture at the right, he is prepared to savor the superb block that will surely follow.
The player is Jerry Kramer, Packer right guard and the best blocker on the finest blocking team in the game. Nearly as valuable is his teammate at left guard, Fred Thurston. Together they are the spectator's key to the Packer offense. "The guards," says Coach Vince Lombardi, a man who got to know the position himself as one of Fordham's famous Blocks of Granite, "are the focal point of the offense. Everything they do is critical. They open the holes for the quick openers, break the way for the sweeps and bodyguard the passer."
In photographs and drawings on the following pages Kramer and Thurston demonstrate the blocking techniques that are as vital to the Packers as the more showy wizardry of Hornung, Taylor and Starr but are too often missed by the spectator in his concentration on the men with the glamour. In the text that follows Kramer and Thurston take the reader on an inside tour of their special and ferocious world.
Kramer, a cheerful, blond giant and biggest man on the Green Bay line (6 feet 3, 255 pounds) has a youthful charm disconcerting in a man so large. Off the field, that is. On it he is lethal. "Nothing intimidates him," Lombardi has written. "He not only ignores the small hurts, but the large ones, too. And the evidence of his indifference is all over his body."
In the affectionately rough banter of the Packer locker room Kramer is Old Zipperhead; he has a six-inch scar on his neck as the result of an operation for a chipped vertebra. His right hand is permanently half-clenched as the consequence of a shotgun accident. His ankle has been broken and for a time was held together by a two-inch pin. He once played despite the misery of a detached retina.
Thurston, smaller but chunkier (6 feet 1, 245 pounds), is the gloom chaser of the Packer training table and one of the team's iron men. He has not missed a game in five years.
Every move Kramer and Thurston make begins from the three-point stance. With feet spread 20 inches apart, the toes of the right foot even with the left arch and weight forward on the knuckles, they are in perfect position to pull quickly on a sweep or trap play, to explode ahead on a quick opener or to stand their ground against a pass rush.
"Strangely enough," says Kramer, "the most difficult thing for a guard is to find a comfortable stance. After seven years in the pros my body should fall into position the first time a whistle blows in training camp. For some reason it doesn't. It takes six weeks to get the stance so that it feels right.
"And it has to be right. Shrewd defensive tackles—especially old ones with bad legs but plenty of savvy—are always looking for tip-offs. If I unconsciously reveal my intention of, say, pulling for a sweep, I can forget about it. I won't be going anywhere. The tackle will grab my jersey and anchor me. If necessary he'll tackle me. It's not legal, of course, but it's smart football and more often than not he can get away with it."
As Lombardi affirms, guards are notorious tippers of plays because of the nature of their jobs. Kramer, however, is not only an expert at concealing his intentions but is himself a keen "reader" of the opposition.