Willie Davis & Jerry Kramer couldn’t have grown up any different. Davis’ life came from segregated Texarkana, Arkansas. Kramer grew up in small town Montana with no African-Americans in his hometown.
Yet they became fast friends, best of friends, and the Packers and Pro Football Hall of Famers even became the second group of interracial roommates in NFL history.
“A principled human being. A beautiful guy. A consistent guy, the same guy at 70 that he was at 42, 35 or whatever. A very special human being,” Kramer told WTMJ’s Erik Bilstad shortly after the news came of Davis’ passing at 85 years old.
“I had a room at the Davis home in Santa Monica, Calif. for about 20 years called the Kramer Suite. When I’d go to California, I’d stay with Mr. Davis. I’d do whatever I had to do, go to dinner, tell stories, BS…just enjoyed being around him and his company.”
Both Davis, a defensive end, and Kramer, an offensive guard, grew up in working-class conditions – but Davis faced racism Kramer never had to, or even was aware of in his own personal experience.
“I didn’t know African-American people very well when I came to Green Bay. I had never been in a town where African-American people lived. The town I grew up in was a little town in Montana in the prairie, about 200-300 people, and then in a town in northern Idaho of 2,000 people. I really didn’t know how to get along with an African-American. Never really talked much to them. Never had a friend,” he said.
“Willie and I played together a year or so before we had a chance to talk. We were out in Los Angeles playing the Rams at the end of the season. The All-Pro team was about to be announced at the end of the year. I had never spoke to Willie. He had never spoke to me, but we appreciated each other. He was a ballplayer, a positive impact on the team…he was our team captain. Just didn’t know him.”
Then, a simple locker-room conversation ensued about both being All-Pro in 1961.
“That was the beginning of a mutual admiration society. We both spoke the same language. A hard-working guy, fundamentally sound, educated, polite, congenial, just a hell of a pal.”
A pal on the fishing hole. A pal on the ski slopes, or at the pub. But not on the golf course, as “‘ ‘the Doctor’ didn’t play much golf.”
Yes, Willie Davis – one of the NFL’s great defensive ends – was nicknamed Dr. Feelgood.
“We would get together before practice on the field. We’d straggle down to the field and run three laps and then we’d stop and have 10-15 minutes to catch our breath, visit, BS a little bit,” Kramer reminisced.
“There’s a circle of us standing there one day, 10-12 guys. Willie game walking up like a rooster. He was throwing his feet out behind him, like he was scratching the ground. He was walking, prancing, just doing the rooster walk. He said ‘All the girls call me the Doctor.’ He did a little walk for us. Somebody asked, ‘Why do they call you the doctor?’ (He said) ‘Because I make them feel so good.’ At that moment, Willie Davis became ‘Dr. Feelgood.’ “
Behind the congenial personality of the Packers’ defensive captain was an incredibly sharp mind, someone who destroyed the stereotypes of African-Americans in so many different facets of life.
“If you grew up ignorant about the African-American people, Willie was a wonderful example. He made you realize they’re as smart as you were, as thoughtful as you were, sometimes smarter than you were, and they were very capable. It changed my whole appreciation,” Kramer said of the All-Pro who achieved a Masters degree from the University of Chicago, then owned multiple businesses from beer distributorship to broadcasting.
“He understood where he wanted to go, and he understood what the price was…and (was) disciplined enough to make it happen.”
Kramer said that Davis became part of the Hall of Fame guard’s true inner circle in life, a spot that lasted for six decades.
“He was one of my five friends of my life, people I would call my best friends, guys I loved and wanted to be with, hang out with and did associate with,” said Kramer.
“He was one of my guys.”