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Kent Kramer, tight end on first New Orleans Saints team, dies at 79 

Kramer: 'New Orleans is a working man's town, and we were guys bringing our lunch pail, coming to work, and we never stopped fighting'

The New Orleans Saints remember tight end Kent Kramer who played with the inaugural Saints team in 1967 as a part of his eight-year NFL career.
The New Orleans Saints remember tight end Kent Kramer who played with the inaugural Saints team in 1967 as a part of his eight-year NFL career.

By Peter Finney Jr.
Special to the New Orleans Saints

Along with 80,879 other people inside Tulane Stadium on Sunday, Sept. 17, 1967, New Orleans Saints second-year tight end Kent Kramer, acquired seven months earlier along with quarterback Billy Kilmer from the San Francisco 49ers in the NFL expansion draft, couldn't hear himself think.

But, he did have eyes in the back of his head.

As John Gilliam took the opening kickoff against the Los Angeles Rams and raced up the hashmarks en route to his storybook 94-yard touchdown return on the first official play in Saints history, Kramer, who died Feb. 21 at his home in McKinnney, Texas at the age of 79, saw nothing but black-and-gold smoke.

Kramer's lunch-bucket job on the return team was to block the "L3" Ram – the player third to the right of Rams kicker Bruce Gossett. He didn't have much to do as the Gulf of Mexico parted.

"I was second row up," Kramer recalled in a 2017 "Saints Legends" golden anniversary video highlighting members of the inaugural 1967 team. "I had 'L3,' and I was supposed to peel him out to the outside. I started taking him out, and the next thing I knew, John was through the wedge, and all you saw was his feet running."

And, then, the explosion.

"You know, you couldn't hear," Kramer said. "The crowd was so loud. They were stamping on that metal flooring, and it was deafening."

Kramer, then 22, played only one season with the Saints, but it turned out to be the most productive of his eight-year NFL career. After tying for second as a 49er rookie in 1966 with three touchdowns receptions, the Saints selected him in the Feb. 9, 1967, expansion draft. Kramer came to the Saints along with Kilmer and defensive back Elbert Kimbrough.

In 10 games with the Saints, the 6-foot-4, 235-pound Kramer, a native of Temple City, Calif., who played his collegiate ball at the University of Minnesota, recorded a career-high 20 catches for 207 yards and two touchdowns.

Kramer's finest moment as a Saint came in the team's 27-24 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Nov. 26, 1967, at Tulane Stadium. With New Orleans trailing 21-3 in the second quarter, Kramer caught a 7-yard touchdown from quarterback Gary Cuozzo to cut the Saints' deficit to 21-10 at halftime.

The Saints trailed 24-20 in the fourth quarter when Kramer caught a second 7-yard slant from Kilmer with just over a minute left to complete a 27-24 comeback victory.

Kramer sparked the first victory in franchise history with a career-high five receptions for 51 yards in a 31-24 upset of the Philadelphia Eagles on Nov. 5, 1967.

"He was a good tight end and did a lot of good things," wide receiver Danny Abramowicz said of his 1967 teammate. "He was very bright and made no mistakes. He may have gotten overpowered a few times, but he never made stupid mistakes. He was a team guy with a gentle spirit, but he was like a Jake Kupp guy – gentle as can be until the whistle blew on Sunday. And, then, after the game was over, he was back to his normal life. He was a wonderful person."

Kramer's son Kyle, who signed with the Saints as a free agent tight end in 1995 but never played in a regular-season game, said his father was a respected team leader and player representative, which unwittingly may have contributed to his cup-of-coffee tenure in New Orleans.

"I don't remember the specifics, but there was a threat of a strike, and he was a player rep," Kyle Kramer said. "So, they kind of tagged him as a guy who was a little bit of a troublemaker because he was sticking up for the players."

The Saints traded Kramer to the Rams, where Howard Schnellenberger was the offensive ends coach under head coach George Allen, but Kramer blew out his knee and missed the entire 1968 season.

Kramer then was traded to the Vikings, where he played from 1969-70, and he appeared in Super Bowl IV at Tulane Stadium against the Kansas City Chiefs. Kramer finished his career in Philadelphia from 1971-74. Over eight NFL seasons, Kramer totaled 576 yards and eight touchdowns on 45 receptions over 97 games played, with 12 starts.

Kramer may have played only one year with the Saints, but he never forgot what the fans of New Orleans meant to him.

"I was excited about the opportunity," Kramer recalled in 2017. "I knew New Orleans was a great place. The food was phenomenal. The people were friendly. And, so I said, 'Let's go see what it's like.'"

The fervor of that inaugural season never vanished.

"The thing about us was we had a bunch of good athletes, and we had a lot of potential, and we never stopped working," Kramer said. "New Orleans is a working man's town, and we were guys bringing our lunch pail, coming to work, and we never stopped fighting. I think that's what cemented us. We were adopted by the fabric of New Orleans. You'd go out to dinner and someone would say, 'There's a Saints player,' and they'd come over and ask for an autograph, and you'd give them an autograph, and then they'd pick up the check. They just adopted us."

In those days, when salaries were not in the stratosphere, players were thankful for any lagniappe fans could supply and often held down jobs in the offseason. Kramer's son Kyle said the seeds of his father's post-NFL entrepreneurship were planted during those offseasons.

"In those days, teams would find guys jobs – you know, they didn't get paid the same type of money these kids get today," Kyle Kramer said. "At one time, I think he was working for the Buick dealership down there. He wasn't just a sales rep. He got into the operational and marketing side of it. And he made some pretty good contacts. He was always good at making contacts."

The New Orleans Saints remember tight end Kent Kramer who played with the inaugural Saints team in 1967 as a part of his eight-year NFL career.

Kramer served as general manager of the Minnesota Kicks and the Dallas Tornado in the professional soccer league started by Lamar Hunt. When that league folded in 1979, he began working for Hunt's World Championship Tennis (WCT).

In 1986, Kramer launched his own firm, Professional Sports Marketing, helping large corporations wine-and-dine clients and outstanding employees with travel to top-shelf sporting events such as the Masters, Triple Crown horse races and the Super Bowl.

Kent and Kyle actually attended Super Bowl XLIV in Fort Lauderdale in February 2010 when the Saints defeated the Indianapolis Colts 31-17. Everyone knew who Kramer was pulling for.

"He loved New Orleans," Kyle Kramer said. "He and I both agree that New Orleans is an amazing city, except for the fact that you can get into trouble 24 hours a day."

Kramer spent the last three years caring for his wife of 60 years, Kendra, who suffers from progressive dementia.

"For the last three years, it's gotten pretty serious," Kyle Kramer said. "This is what I would say aged my dad. But as far as we knew, he was still in relatively good health. I talked to him every day. I missed a phone call from him on Tuesday night (Feb. 20), and he passed on Wednesday morning in his sleep. So, it was still unexpected for us."

A year ago, Kramer fell and was hospitalized for three weeks, meaning his wife needed to be placed temporarily in assisted living. As soon as Kramer regained his own health, he brought her back to their home in McKinney, a Dallas suburb.

"He was able to get her out and was full-time watching her, taking care of her," Kramer said.

A funeral service is scheduled for Monday, Feb. 26 at 4 p.m. at Turrentine-Jackson-Morrow Funeral Home in Allen, Texas. The service will be livestreamed at

Kramer is survived by his wife, Kendra Kramer of McKinney, Texas; son, Kurt Kramer of Lucas, Texas; son, Kyle Kramer and wife, Kim of Kansas City, Mo.; daughter, Kelley Kramer-Perez and husband, Avino of Celina, Texas; five grandchildren, Haylee Kramer, Rylee Kramer, Kyra Kramer, Sierra Perez and Koen Kramer; sister, Karen Kramer of San Francisco; and numerous other loving family and cherished friends.

Kramer was preceded in death by his mother, Velma Kramer Moore, and Uncle Fred and Auntie Kay Kramer. He will be buried in Oahu, Hawaii.

Kramer's connection to Hawaii was his grandfather, a Portuguese sailor whose ship broke down in Hawaii. His grandfather spent three months repairing the boat and then decided not to sail back to Portugal.

"My dad's father and his three brothers were all born in Hawaii, and we still have family out there," Kyle Kramer said. "His Uncle Fred had the last piece of beachfront property at the entrance to Pearl Harbor until it was sold in 2011."

The Kramer obituary read: "Aloha and A hui hou!" (Goodbye and Until We Meet Again).

The New Orleans Saints remember tight end Kent Kramer who played with the inaugural Saints team in 1967 as a part of his eight-year NFL career.

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