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
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
--Tim Alan Smith
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID H. SCHREIBER Teammates and roommates in Ann Arbor, Maentz (left) and Kramer haven't dropped the ball on their friendship.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN G. ZIMMERMAN (COVER)[See caption above]