Yes It Is, It’s True: Erik Kramer was Rodney Dangerfield of QBs

Erik KramerIt was with great Rodney Dangerfieldsadness that I learned this morning former Detroit Lions quarterback Erik Kramer tried to commit suicide. But I shouldn’t have been surprised.

Kramer was the Rodney Dangerfield of NFL quarterbacks and he got a really raw deal from the Detroit Lions. He always had to prove himself because he just didn’t get any respect for what he did.

Furthermore, Kramer suffered through horrible personal problems, particularly with his son, Griffen, who was born with flesh eating bacteria threatening his life and finally succumbing to a heroin overdose in 2011. Not surprisingly, Kramer and his wife divorced.

But let’s go back to that 1991 season when the Detroit Lions went 12-4 and earned a berth in the NFC championship game, a feat not accomplished since 1958, when the great QB Bobby Layne told the Lions brass this team would lose for 50 years (it’s now 57 and counting). It’s the second longest sports curse, behind only the Chicago Cubs’ Curse of the Billy Goat circa 1945.

The Lions, since they let Layne go, have won only one post-season playoff game, and that game in January 1992 featured Barry Sanders at halfback and Erik Kramer at quarterback.

The Lions at midseason were 5-2 and playing the Dallas Cowboys when injury-prone QB Rodney Peete went down. Out trotted his backup, Kramer, in a 10-10 tie. I’d never heard of this guy and was told he had only played for Atlanta in the NFL replacement games in 1987.

Detroit won that game over Dallas, 34-10, on a couple of Kramer TD passes and the collapse of the Cowboys’ mistake-prone offense. The Lions then lost the next two and were 6-4 and I was steeling myself for another late-season meltdown.

Troubling stories2But Kramer somehow engineered six consecutive victories, including a couple in frigid Buffalo and Chicago at a time the Lions still had serious trouble winning on the road. And then he put on one of the most magnificent performances I’ve ever seen by a quarterback in that playoff game, a 38-6 rout of Dallas.

Kramer picked apart the Cowboys’ pass defense all afternoon. He was so impressive that Dallas defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt never forgot it.

After leading the formerly woeful Lions to within one game of the Super Bowl, Kramer was removed as starting QB the following year and coach Wayne Fontes set up a battle for the job between Peete and Heisman Trophy winner Andre Ware.

The team floundered and finished 5-11 with Kramer finally getting a chance to start in early December during a monsoon in SanFrancisco. He was not impressive.

The 1993 season started out as more of the same and the team was 7-5 when Peete was hurt again and Ware was struggling, so Fontes turned to Kramer at a time when Sanders went down with an injury.

Kramer came up with three victories in four games without Sanders as a weapon, and Detroit finished 10-6 to go back into the playoffs. The Lions lost 28-24 on a long TD pass from Brett Favre to Sterling Sharpe.

What made it even worse was that in the fourth quarter Kramer drove the team down to first and goal with a 17-14 lead and it looked like the Lions would go up by 10 points with time running out. But Kramer threw a pick in the end zone and George Teague ran it back 103 yards.

Kramer responded with a late TD pass, but then Favre did his last-minute heroics. It was the last time he wore the Honolulu Blue and Silver.

The following year Fontes and Lions went after Scott Mitchell, offering him $11 million for three years, so Wannstedt got Kramer to QB the Chicago Bears for $8.1 million for three years. I always thought Kramer was better than Mitchell, especially for $3 million less in salary.

Kramer suffered a neck injury in the 1994 season and backup Steve Walsh led the team to the playoffs. When Kramer returned in 1995, he had to fight for the starting job, won it and proceeded to break the Bears’ all-time season touchdown passing record set by Sid Luckman almost 50 years previous.

But then the Bears picked up Notre Dame QB Rick Mirer and the owner insisted that if they paid him so much, he’d better be played often. Kramer still outplayed Mirer, who nonetheless got many more chances.

Kramer played his last two seasons in San Diego and suffered another neck injury. This time he was told by physicians he would lose his life if he kept playing and got hurt there one more time.

Most disagree with me when I maintain Erik Kramer was the best QB the Lions had since Layne and until the arrival of Matthew Stafford. He led the team to the playoffs twice in three years. Just about the only person who has agreed with me is Tom Burrill, head football coach at Caledonia.

I still insist Erik Kramer was the Rodney Dangerfield of NFL quarterbacks. He didn’t get even a little respect.

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