In this Friday edition of 100 Days, 100 Detroit Lions, we honor the first of five quarterbacks in our countdown. To date, this Lions’ QB is the only one to lead the franchise to a playoff win in the Super Bowl era.
85. Erik Kramer
Quarterback. 1991-93 Detroit; 1987 Atlanta Falcons; 1994-98 Chicago Bears; 1999 San Diego Chargers
In many ways, Erik Kramer’s climb to NFL stardom is like the Lions’ version of Kurt Warner. He was undrafted coming out of college in 1987 after a stellar career at North Carolina State, where he broke eight school passing records and was named ACC Player of the Year as a senior. He was signed, and released, by the New Orleans Saints in the 1987 preseason. Then he signed with the Atlanta Falcons as a replacement player on September 24 of that year, starting in all three replacement games for the Falcons during the 1987 players strike. Erik was released by the Falcons in September of 1988. He then migrated north to the Canadian Football League’s Calgary Stampeders, playing in five games for them in ‘88. Then in 1989, he missed the entire CFL season due to a knee injury, and was released by Calgary on July 4th of that same year.
Kramer then arrived in Detroit, signing with the team as a free-agent in March of 1990. He was almost passed over by the Lions, if not for a chance last-minute workout set up by then-Lions’ offensive coordinator Mouse Davis at the University of Michigan’s practice facility. Unfortunately, the injury menace would hit Kramer again during the 1990 preseason. He suffered a shoulder injury in an exhibition game versus the Kansas City Chiefs that year, forcing him to miss the entire regular season.
The stars would finally line up for the resilient Kramer in 1991. He entered the year as the third-string QB, behind the incumbent Rodney Peete, and Heisman Trophy-winning-newcomer Andre Ware. Erik would move into the backup spot behind Peete by the end of training camp. Kramer would watch as the Lions would storm out to a 5-2 start behind Rodney. However on October 27, in a home game versus the Dallas Cowboys, Peete suffered a season ending Achilles injury, giving Erik Kramer his first shot at leading a real NFL squad.
After tough road losses versus Chicago and Tampa Bay in his first two Lion starts, Kramer caught fire. He would lead the Leos on a seven-game winning streak, with the seventh win being a 38-6 playoff thumping of Dallas at the Silverdome. In that game, Erik would complete 29-of-38 passes for a Lion playoff-record 341 yards and three touchdowns. The Lions would lose on the road to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Washington Redskins the following week in the NFC Championship. Nevertheless, at season’s end there was little debate about the fact that Erik Kramer was the toast of Motown.
Strangely, head coach Wayne Fontes would name Peete as the starter going into the 1992 season. After the Lions got off to a 2-8 start, Erik was re-named the starter, going 1-2, before being replaced in the last three games by the third-string Ware. Fontes would continue the quarterback shuffle the following season, with all three players seeing action during the year. It would be Kramer however who would lead Detroit into the post-season, going 3-1 in his four starts down the stretch to help the Lions grab the NFC Central title. His final game in a Lion uniform would end at home, with a Wildcard Playoff loss to Brett Favre’s Green Bay Packers 28-24.
Erik would sign with the division-rival Chicago Bears in early 1994. In 1995, he would break Hall-of-Famer Sid Luckman’s 51-year-old team record for touchdown passes in a single-season with 29. Kramer had three more injury-plagued seasons in Chicago, before being released by the Bears after the 1998 season. He would play one final season with the San Diego Chargers before more injuries would force him to call it a career. He remains the only Lion quarterback since Tobin Rote in 1957 to lead the Lions to a playoff victory.