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Celebrity Status : Detroit Lions Quarterback Erik Kramer Uses Newfound Stardom to Benefit Valley College

May 14, 1992|RICH TOSCHES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A year ago, if someone had suggested holding an Erik Kramer celebrity golf tournament, the general reaction would have gone something like this: Golf tournament? Terrific. Who's Erik Kramer?

Well, in Los Angeles, Kramer still might not be a household name.

But he is in Detroit.

And Dallas.

Kramer, 27, a former Burroughs High backup quarterback and one-year player for Pierce College, shocked the NFL last year when he was summoned from the place he had become attached to during his pro football career--the bench--and led the Detroit Lions to within one victory of the Super Bowl.

And so Monday at the Porter Valley Country Club, Kramer played host to his first celebrity golf tournament, with proceeds going to the Valley College football team, a team for which he never played.

He did, however, play for Jim Fenwick--now the Valley coach--at Pierce.

"I wanted to help out the junior college system in some way," said Kramer, who lives in Agoura Hills. "For so many guys coming out of high school, the JCs are the only option. The JCs have helped a lot of careers."

His, for example.

As the No. 2 quarterback at Burroughs High, Kramer received the kind of big-time college recruiting pitches normally reserved for people who never played football. No one called. No one wrote.

Except Fenwick.

And even at Pierce, Kramer was forced to play behind Dave McLaughlin in his first season. Only in his second and final year at Pierce did he get a chance to play, and he led the team to the highly under-publicized Potato Bowl, which is not a vegetable container but rather the name of a football game.

Kramer's career blossomed briefly in the ensuing two years. He transferred to North Carolina State and became a roaring success, being named to the All-Atlantic Coast Conference team as a junior and senior and also earning the ACC player-of-the-year award as a senior in 1986.

And then he set out on a slippery road to the NFL.

Despite his standout career at North Carolina State, the NFL regarded Kramer as such a longshot that it bestowed the ultimate \o7 We Don't Think Much of You\f7 honor upon him, failing to draft him at all.

He made his way into the Atlanta Falcons camp during the players' strike of 1987 and played quarterback in three replacement games, games in which the \o7 real\f7 players walked outside the stadium with picket signs. When they came back, Kramer was asked to leave. He spent half of the 1988 season as the starting quarterback for the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League and then, after not playing anywhere for one year, spent the 1990 season on the Lions' injured reserve list.

After the 1990 season, the Lions released Kramer. At the time he was the fourth quarterback, behind starter Rodney Peete, 1990 No. 1 draft pick Andre Ware and journeyman Bob Gagliano. But the Lions took Kramer back in 1991 and he quickly moved ahead of Ware into the No. 2 slot on the depth chart. Gagliano had been released.

Then, on Oct. 27, Peete hit the ground with a torn Achilles' tendon in a game against the Dallas Cowboys. And Kramer, who recently couldn't find work as a quarterback anywhere in North America, became the Lions' starter.

And a star was born.

Well, almost.

There were a few rough spots.

On Kramer's first series against the Cowboys, the Lions lost 12 yards in three plays--Kramer lost 16 on a mad scramble and was also called for an illegal forward pass on the play--and had to punt. The Lions ran 10 plays with Kramer at quarterback in the remaining minutes of the first half and gained a total of 12 yards. They made one first down.

But in the second half, Kramer emerged. He completed nine passes for 108 yards and fired two touchdown passes, powering the Lions to a 34-10 rout.

Another bad moment came the next week, in his first start since his Stampeder days. In the closing seconds of a 20-10 loss to the Bears on one of those pleasant Chicago days in November that could kill a polar bear, Kramer broke from the huddle, walked to the line of scrimmage and lined up behind not the center but the left \o7 guard\f7 .

Then it got better. Kramer led the Lions to the NFC Central championship, ousting the Bears. He got the Cowboys again in the playoffs and demolished them, completing 29 passes for 341 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-6 thrashing.

The Lions were similarly demolished the following week, however, when the eventual Super Bowl champion Washington Redskins blitzed Kramer silly in the second half en route to a 41-10 win in the NFC Championship game.

But now, in the wake of this most unlikely season, Kramer is a somebody. In Detroit they are talking about the battle for the starting quarterback job that looms between Kramer and Peete. In Dallas, where fans take football seriously, they will remember Kramer for a long time.

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