December 15, 2017 12:15 PM
Over the years, fans of the Minnesota Vikings came to know Tommy Kramer as "Two-Minute Tommy," a nickname that sprung from the longtime quarterback's penchant for engineering late-game comebacks.
But Kramer said the nickname actually dates back to his high school days in San Antonio in the early 1970s, when he led his team to a state title as a junior.
"It was the same kind of thing," he recalls. "I threw a touchdown pass late, and I kicked the extra point because I was the kicker too. We came from behind to win."
But if there was ever a game that cemented the Texan's reputation for last-minute rallies, it came 37 years ago this week, on Dec. 14, 1980.
In that matchup, the Vikings trailed the Cleveland Browns by one point (23-22) at Bloomington's old Met Stadium, and had the ball at the Browns' 46-yard-line with four seconds left on the clock.
That's when Kramer threw a Hail Mary pass that ended up in the hands of Ahmad Rashad. He backed into the end zone, giving the Vikings a 28-23 victory and clinching the team's 11th NFC Central Division title in 13 seasons.
They called it the "Miracle at the Met," and the moment lives on - not just in the memories of Vikings fans, but now online on sites like YouTube.
"I always felt comfortable in those kinds of situations," said Kramer, who played for the Vikings from 1977-89 and was the successor to Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton as the team's starting quarterback.
"We'd practiced for them, and I always felt prepared," he said, "and when you've had success before, that kind of breeds more success."
Yet even given Kramer's reputation, the Cleveland game may have seemed a lost cause for many fans when the Browns (the team that won the AFC Central Division title themselves that season) scored to go up 23-9 in the fourth quarter.
But Kramer connected with running back Ted Brown on a touchdown pass with 5:01 to play that cut the gap to 23-15, though the extra-point attempt was blocked. Then veteran defensive back Bobby Bryant came up with a big interception that set up a Kramer-to-Rashad 12-yard touchdown pass which trimmed the margin to just one with 2:18 remaining.
Cleveland recovered an onside kick attempt and drained the clock down to 24 seconds before punting the ball away into the Vikings' end zone.
Kramer and the offense got it back at their own 20 with 14 seconds left.
"Games are never over until the final whistle," Kramer said. "As long as there's time left, you always have a chance. It's just what you make of it."
"Sometimes it's a pretty slim chance," he added. "But you can always make something happen."
The Vikings did this when rookie tight end Joe Senser caught a pass from Kramer and got the ball to Brown on the hook-and-ladder. Brown rumbled 34 yards before alertly getting out of bounds and stopping the clock with four seconds to go.
Time enough for one more play.
"I threw the ball, and I watched it," Kramer said. "I saw it get tipped, and the next thing I saw was Rashad backing into the end zone. That's a play that might have worked one out of every 50 times. But we'd practiced it every week on Fridays. That was the day we worked on Hail Marys in practice."
He added, "You have one guy (Terry LeCount) at the point and two guys (Sammy White and Rashad) behind him. You have to throw the ball hard enough to get it there. But you don't want to throw it out of the end zone either. I just put it up there and it ended up working out our way."
The Vikings went on to lose to the Philadelphia Eagles in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs that season (the Eagles would lose to the Oakland Raiders in the Super Bowl after the Raiders knocked off the Browns in the AFC divisional round).
However, Kramer said the Cleveland game ranks in his top two when it comes to most dramatic moments during his time with the team. It's right up there with a game in 1977 when the then-rookie was summoned off the bench and threw three fourth-quarter touchdown passes to engineer a 28-27 comeback victory over the San Francisco 49ers.
"I've seen (the Cleveland finish) so many times since then," recalls Kramer, who still lives in Texas, but said he gets back to Minnesota at least four or five times a year.
"Of course, I know the result now. So that makes watching it a little easier. But it's out there on YouTube, and I have a CD of the game. It's one a lot of people still remember," Kramer added.
Updated: December 15, 2017 12:15 PM
Created: December 14, 2017 11:11 AM
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