The front left corner of the Lions’ locker room is a strange and magical place where perfectly healthy men, for no apparent reason, disappear. It is where the quarterbacks sit. I call it the Bermuda Triangle.
Lost in the mist this week were Rodney Peete (his plane may be gone for good) and Andre Ware (a distant blip on the screen). But, look! Out of the clouds! We thought he was dead! Yet here he comes — cap on his head, smirk on his face. The new guy, former old guy: Erik Kramer.
Quarterback of the month.
“I’m just here to do my job,” he said, in well-rehearsed fashion. “I’m not thinking about anything else. . . . I’m just here to win this week’s game.”
He was surrounded by a small mob of TV cameras, microphones and notepad-bearing reporters. As he spoke, he folded his arms across his chest, as if protecting himself. After all, there hadn’t been this many people around him his since, well, since the last time he started a football game — Nov. 26, 1992. Then he disappeared again, into the fog.
Kramer is suddenly — once more — the answer to the Lions’ anemic offense, at least in the eyes of coach Wayne Fontes. Although Fontes has treated Kramer like a memory the last two years, it was a fond memory. After all, Kramer led the Lions into the playoffs in 1991. Matter of fact, the Lions won the division with Kramer at the helm and beat the Cowboys in the NFC semifinals. It was the last time people smiled freely at the Silverdome.
So Fontes is asking Kramer to do it again. He gives him no new running back, no new linemen, just the ball. “Erik is a streaker,” Fontes said. “We hope he gets hot.”
(Actually, I think Wayne meant to say, “Eric is streaky.” If Erik were a streaker, he’d be running through the Lions’ locker room naked. Wait. Come to think of it, lots of players do that. Hmm. Maybe he is a streaker.)
Anyhow, streakiness is a risky business. Fontes is turning to his bench like a basketball coach down a dozen points with a minute left. He calls on a jump-shooter, telling him to blow on his hands and pray.
How does it feel to be a yo-yo?
“We can’t just build a new offense in a week,” Kramer admitted. “We don’t have the luxury of a training camp. We have to prepare as best we can and see what happens.”
As he spoke, Andre Ware poked his head into the locker nearby, eyeballed the crowd around Kramer, then quickly left. A few weeks ago, it was Ware who had the crowd around him, and Kramer and Peete who came and went quickly. Then it was Peete with the crowd, and Kramer and Ware who tiptoed past.
How embarrassing it must be for these guys to be surrounded one week, ignored the next.
“Is it uncomfortable, having to sit next to the other guys through this circus?” Kramer was asked.
He paused, and chose his words carefully. “That’s the common thread we all share,” he said. “We all understand what it’s like.”
Here’s what it’s like: a yo-yo. One week, you’re the guy, next week, you’re
not even activated. Ware went from No. 3 to starter. Kramer goes from No. 3 to starter. I asked Fontes: If Kramer is good enough to be the leader this week, why wasn’t he good enough to be the backup last week?
“I think we need a new direction,” he said. “Erik is a streaker. . . . “
Uh-oh. Not that again.
Head coach, not QB, is the dreamer
Still, if anyone is suited to this ridiculous treatment, it is Kramer. Before his stint with the 1991 Lions, his previous start had been in an Edmonton-Calgary game in the Canadian Football League. He has lost one season to a bad knee and lost another to a bad shoulder. He called the Lions, asked them for a job. So doing the herky-jerky is not new. For Kramer, it’s a career.
He has always been good about it. He laughs at himself. He rolls his eyes.
He is smarter than many football players, and, thus, he can see lunacy when it bites him in the butt. He sees it here, believe me, but he keeps his mouth shut. He swallowed a scream when the Super Bowl champion Cowboys wanted him this summer, but the Lions matched their offer. He even managed to grin when owner William Clay Ford tried to call Andre Ware but accidentally left a message on Kramer’s answering machine.
“This is a big opportunity for me,” Kramer said of Sunday’s game. “I’m not going to detract from it. I’m not interested in being a TV star this week.”
In other words, he’s going along with the program, as screwy as it is. Here is a team with a head coach who has now hired and fired both his offensive and defensive coordinators. What does that say about the head man?
Kramer doesn’t want to know. This is a shot, a chance out of the Bermuda Triangle. You fly straight and low and you don’t think about becoming a free agent in a month, or what might have been with the Cowboys, or how foolishly the Lions’ staff has botched the front left corner of the locker room.
“My job,” Kramer said, “doesn’t entail daydreaming.”
Right. The head coach handles that.
Mitch Albom will sign copies of “Fab Five” and “Live Albom III” at 7:30 tonight at Jocundry in East Lansing, and Friday at 5:30 at B. Dalton, Livonia Mall, and 7:30, B. Dalton, Southland Center.