Kirk Cousins authored one of the greatest comebacks in Vikings history on Sunday, rallying Minnesota from a 20-0 halftime deficit in a 27-23 victory.
I called up the king of Vikings rallies — former Vikings QB Tommy Kramer, aka Two Minute Tommy, who is living now in the northern Twin Cities suburbs — for a bit of historical context Monday.
Kramer, who does a lot of promotional appearances during the season and has been to several Vikings games this year, said he didn’t see all of Sunday’s game. But his memory of the biggest comeback in Vikings history — Dec. 4, 1977 against the 49ers — was crystal clear.
That was Kramer’s rookie season. Veteran Fran Tarkenton had led the Vikings to a 6-3 start, but he broke his ankle against Cincinnati in that ninth game. Bob Lee got most of the work after that, but the Vikings had scored just 20 points in their next two games (loss to Chicago, win over Green Bay) and trailed San Francisco 24-0 in the second half of his third start. Eventually — perhaps suddenly — head coach Bud Grant decided he wanted to make a QB switch.
“There was 8:08 on the clock in the fourth quarter when they punted to us and we were behind 24-7,” Kramer recalled. “As the ball was in the air on the punt to us, Bud said ‘rookie get in there.’ I said, ‘coach, thanks for letting me warm up a little.'”
Kramer said he wasn’t nervous — just cold. Pro Football Reference box score data says it was 12 degrees at kickoff at Met Stadium that day, with a negative windchill — different, of course, from the indoor comfort of Sunday’s comeback.
“I was just worried about keeping my hands warm. I was running out there on the field and my ankles weren’t bending. It was cold,” Kramer said. “But once you get in the huddle, the adrenaline starts going and you’re off.”
Kramer led two quick scoring drives, punctuating both with TD passes (one to Ahmad Rashad, the other to Bob Tucker) to get within 24-21. San Francisco answered with a field goal, but that left the deficit at just six. With a few minutes left, there was plenty of time.
There just wasn’t much of a plan, as Kramer recalls.
Cousins said Sunday the Vikings were “drawing stuff up on a whiteboard for the first time this year” in hopes of fueling a comeback.
On the final drive, Kramer said he called timeout to talk to then-offensive coordinator Jerry Burns.
“I got to the sideline and said, ‘Burnsie what you got’? He said, ‘I don’t know, what do you got?'” Kramer said, laughing. “I said, ‘aren’t you the offensive coordinator?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’ So I said, ‘What do you want to do?’ And he said, ‘Figure it out.’ That’s one of the funniest things, that moment.”
Kramer described what he wanted to do, and Burns gave it his blessing. Moments later, Kramer connected with Sammy White on the game-winning 69-yard TD pass. Final score: 28-27.
The win helped secure a playoff spot. Kramer started the next week and struggled in a loss. Lee replaced him for the regular-season finale, and he won that one plus a playoff game over the Rams to get the Vikings into the NFC title game at Dallas.
That game was at Texas Stadium, where Kramer had won a state championship game as a high school junior and forged a reputation for big comebacks.
The Vikings trailed in the second half, but the game was in reach — at least to Kramer.
“I went and stood by Bud,” he said. “I was tossing the ball in the air, and I kept saying, ‘You going to put me in yet?’ I kept doing it, but he never put me in.”
The Vikings lost 23-6, the first of six consecutive NFC title game losses. So I had to ask Kramer: Is this finally the year for the Vikings?
“They’re capable of doing it,” he said. “But they’d better bring everything to every game they have.”