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Grant and his scouts knew exactly who was needed to replace Tarkenton when they picked Kramer ahead of Glenn Carano, now a backup at Dallas, and Vince Ferragamo, now a backup in, gulp, Montreal, in the 1977 draft. "Look, we were just lucky with Tommy," says Grant. "We've had some misses, too. Anytime you start thinking you're a genius, you're in trouble."
But one of Kramer's assets was that he did think he was a genius, or at least he had no doubts that he could replace a legend. "Tommy's strong point was that he wasn't in awe of Francis in any way," says Rashad. "He just wanted to take right over." Kramer showed the way he was thinking as a rookie when he sat down at the previously all-veteran preseason card game and said, "Deal me in." The vets did.
He stayed in Tarkenton's shadow for two years without loud complaint, but finally intimated that he might stay away from camp if Tarkenton didn't make up his mind to retire before the 1979 season, which Tarkenton did. Now guys like Linebacker Matt Blair wear T shirts bearing the slogan: TOMMY KRAMER, THE BEST FROM THE WEST.
A smiling, Skoal-chewing, Texas good ol' boy, Kramer has a playboy reputation; Charley McKenna of the Minneapolis Tribune dubbed him 494 Tommy because of his familiarity with the watering holes along that interstate in Minneapolis. Kramer says he has settled down somewhat, thanks in part to his new girl friend, Carrie Baudler.
"I don't go out like I used to," says Kramer, "but it never affected my play anyway. When we're winning, everybody shuts up about it. Hey, my father [who coached football at Texas Lutheran for six years] was strict on me when I was growing up. Maybe I was just making up for lost time."
Which is what Kramer appears to be doing with the Viking offense, to which he contributed 228 yards and one TD passing on Sunday. On one second-quarter possession he completed all nine of his passes, while driving the Vikings 95 yards for a touchdown and keeping the ball for more than nine minutes. The Bucs never recovered from the TD, which gave Minnesota a 13-0 lead.
Kramer, who ranked second among NFC quarterbacks going into Sunday's game, sometimes throws quickly, sometimes off-balance, sometimes on the run, sometimes strangely, but most of all he throws often. One Viking play calls for him to pump-fake a screen to Running Back Rickey Young, look toward Senser who is wildly waving his arms in the right flat as if he's the intended receiver ("I like to do a little acting out there"), and then throw a screen to Brown over the middle. This elaborate gem is called Fake Double Screen 3-Check Middle, if you're scoring.
Such Looney Tunes plays have been mated with the careful selection of players to build a potent offense. The drafting of Kramer was one example, but also remember that Rashad was somewhat of a reclamation project, having been traded twice before the Vikings got him cheap just before the '76 season started. This year has been an eye-opening one for him because he has finally found a custom pair of contacts to fit his huge eyes. "Man, I just started reading scoreboards," he says. "They have all kinds of information out there."
White, the other wide receiver, was passed over by everyone at least once in 1976 before the Vikes got him in the second round. And Terry LeCount, who plays often in three-wide-receiver situations, was picked up on waivers from San Francisco.
Brown, the all-purpose heir apparent to Chuck Foreman, was chiefly a runner at North Carolina State and never heard from the Vikings before the 1979 draft. But Grant and his aides had been quietly studying films "of every pass he ever caught in college" to determine if he could fit into the system. Oh, could he! He's leading the NFC in receptions with 60 and averaging almost four yards per carry.