Chicago Bears Top 100: #61 Erik Kramer

We’re heading into the dog days of the offseason, counting the days until the Chicago Bears 2014 season kicks off. Thanks to Bear Goggles On contributor and the fine editor of Blackhawk Up Keith Schultz’s suggestion, we’re going to do a Top 100 list of the all time Chicago Bears.  It’s a fun way to pass the time and take a stroll down memory lane.

Erik Kramer had a stranger career than you probably remember. He started out at a junior college before transferring to North Carolina St and putting up solid numbers, but not solid enough to be drafted or even signed by an NFL team as a free agent. Kramer got his first NFL chance during the 1987 players strike as a replacement player with the Atlanta Falcons. He was decent for the replacement Falcons, but again not good enough to attract attention from NFL teams so he played in Canada for the next three seasons. Finally in 1992 he got a call from the Lions and made their team as the 3rd string QB behind Rodney Peete and Andre Ware.

Rodney Peete got hurt in week 8 and all of a sudden Kramer was a starting QB in the NFL. I can’t verify it online, but I’m pretty sure Kramer is the only QB to start a replacement game and a real NFL game. Kramer went 6-2 in his first stint as a starter and led the Lions to their first playoff win since 1957. Kramer threw 15 TDs passes in 9.5 games, before getting hurt in the NFC championship game loss to the Redskins. Despite almost leading the Lions to the Super Bowl, Kramer was replaced by Rodney Peete the next season. Kramer was stuck as Peete’s back-up for the next two years before hitting free agency before the 1994 season.

Judging by the lack of excitement in the Chicago newspaper archives, Chicago didn’t expect much out of Kramer when they signed him as a free agent before the 1994 season. The Bears had Steve Walsh, why would they need another QB? Walsh played surprisingly well (8-3) despite not being able to throw more than 20 yards, but when he got hurt Kramer struggled going 1-4 in five starts. In ’95 Kramer came out of nowhere to win the starting job and have possibly the greatest single season by any Bears QB.

Kramer started the season off in style with 262 passing yards and 3 TDs in an opening day victory over the Vikings. It was a weird season for the Bears; Their normally fierce defense struggled, falling to 19th in the league, but the usually pathetic offense finished 9th overall. Kramer was the main reason, finishing the year with 3,838 passing yards and 29 touchdowns which were both Bear records. Unfortunately the offensive revolution was wasted by a poor defense and worse coaching (Wannstedt) which led to a mediocre 9-7 record and a 3rd place finish in the NFC North.

I’m not sure what happened, but Kramer went back to normal the next season. In his first 4 starts of the ’96 season Kramer only completed 48.7% of his passes and threw 6 interceptions with only 3 touchdowns. Kramer was replaced by Dave Krieg and his small hands for the rest of the season, but the Bears had another mediocre year (7-9). In ’98 Kramer took the starting QB job back and threw for over 3,000 yards again (3,011) but only 14 TDs which was a far cry from his miracle ’95 season (29 TDs). Kramer played only one more season for the Bears in ’98 but was still mediocre (60.4%, 9 TD, 7 INT, 3-5 record) and split time with Steve Stenstrom. If you can’t beat out Steve Stenstrom, it’s probably time to hang up the cleats.

Dick Jauron took over for Dave Wannstedt (Boo!) in ’99 and he let Kramer leave in free agency. Kramer gave it a go for one more year with the Chargers, but was even worse (2 TDs, 10 INTs) than he was with the Bears and retired after the season. For most NFL franchises a QB with only 1 memorable season probably wouldn’t be considered for their top 100 of all-time, but this is the Bears we’re talking about. I don’t think there is another team in the NFL who has dealt with the stretch of futility at the QB position that the Bears have over the last 50 years, so a record-breaking season with almost 4,000 yards and 29 TDs is enough to make this list. Kramer played 9 years in the league, 5 with the Bears, and ended his Bears career with 10,582 yards and 63 touchdowns and the aforementioned single-season passing yards and TDs records.

What do you think of the ranking?  Too high?  Too low?  I guess you’ll have to check back to see who finished ahead of him to judge for yourself.  We’ll be counting down a different person each day as we inch our way to the September 7th season opener.

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