The Wolfpacker

January-February 2024

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

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50 ■ THE WOLFPACKER With A New Book, Erik Kramer Aims To Help Others Find Hope Tim Peeler is a regular contributor to The Wolfpacker and can be reached at PACK PERSPECTIVE BY TIM PEELER F or anyone who knew Erik Kramer during his brief two years as a highly decorated quarterback under NC State coaches Tom Reed and Dick Sheridan, the trajectory of his life following an un- expected 11-year NFL career seems un- fathomable. Kramer came to Raleigh from South- ern California at a time when Wolfpack football was in desperate need of a quar- terback. He had never started under center in high school, was a reserve in one of his two years at Pierce Junior College and had little more experience in high- pressure football than leading his team against Taft College in the Potato Bowl, the name given to the junior college na- tional championship game. And he performed. Kramer was not only the first-team All-ACC pick at quarterback as a junior for a 3-8 team in 1985, he was the face of the Wolfpack's one-year turnaround in 1986, when it went 8-3-1 in Sheridan's inaugural sea- son. Kramer was named ACC Player of the Year, becoming the first NC State quarterback since Roman Gabriel in 1961 to receive that honor. His professional football career was as unlikely as any script ever written by someone from Kramer's Hollywood hometown: from undrafted free agent to strike-year replacement player to the top quarterback in both the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears (single-season) franchises. How could it be, then, that the highly decorated player remembered so warmly for his two years on the East Coast would find himself in the subur- ban Los Angeles Good Nite Inn on the night of Aug. 18, 2015, with a SIG Sauer 9mm pistol under his jaw? He pulled the trigger … and failed. "My brain was profoundly sick," Kramer writes in his book, while later admitting he might be suffering from the effects of chronic traumatic encepha- lopathy, a brain condition that could be linked to multiple head injuries. Kramer's shocking descent was the culmination of his two-decade struggle with depression, a roller coaster that came to an abrupt end with the 2011 death of his oldest son, Griffen, from a heroin overdose, in which several of his acquaintances were charged with negli- gent homicide. Not long afterward, Kramer lost his mom and dad to cancer, and his long- troubled marriage did not survive his son's death. The story has been told multiple times in the eight years since it happened, with Kramer's cooperation, but he recently published "The Ultimate Comeback," a 233-page paperback that details his climb back from debilitating circumstances. He also shares the aftermath of his recovery in which a female companion accessed his bank accounts, tricked him into marriage and had him arrested on battery charges, leaving a broken man with even fewer op- tions. If it seems like a heavy, burdensome read, it's anything but that. Kramer is open about his struggle but is comfortable enough to lighten it up with a few jokes and self-deprecating anecdotes. He doesn't really see the courage of his work, though it takes a special personality to lay bare the mental crises he's faced in his life. "People keep telling me it's courageous, but I don't really find it to be that," Kramer said. "It's just my story. If it turns out to be beneficial to someone else, then it's worth telling. It's nothing more compli- cated than that." Kramer has been fortunate to have developed a support system, including his younger sister Kelley and high school friend Anna Dergan, who is now both his girlfriend and book publicist. He never lost connections with some of the people at NC State, from late coach Sheridan to then-assistant Bobby Purcell to teammates Brock Miller, Mike Cofer and Marty Jacumin. He's leaned on every support post he's ever had. Full disclosure: I've known Erik since we were both students at NC State. I never knew of his difficult childhood, with a distant mother and overbearing father. I didn't know about his struggles to find a high school home or a college opportunity, or what it was really like for a lonesome nerd to play college football, however successfully, some 2,500 miles from home. In the end, that's the point of Kramer's book: None of us ever know what some- one else is going through. Many old-school athletes never con- sidered asking for help. Kramer first needed help from Lions team therapist Kevin Wildenhaus in 1990, when he missed a season because of an injury. He first contemplated suicide in 1994. He rode depression's up-and-down cycle for decades, with help from therapists, mental health professionals and anti- depressants. "Depression plays dirty," Kramer writes. For modern athletes, however, there are more resources available. NC State athletics now has a staff of four mental health professionals, including a sports psychologist, a psychiatrist and clini- cians to assist student-athletes in need of counseling. Kramer's tale is a well-told, profession- ally written narrative that never reveals self-pity or blames someone else for his decisions. It's a lasting legacy that far ex- ceeds any accomplishment Kramer ever had on the field. ■ Kramer is open about his struggles with depression in "The Ultimate Comeback." He said that if his story "turns out to be beneficial to someone else, then it's worth telling." PHOTO COURTESY ERIK KRAMER R enowned among rabid football fans in the 1990s, Erik Kramer guided the Detroit Lions to within one win of Super Bowl XXVI, set passing records for the Chicago Bears that still stand, and carved out a respect- able eleven-year NFL career, despite being unrecruited in high school and undrafted out of college. But for more than two decades, during his playing days and beyond, Erik silently suffered from depression. On August 18, 2015, after the deaths of his son Griffen to a heroin overdose and his mother to can- cer, Erik pressed the cold barrel of a loaded gun firmly under his chin, closed his eyes, and pulled the trigger. It was supposed to be the end. Instead, it was a rebirth. The Ultimate Comeback chronicles Erik's improbable rise to gridiron fame, his catastrophic plunge into the black hole of depression, and his mi- raculous physical and mental recovery following his suicide attempt. With empathy, sensitivity, and humor, Erik balances the grief from his darkest days with riveting stories of his upbringing and life as an NFL quarterback and reveals how, through grit and perseverance, he tackled the depression that nearly took his life. "Erik has come out the other side with a purpose and a story that can help thousands." — P E T E R K I N G , T H R E E - T I M E N A T I O N A L S P O R T S M E D I A A S S O C I A T I O N S P O R T S W R I T E R O F T H E Y E A R "I'm proud to see what Erik's doing with his second chance at life. This book will help a lot of people." — B A R R Y S A N D E R S , D E T R O I T L I O N S R U N N I N G B A C K ( 1 9 8 9 – 9 8 ) , N F L M V P ( 1 9 9 7 ) , T E N - T I M E P R O B O W L E R , A N D P R O F O O T B A L L H A L L O F F A M E I N D U C T E E ( 2 0 0 4 ) "I'm in awe of Erik's vulnerability, sharing his story with the world, and turning his pain into purpose. So many will read these words and find courage—and hope." — L A U R A O K M I N , N F L O N F O X S I D E L I N E R E P O R T E R "As men, we don't often talk about our mental health. Erik has reminded us that seeking help is not a sign of weakness, but an act of strength!" — R O D N E Y P E E T E , N F L Q U A R T E R B A C K ( 1 9 8 9 – 2 0 0 4 ) 9 798218 279271 51695> ISBN 979-8-218-27927-1 $16.95 T h e U l t i m a t e C o m e b a c k E r i k K r a m e r w i t h W i l l i a m C r o y l e

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