The Wolfpacker

July 2016

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

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160 ■ THE WOLFPACKER BY TIM PEELER T here were a couple of things that hit me pretty hard when I read the story in The Detroit Free-Press about former NC State quarterback Erik Kramer's suicide attempt. Erik and I are the same age. We had classes together as students. I cov- ered every NC State game he played as the sports editor of Technician, the NC State student newspaper. I followed his lengthy professional football career with more than just a passing interest. We lost touch for a long time, but were reacquainted a few years ago when he attended former head coach Tom O'Brien's spring player reunion. I talked to him for some historical sto- ries about his Wolfpack career, includ- ing one for the 20th anniversary of his famous game-winning pass to Danny Peebles on the last play of the South Carolina game, perhaps the greatest single play in the history of Carter-Fin- ley Stadium, and the 25th anniversary of the 1986 season, in which he led the Wolfpack to multiple miracle finishes and a berth in the Peach Bowl for first-year head coach Dick Sheridan. It's hard to believe that his miracle se- nior season — when he found targets like Peebles, Haywood Jeffires and Nasrallah Worthen for spectacular game-winning plays — is now three decades old. Erik has always been a funny, California- cool dude, about as diametrically opposed to the tightly wound Sheridan as Manhattan Beach, Calif., is from Surfside Beach, S.C., where both player and coach now live. During his playing days, Kramer was remarkably special. Before he beat out fel- low California junior college transfer John Heinle in 1985 under third-year coach Tom Reed, he had exactly one year of experi- ence as a starting quarterback. He never started in high school and only one season of his two and a half years at Los Angeles Pierce College. Yet in 1986, after leading NC State to an 8-3-1 record, Kramer was named the ACC Offensive Player of the Year. He was not taken in the 1987 NFL Draft, yet he spent a dozen years in the NFL. He took an unusual path by crossing the lines as a replacement player for the Atlanta Falcons during the 1987 players' strike, and then spent two years with the Canadian Football League's Calgary Stampeders be- fore landing in Detroit between Rodney Peete and Andre Ware. In 1991, he became the only quarterback since 1957 to lead the hapless Lions to an NFL playoff victory. He still owns the single-season records for the Chicago Bears, after throwing for 3,838 yards and 29 touchdowns in 1995. He retired in 1999 before ever playing with the San Diego Chargers because of a neck injury. He says was never diagnosed with a concussion during his football career. Last Aug. 18, 29 years after his all-star season at NC State and 20 years after his breakout NFL season, Kramer dropped his son off at school, printed out the suicide notes he wrote for his family, checked into a Los Angeles hotel and tried to kill himself with a SIG Sauer nine-millimeter handgun. He missed. As he told Dave Birkett of The Free- Press in a wide-ranging story about his sui- cide attempt, the blast from the gun went through his tongue, his nasal sinus cavities and out the top of his skull. After nine months in two California hospitals with surgeries to repair his tongue and skull, Kramer has a dime-sized scar under his chin and some — but not a lot — memory loss. The depression that drove Kramer to such traumatic decision has been part of his life since he was cut from the Lions. That was managed for some time by his success with the Bears, some post professional football work as a high school coach and a television broad- casting career. The depression returned in the last six years while Kramer suffered un- imaginable personal loss. In 2011, his oldest son Griffen died of a heroin overdose. Four of Griffen's friends were charged with involuntary man- slaughter and possession of a con- trolled substance after an investigation of the incident. The breakup of his long-term mar- riage, his mother's death from uterine cancer, his broken relationship with his youngest son Dillon and the failing health of his father Karl sent Kramer into a suicidal spiral of depression. He spent time in a Michigan rehabilitation facility last summer, but that did not end his desire to end his life. After nine months in hospitals, Kramer still has a long way to go, emotionally more so than physically. He is scheduled to have surgery in July to correct the misalignment of his lower jaw, which was caused by the bullet wound. But he's back to playing golf again, dat- ing his former girlfriend and repairing his relationship with his son. "I don't want to tempt fate, but, at this point, I feel very good," Kramer told Birkett. "And so my hope is to keep living life and keep contributing and keep all that going." And those of us who knew the happy-go- lucky California quarterback must continue to send prayers, good wishes and whatever connective karma you may choose to the man still recovering from unexplainable and unrelenting depression. ■ ■ PACK PERSPECTIVE Former Wolfpacker Erik Kramer Is Thankfully Living Life Tim Peeler is a regular contributor to The Wolfpacker. You may contact him at The Wolfpacker is a publication of: Coman Publishing Company, Inc., P.O. Box 2331, Durham, N.C. 27702. Offices are located at 324 Blackwell St., Ste. 1020, Durham, N.C. 27701. (919) 688-0218. The Wolfpacker (ISSN 0273-8945) is published bimonthly. A subscription is $39.95 for six issues. For advertising or subscription information, call (800) 421-7751 or write The Wolfpacker. Postmaster: Send address changes to: The Wolfpacker, P.O. Box 2331, Durham, N.C. 27702. Periodical mail postage paid at Durham, N.C. 27702 and additional offices. First-class postage is $14 extra per year. E-mail: • Web site: Kramer was named the ACC Offensive Player of the Year after leading the Wolfpack to an 8‑3‑1 record in 1986. PHOTO COURTESY NC STATE MEDIA RELATIONS

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