Kramer visit rekindles old Viking memories

November 17, 2008

by Matt Kane

I love it when former Minnesota athletes return to Minnesota for promotional appearances and team-oriented events.

The Twins always bring back legends to sign autographs at the annual Twins Winter Caravan, TwinsFest, and the summer autograph party, and the Vikings of past are often seen during pregame and halftime ceremonies at home Vikings games.

There’s something about seeing those old guys that gets my enthusiasm, as a fan, rising. I think the memories of a simpler time when the likes of Kirby Puckett, Kent Hrbek and Gary Gaetti, for the Twins, and Joey Browner, Anthony Carter (A.C.) and Tommy Kramer, for the Vikings, played.

The media, and thus the fans, weren’t so wrapped up in how much money each player made. Maybe it was my pre-teen ignorance, but it seemed like the newspaper stories revolved around how the guys played on the field, and not so much how they played off the field.

When Kramer and Rickey Young, also a former Viking, came to Delano Nov. 8, they got me thinking back to the mid-to-late 1980s, when Jerry Burns coached the team.

I collected a lot of football cards back then, so I knew who many of the players on the Vikings rosters were.

I remember the kick-butt defenses the best. Was there, or has there been a better defensive front four than Chris Doleman, Keith Millard, Henry Thomas and Al Noga?

Together, those four, alone, collected 59.5 sacks in 1989. The entire team accumulated 71.

The Vikings had six players go to the Pro Bowl after the ‘89 season. Doleman, who led the league with 21 sacks (Favre wasn’t in the league then to lay down so Doleman could get the record ala Jason Strahan), was joined in Honolulu by Millard (18 sacks), safety Joey Browner (five interceptions), corner back Carl Lee, Carter (1,066 receiving yards), and tight end Steve Jordan.

Just saying these names gets me excited about games against the 49ers and Redskins, two teams that always seemed to be in the Vikings’ way.

Who can forget the 1987 playoffs, when A.C. lit up the 49ers for 227 yards in Minnesota’s 36-24 upset in the second round of the playoffs?

And, in a more somber tone from that season, who can forget Darrin Nelson’s drop of an easy Wade Wilson pass at the goal line on the final play of the NFC Championship game against the Redskins? Washington won the game 17-10, and went on to win the Super Bowl.

That Darrin Nelson play always comes up when talking about the Vikings’ lack of success in the postseason, but it doesn’t take away from my fond memories of the Vikings era in which Nelson played.

I remember receivers like Leo Lewis, Buster Rhymes and Hassan Jones. Running backs Nelson, Allen Rice, Ted Brown, Alfred Anderson and D.J. Dozier. Quarterbacks Kramer, Wilson and Rich Gannon. And offensive linemen Kirk Lowdermilk, Tim Irwin, Gary Zimmerman, Terry Tausch and Randall McDaniel.

Defensively, Doug Martin filled in on the line, and backing the front four were linebackers Scott Studwell, Ray Berry and Mike Merriweather. Defending the pass with Lee and Browner were guys like Isaac Hold, Najee Mustafaa, (a.k.a. Reggie Rutland), Willie Teal, Rufus Bess, and Travis Curtis.

I, personally, would like to thank Tommy Kramer for making a stop in Delano. He not only kept the patrons of Doc Holiday’s entertained, he kept the good old days of the Vikings alive and well in the memory of this sports writer.