Kramer Makes ‘The Ultimate Comeback’

Former Burroughs football player tells of his struggles with mental health while being a starting quarterback in the National Football League.

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Photo courtesy Erik Kramer

It is common for anyone to look around and wonder what it would be like to be Tom Brady, Taylor Swift, Lionel Messi or any other entertainer.


Millions of dollars are spent these days by parents in hopes of developing the next person to follow in the footsteps of the aforementioned.


Through lots of twists and turns Burroughs High alum Erik Kramer became one of those people. He was a starting quarterback in the National Football League.


But while Kramer’s life may have looked great to so many observers on the outside, it was anything but that.
Now at 59 years old, Kramer has overcome obstacles that nobody would wish for and is telling the world what really went behind the scenes in his life on and off the football field.


Earlier this month, Kramer’s book ‘The Ultimate Comeback’ was released and is now available on Amazon.com and in some book stores.


It chronicles all the hurdles and obstacles he had to face to get to the highest level, as well the downside of struggles with his mental health that nearly cost him his life and actually did cost the life of his oldest born son.


He now hopes to make others aware of the difficulties of living and working with mental challenges that sometimes go too far and cause one to ultimately end their lives prematurely.

“You aren’t going to meet many people that hang out and have dinners over how depressed they are. Often times there isn’t much said about it, there’s not much talked about it. Even more so, there’s people who know someone who show signs of depression and don’t know what to do,” Kramer said.


Kramer, who graduated from Burroughs in 1982, had a football journey that seems hard to believe. But through timely calculations, he found his way to the highest level of the profession.

Erik Kramer at Pierce College. (Photo courtesy Erik Kramer)


He actually didn’t attend Burroughs until the second semester of his junior year as he transferred from St. Genevieve in Panorama City. Just like he was at Burroughs, Kramer did not earn the starting quarterback job for the Valiants. He was a defensive back.


Kramer then moved on to Pierce College, but actually spent a year away from football and waited his turn. He didn’t get to play quarterback until his third year out of high school.


Pierce went on to have an undefeated season, catching the eyes of major colleges.


Kramer then carefully looked at the depth charts of the schools that recruited him and he ultimately chose North Carolina State.
In two seasons at NC State, Kramer passed for more than 4,600 yards and 30 touchdowns and was named the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year.


He was not drafted in the 1987 NFL Draft, but signed as a free agent with the New Orleans Saints. After a short stint with New Orleans, Kramer got picked up by the Atlanta Falcons due to the players’ strike. Kramer was a strike replacement player who started two games for the Falcons.


He then continued his career in the Canadian Football League for three years, before deciding to return to the U.S.
Trying to give it another shot in the NFL, Kramer said he called every team in the league by himself, getting the phone numbers through an old media guide.


The one team who gave him a chance to have a tryout was the Detroit Lions. At the time, the Lions quarterbacks coach was June Jones, who in later years would become the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons and the University of Hawaii.

Photo courtesy Detroit Lions


Kramer had a connection to Jones, as the coach had previously worked with the then-Houston Oilers. Houston had drafted NC State receiver Haywood Jeffires in the first round of the 1987 draft and ironically Kramer had been his quarterback.


As the Lions quarterbacks coach, Jones was working under then-offensive coordinator Mouse Davis, who Jones had played for in college.

“Apparently he didn’t tell Mouse, so I’m sitting in the lobby and he comes around the corner and says ‘Who are you’,” Kramer recalled on first meeting with Davis at the Lions team headquarters.


Kramer said the turf at the Lions’ stadium, the Silverdome had already been rolled up, leaving them to find another venue for the tryout.


“My workout consisted of we drove down to Ann Arbor (University of Michigan). It consisted of June standing around in different spots and me dropping back and him catching it,” Kramer said.


The workout went well enough that Kramer was able to stick with the Lions as a backup quarterback.


After an injury to Lions starter and former USC quarterback Rodney Peete, Kramer got a chance to play. He led Detroit to a 38-6 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in the 1991 NFC playoffs, getting the team within a victory of the Super Bowl.
Detroit lost to the then-Washington Redskins in a bid to get to the Super Bowl.


Kramer would spend two more seasons in Detroit, before signing a three-year free agent contract worth $8.1 million with the Chicago Bears.
“It was the first time since youth football that I knew I would start at quarterback,” Kramer said.

Photo courtesy Erik Kramer


While the salary he was earning would set him up for the rest of his life, Kramer’s darker days would begin.
“I ended playing with depression and anxiety when I was with the Bears. The way this came on was everything was going just fine and I was playing okay nothing great. I separated my shoulder against Minnesota and kept playing and then I couldn’t real play the following week, Kramer said. “I was out for four or five games.”


Kramer said the pressure he felt to succeed and prove to himself was one of the key factors.
He would spend five seasons with the Bears and ended his career in 1999 with the then-San Diego Chargers.


Following his career, Kramer and his then-wife Marshawn, whom he had met during his days at Burroughs, raised their two sons Griffen and Dillon, in Agoura Hills.


Griffen, who was older than Dillon by five years, had difficulties in school and ended up on a path that involved drugs, which eventually cost him his life as a high school senior in 2011.
Kramer suffered another major loss in his life when he lost his mother to cancer less than a year later in 2012. In addition, he formally divorced his wife of more than two decades.


Kramer would lose his father a few years later before he nearly ended his own life on August 18, 2015.


“That night during surgery they had to close him up because his brain swelled so fast and so rapidly. They didn’t think he was going to make it through the night. He defied all medical textbooks,” said Anna Dergen, who has remained a close friend going back to their days at Burroughs. She is now Kramer’s girlfriend.


Kramer’s road to recovery would take years and would take even more turns. A woman he had dated on and off for several years following his divorce was able to find a way to legally marry him while he was mentally incapacitated and had the brain of a 4-year-old.
Through a series of more twists and turns, Kramer was able to get out of that marriage, but not before losing more than half a million dollars.


As he has recovered and regained full recognizance, Kramer still stays close to the game. He is working on several projects within football as well as those with mental health and hoping to greatly reduce chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which is believed to be a serious risk factor in the suffrage of former football players due to blow suffered to the head.


“How many people do you know of that have shot themselves in the head on purpose and they are still here,” Kramer said. “I’m a spiritual person and I do believe that there is a higher power and I live my life that way.”


Kramer serves a reminder that there is more to life than fame and success.


“We are all human. You have good days and bad days,” he said.

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