Former Lions quarterback Erik Kramer's long road back from the brink

Only one living person has quarterbacked the Detroit Lions to a playoff victory: Erik Kramer

Content warning: This story contains discussion of suicide. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide and needs support now, call or text 988 or chat with the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at

DETROIT — Erik Kramer is back in Detroit this weekend, in part to root for his old team, the Detroit Lions, to defeat the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday.

It would allow current starter Jared Goff to join what is, in its own odd and depressing way, a very exclusive club: the only living humans who quarterbacked the Lions to a playoff victory.

Right now, there is just one member, Kramer, who on Jan. 5, 1992, completed 29 of 38 passes for 341 yards and three touchdowns to lead Detroit to a 38-6 victory over Dallas.

It stands as the franchise’s only postseason triumph for 34 years prior and 32 years since, an unfathomable level of futility. (Tobin Rote, the starter on the 1957 NFL championship team, passed away in 2000.)

“As sad as it sounds, it’s true,” Kramer, 59, said with a laugh. “So I want Jared to enter the club. ‘Welcome. I’m buying.’”

The trip from Kramer's native Southern California is about more than that, however.

For Kramer, it is a celebration of life, of resilience, of second chances, of reputations reestablished and, perhaps most of all, of bright, new days that neither he nor, at times, almost anyone else dreamed possible.

It was Aug. 18, 2015, when Kramer, deeply depressed following the untimely death of his older son, Griffen, checked into a Calabasas, California, motel room. He texted a few friends to let them know where he was, then took out a pistol, pressed it under his jaw and pulled the trigger.

“I tried to execute myself,” Kramer said.

The bullet caused a severe bifrontal lobe injury but didn’t kill him. Although he doesn’t recall the aftermath, he was conscious when sheriff deputies, alerted by one of those friends Kramer texted, banged on the door. Police reports say he walked over and opened it for them and later walked under his own power to an ambulance.

He was beyond lucky.

“The worst decision of my life,” he said of the suicide attempt. “I doubt there are many people who tried it and got to live to tell about it.

What followed was a medically induced coma and then extensive neurological and psychological rehab. There were lengthy hospital and therapy stays and struggles to relearn basic motor skills and general awareness. There was also extensive therapy for the mental health struggles that led to the attempt in the first place.

Erik Kramer (12) is the only living person to quarterback the Detroit Lions to a playoff victory, which happened way back in 1992. (Tom G. Lynn//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)
Erik Kramer (12) is the only living person to quarterback the Detroit Lions to a playoff victory, which happened way back in 1992. (Tom G. Lynn//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

To the outsider, Kramer might have appeared to be an unlikely candidate for depression. He’d risen from junior college to North Carolina State to a 10-year NFL career, mostly with Detroit and Chicago.

He was nicknamed “Brass” for his courageous play. He retired near his boyhood home north of Los Angeles, ran a few businesses and played a lot of golf. He was known for an outgoing, fun-loving personality.

A divorce and the death of Griffen to a drug overdose at just 18 years old, though, sent Kramer spiraling beyond his untreated issues. Despite still having a younger son, Dillon, Kramer, then 50 years old, "Thought the better parts of my life were done, both professionally and personally. … I was wrong.”

Kramer slowly came back, at least physically. In time, he could drive a car, hold basic conversations and hit a golf ball. He still struggled mentally, however, especially with complex decision-making. He rarely understood what was being discussed around him, likening himself to a 4-year-old.

Doctors believed his brain needed 2-3 years to slowly heal, but he said he quickly became a victim of a then-girlfriend, whom Kramer alleged began draining his bank account, making unauthorized decisions and even gaining control of him via the state’s controversial conservatorship system.

Some of Kramer’s family and friends suspected that he was being defrauded. The police were contacted, and they moved to have his sister take over his conservatorship.

However, the woman quickly arranged a wedding ceremony that Kramer said he willingly attended, though he was unable to comprehend what it all entailed. Suddenly, the woman was in charge of everything.

“The day we got married, the criminal investigation was over,” Kramer said.

Eventually, Kramer began to understand the situation. But when he asked the woman to move out, she called the police, citing domestic violence, which Kramer vehemently denied. Not that it mattered. The mere accusations caused headlines across the country. The charges against Kramer were eventually dropped, but the 12 felony counts with which authorities eventually hit the woman were far less publicized.

Today, it has been almost eight and a half years since that suicide attempt and five and a half since Kramer tried to end the marriage. Slowly, everything has come back for him. Police backed up his version of things. A judge nullified the marriage. There has been widespread criticism — and thus public understanding — of the conservatorship process in general.

He has told his story over and over to anyone who will listen, with the facts painting the proper picture of Kramer as a victim and a survivor, not an abuser. Meanwhile, as discussing mental health, especially among men, has become less taboo, he has become a voice organizations seek out. If it can impact him, then it can impact anyone.

His latest effort is authoring a gripping autobiography: “The Ultimate Comeback.” He’s spending part of this weekend signing copies in Detroit, including at 4 p.m. Sunday at the Hockeytown Cafe just before the Lions game.

“The response to it has been great,” Kramer said.

Maybe best of all, he said, is that he's happy, normal, vibrant and focused on the future. He is in a positive relationship, is connected with Dillon and this weekend is looking forward to seeing old teammates and friends from his days in Detroit.

Whether Goff joins him as a Lions playoff-winning quarterback or not, the fact that Kramer will be in Detroit to see it and celebrate it and embrace it is enough.

“I’m doing great,” he said.

It’s been a long road back.