Flashback Friday (1981): Minnesota Vikings 26, Detroit Lions 24

Tommy Kramer led one of his 20 comeback drives for the Minnesota Vikings after being knocked unconscious.

Each week during the 2015 season, Viking Update examines a past game against the Vikings' upcoming opponent. Some of the choices are obvious; others are not. However, all the games chosen stand the test of time.

Detroit at Minnesota

Sept. 20, 1981

The Scenario

The first two weeks of the 1981 campaign weren't kind to the Minnesota Vikings. With starting quarterback Tommy Kramer sidelined by a bum knee, Minnesota's offense sputtered behind backup signal-caller Steve Dils. The Vikings mustered just 23 points in losses to Tampa Bay and the Raiders. Bud Grant's crew confronted the real possibility of beginning the year 0-3 for the first time since Grant's inaugural season in 1967. The Lions were favored by 3.5 points. They wouldn't be favored again in Minnesota for another 30 years!

The Game

Sunshine and a crisp 58 degrees created a postcard Sunday at Metropolitan Stadium. The Vikings featured a new wrinkle as Tommy Kramer started at quarterback despite his gimpy knee. Steve Dils suffered a separated shoulder the previous week, which forced Kramer into action. The offense responded with its best drive of the young season. Ted Brown culminated an 80-yard march with a one-yard touchdown run. The Vikings added to their lead in the second quarter, thanks to a 4-yard Kramer to Joe Senser TD toss. Tommy Hannon's fumble recovery set up the Senser score.

The game then took on the seesaw nature that would dominate the remainder of the afternoon. Two short touchdown runs by Billy Sims in the second quarter tied the contest. Straight-on kicker Rick Danmeier reclaimed the lead for Minnesota with a 39-yard field goal before halftime.

One of the niftiest passes of the season highlighted the third quarter. Moments before a Lions defensive lineman flattened him, Kramer lofted a pass in the middle of the field for a streaking Brown, who caught the ball in stride and scampered untouched to the end zone for a 59-yard score. Detroit, though, halted the Vikings' momentum by blocking the extra point attempt.

That block and 10 unanswered fourth-quarter points gave the Lions a 24-23 advantage. The Vikings' quest to salvage the young season began on their own 18 with 1:56 remaining. Amazingly, Kramer trotted onto the field and assumed command of the huddle. The Lions knocked him briefly unconscious during the previous series. Obviously, there were no concussion protocols in 1981. Instead of receiving medical care on the bench, Kramer built on his burgeoning "Two-Minute Tommy" reputation by leading a masterful drive. The gunslinger completed 5 of 7 passes for 65 yards to put Danmeier in position to win the game. Brown, Senser and Sammy White all caught key passes. With four seconds remaining, Danmeier nailed a 20-yard field goal to deliver a pulsating 26-24 victory.  

Key Play

Tommy Kramer hitting Sammy White with an 18-yard pass, moments after Joe Senser had dropped one. The White reception pushed the Vikings into Detroit territory with just over a minute remaining in the game.

Viking Player of the Game

Quarterback Tommy Kramer put on quite a show. He completed 25 of 42 passes for 333 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Minutes after being knocked out of the game, he returned to lead the game-winning drive, one of 20 in his career.

Purple Honorable Mention

Running back Ted Brown proved to be a dual threat, rushing for 77 yards and catching nine passes for 115 yards. His two-touchdown day included a 34-yard run and a 59-yard reception.

Post-Game Chatter

(via Cooper Rollow in the Sept. 21, 1981 Chicago Tribune)

 Bud Grant (Vikings head coach)

"He (Tommy Kramer) had taken a bad shot to the head. He was out cold. If it had been a fight in the ring, the fight would have been over."

"Tommy had a great day. He has a great capacity to never say die. It's something not all football players have. Tommy's got the genes. I wish everybody played the game like he does."

Fun Fact

This game was the last one played outdoors between the two clubs until the Lions visited the Vikings at TCF Stadium in 2014.


The stirring victory was the first of five in a row for the Vikings, including a very impressive win over the previously unbeaten Eagles. After splitting their next four games, Minnesota was in prime position for the playoffs with a 7-4 mark. However, they inexplicably collapsed, losing the final five games of the season, including the last one played at Metropolitan Stadium.


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