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Miracle at the Met - Tommy Kramer Hail Mary Comeback
Episode 23rd November 2022 • Minnesota Sports History Show • Sports History Network
00:00:00 00:09:18

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The Minnesota Sports History Show is part of the Sports History Network - The Headquarters For Sports Yesteryear.

EPISODE SUMMARY

How’s it going, guys? Welcome to Episode 2 of the Minnesota Sports History Show. I’m your host, Ryan Limbag, Vikings apologist for the Sports History Network.

Today, we will talk about the Miracle at the Met, considered to be one of the Minnesota Vikings’ most triumphant comebacks of all time, and ranked No. 96 in the NFL’s 100 Greatest Games.

Luckily, this game is pretty well documented and I was able to watch the comeback in its entirety. It’s quite easy for me to relate to anxious Vikings fans of the early 80s.


It was December 14, 1980, with the Vikings fighting for the division title and a playoff berth.


They hosted the Cleveland Browns, who were having their best season since 1972. They would go on to finish the season 11-5 and win the AFC Central.


It was a cold day in the open air Metropolitan Stadium, with a game time temperature of a balmy 23º Farenheit.


Vikings’ quarterback Tommy Kramer would go on to set a then franchise record of 456 passing yards in a single game-- Still good enough for the second most passing yards in a single game in franchise history. 


In fact, Tommy Kramer holds three of the top five single game passing records of all time for the Vikings, including the most at 496 yards, a record from the 1986 season that stands to this day.


A notable quarterback of the modern era holds the 4th most single game passing yards of all time at 446 yards in the 2010 season, held by legendary Vikings quarterback Brett Favre.


So, why did the 1980 Minnesota Vikings need a comeback, let alone a miracle?


The 1980 Minnesota Vikings were a few years removed from their last Super Bowl appearance in 1977, and had middling success after their vaunted defensive line, known as The Purple People Eaters retired-- the group that dominated opposing offenses from the late 60s and into the 70s.


The Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings jockeyed for 1st place in a relatively weak NFC Central division in the 1980-1981 season. Both the Lions and Vikings would finish 9-7, with the Vikings eking out a division title with the conference record tie-breaker.


Going into the game, any combination of a Vikings win or Lions loss meant a division title for the Vikings, and the pressure was on. Cleveland had a win-and-get-in situation for the playoffs.


With 5:01 left in the 4th quarter, the Cleveland Browns led the Vikings 23-15. After shutting out the Vikings in the first half, the Browns held onto an eight point lead. It seemed like the perfect scenario to grind and run out the clock.


Watching this game gives me goosebumps and makes my stomach hurt. As a lifelong Vikings fan, I fully understand how unlikely these kinds of comebacks are. 


Even though this game happened five years before I was even born, there is some kind of Purple Pride cosmic connection that transcends space and time.


I can picture myself with a mullet and a Jheri curl, sulking on a brown-toned floral printed sofa and threatening to turn off the TV as I simultaneously curse and pray for the Vikings.


But down by eight points, the Tommy Kramer-led Vikings would conduct an improbable comeback against a strong Cleveland team.


After a squib kick, the Browns would begin their drive at their own 26 yard line. The odds seemed in their favor with time running out.


Cleveland running back Mike Pruitt would rush for a couple first downs as the game clock approached three minutes. They kept it on the ground. Victory was imminent for the Browns.


At their own 40, they would opt to pass as the game proceeded toward the two minute warning. This was a costly decision. Vikings’ cornerback Bobby Bryant intercepted Cleveland quarterback Brian Sipe, giving the Vikings’ a sliver of hope with great field position. 


It was a monumental error of a throw and a gift from the football gods, as the pass hit Bobby Bryant in the chest to give him his 50th career interception at the time.


Still, the clock was ticking.


Tommy Kramer orchestrated a beautiful drive where he completed four out of five passes, including a touchdown pass to pro-bowl receiver Ahmad Rashad. More importantly, the Vikings took only 37 seconds off the clock on this scoring drive.


After the extra point, the Vikings stared down a one point deficit, in part due to a missed extra point attempt by the Vikings earlier in the game. And time was on Cleveland’s side.


Sidenote, name a more iconic duo than the Minnesota Vikings and missed extra point kicks. You can’t. 


The Vikings failed to convert an onside kick and the Browns took over with about a minute and half left in the game. 


A costly illegal motion penalty against the Browns, and timeouts by the Vikings gave them the ever slightest amount of breathing room. The Browns were able to whittle the clock down to 23 seconds before electing to punt on 4th and short. 


Before the kick, the Browns called a timeout to contemplate the gamble of going for it.

The Vikings took the field at their own 20 after a touchback, and only 14 seconds left in the game.


Bud Grant would call for a hook-and-lateral play that was beautifully executed by Kramer, Senser, and a lateral to Ted Brown to gain 39 yards and get out of bounds with only five seconds left to play.


After the razzle dazzle trick play, NBC broadcaster Len Dawson remarked “They’re gonna throw that ball up in the air and hope for a miracle.” He was right.


On the final play, and what would go down as the Miracle at the Met, Kramer dropped back and heaved a Hail Mary into a crowd. Defensive back Thom Durden tipped it before Ahmad Rashad scooped in a one-handed catch and backed into the endzone with time expiring.


You have to watch the film to see how gracefully Ahmad scored. The tipped ball bounced just the right way so that he could extend his arm, grab it and step backwards into the endzone in one motion. He had to have nerves of steel at that moment.


In Ahmad Rashad’s words “I see the defender jump up and tap it. And as I go by it, I just reach out and grab it. And then just kind of tippin’ in, there’s a touchdown and it was over.”


What was a sure Cleveland win disappeared in a moment. 


As a long-time Vikings fan, I cherish times when they were able to snatch a victory from the jaws of defeat. 


Two-Minute Tommy earned his nickname, with 19 comeback victories. As of this recording, Tommy Kramer has yet to be added to the Viking’s Ring of Honor, a sort of personal Hall of Fame for the franchise. 


In addition to his late game heroics, he also has the 2nd most passing yards of all time among Vikings’ quarterbacks.


Current Vikings’ quarterback, Kirk Cousins, has piloted 13 comeback victories in his five years in Minnesota.


Perhaps he can catch up to Two-Minute Tommy someday.


Thanks for listening to the Minnesota Sports History Show on the Sports History Network. Skol, have a blessed day, and join me next week to talk about Lindsey Whalen’s local heroics, time away from Minnesota, and her triumphant return.


MINNESOTA SPORTS HISTORY SHOW BACKGROUND

Each episode explores the rich history of Minnesota sports and considers its impact on the current cultural zeitgeist. The Minnesota Sports History Show strives to entertain as well as inform, tickle the sense of nostalgia, and share the joy and hardships of triumph and heartbreak. Episodes will range from musings about the Dome Dog era to interviews with athletes and sports personalities.   

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