Not since Ralph Nader turned his loving eyes on Detroit have so many Washingtonians paid so much attention to the Motor City. Here is Detroit's chance to make amends for the Edsel. Gas Guzzlers, gas schmuzzlers, who cares? Redskinmaniacs will forgive all if the Detroit Lions win one more football game.
If the Lions beat the Minnesota Vikings Saturday night, the Washington Redskins will move into the Super Bowl Tournament (unless, horrible thought, they lose to the Rams that afternoon by 17 more points than the Vikings lose by), than the Lions defeat the Vikings. In the last 10 seasons, the Vikings have won 17 of the team's 19 meetings, including a 14-7 decision earlier this year.
Not to worry, Redskinmaniacs. That historical dominance does not take into account the very strange going-on of the past month in the National Football Conference. The St. Louis Cardinals forgot how to fly, the Bears became born-again meanies and the Vikings turned mortal without St. Francis.
Meanwhile, as always, the Redskins survived, and the Lions suddenly became Washington's second-favorite team by beating the mighty Baltimore Colts last week and so giving credence to the one-silly idea they could do it to the proud Vikings, too.
A strong defensive team, the Lions beat Baltimore, 13-10, when they blocked a punt in the last 10 seconds and turned it into a touchdown. Anyone who can limit Bert Jones and his playmates to one touchdown on their home turf can shut out a Viking team that seems to be at cliff's edge, about to plummet from majesty to mediocrity.
Francis Tarkenton, the Minnesota quarterback the last five seasons, broke a leg a month ago. At the time, Minnesota had a 6-3 record and was headed for its annual wrap-it-up-by-Thanksgiving celebration. Beginning in 1968, the Vikings have won the NFC's Central Division championship every year except '72. Without Tarkenton, however, the Vikings have split four games and now have troubles both offensively and defensively.
Tarkenton's replacements have been inconsistent. A veteran, Bob Lee, started the first three games. The Bears beat the Vikings, 10-7, the day Walter Payton ran for 275 yards. Then Lee directed a dreary 13-6 victory over Green Bay and was at work when San Francisco built a 24-0 lead the next week.
He finally threw a touchdown pass late in the third quarter of that game, but the Vikings' No. 1 draft choice, Tommy Kramer, was the hero. He threw three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, the last with 98 seconds to play, and produced a 28-27 victory that earned him the starter's job last week.
He was awful then. In a 35-13 loss to the Oakland Raiders, Kramer completed 16 of 34 passes for 177 yards, but he threw three interceptions, fumbled twice (one being recovered for an Oakland touchdown) and botched a handoff.
It's axiomatic that no rookie plays quarterback in the NFL. Yet here is Tommy Kramer, 22, an All-American out of Rice Univeristy, not only playing but playing under division-championship pressure for a team that goes to the Super Bowl about every other year. It must be quite a mental load, right?
"Nope," he said.
"I don't really think about it. Being a contender. I guess you play a little harder. All I know is I'd rather be playing for something than playing for nothing."
Things have gone "real good" since Tarkenton went down, Kramer said. "I enjoy playing, especially in this cold weather. If you stand on the sidelines, you freeze up."
The first call for Kramer's services came the day Tarkenton was injured. In that games and the three that Lee started, Kramer directed the Vikings on nine possessions - and they scored six touchdowns.
"Naturally, I liked that, because I think I'm a good quarterback," Kramer said. "But I know I'm not going to keep up that level."
Those performances earned him last week's start against Oakland. The fumbles and interceptions - was he nervous?
"Nope," he said.
"We just started off bad and never got untracked."
Against Detroit Kramer said, Minnesota will hope to get ahead early and control the ball. While no quarterback ever has said he hoped to fall three touchdowns behind. Kramer's mention of a control-the-ball offense is significant here because some people believe the Vikings' defense - Carl Eller, Alan Page. et al - has grown old at last.
Detroit has no offense worth mentioning. So Minnesota's defensive deficiencies, if any, may not hurt Saturday night. We shall see. In any case, two touchdowns and a field goal should be enough to win this one. Maybe the Redskin's could ship Mark Moseley's shoe to Motown for a couple of hours.