Behind that frosty facade, that stoic stoneface of the North, lies the mind of a football genius. Bud Grant looks like just another assistant coach as he watches his Minnesota Vikings from the sidelines each week, but his thinking is light-years ahead of most of his contemporaries.

While other coaches wear fancy clothes, write themes on their philosophies and moan about the rule changes in the National Football League, Grant quietly works out a way to beat the system.

Grant, 54, an avid outdoorsman, apparently does not spend all his free time hunting and fishing in Northern Wisconsin because over the past two seasons he has devised an offense -- seemingly in direct contrast with his basically conservative football philosophy -- that has put his team back on top in the NFC Central Division.

Despite the frigid conditions in Metropolitan Stadium most Sundays, Grant has developed a passing attack that is so effective that his team has won five straight games, although it ranks 12th out of 14 NFC teams in rushing and 11th in total defense.

The obvious reason why the Vikings now are favorites to win their 12th divisional title in Grant's 15-year tenure is the passing of Tommy Kramer, one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the league.

Kramer never has been invited to a Pro Bowl and never has been compared with the legend he replaced (Fran Tarkenton). He wasn't even mentioned among the top 10 quarterbacks in a national magazine article by George Allen.

All that this soft-spoken, bearded bachelor has done is throw for more than 3,000 yards in both seasons he's been a starter. By completing 24 of 46 passes for 257 yards and four touchdowns in a 35-23 victory over previously unbeaten Philadelphia Sunday, Kramer boosted his season's totals to 115 of 203 for 1,510 yards and 14 touchdowns, best in the league.

Still, it is difficult to replace a legend and, despite his recent success, Kramer has yet to receive the recognition many of his contemporaries enjoy. He says that doesn't bother him and that's he's very happy in Minnesota.

I'm elated with the way I'm playing," said Kramer, a five-year veteran from Rice, when asked about successive victories over San Diego and Philadelphia. "The last two weeks have been tremendous confidence boosters. We've beaten two good teams and scored a lot of points. That's what a quarterback is suppose to do."

With Grant's game plan, which always involves a lot of swing passes to the backs on first down, Kramer usually avoids the stacked defenses most quarterbacks face on second-and-eight or third-and-long situations.

Although Kramer has two of the NFL's prime receivers, Ahmad Rashad and Sammy White, as targets, tailback Ted Brown now leads the NFC with 43 receptions for 444 yards. Fullback Rickey Young has pulled in 29 for an additional 233 yards.

"The way our game plan is set up, our backs are usually open," Kramer explained. "We have such great wide receivers that everyone has to respect them when they go deep.

"Most teams try to control the ball by running, but we do with the short pass. We go underneath the coverage and then, when the defense comes up, we go long."

It sounds so simple, yet very few NFL teams have been able to utilize the pass as effectively as the Vikings, and certainly Brown and Young are not All-Pro receivers.

"It's easy to have a good day with Tommy playing," said Brown, a 5-foot-10, three-year veteran from North Carolina State. "He's one of the best passers in the league. He has a very strong arm and you never worry about the ball getting to you. Even in the wind, he doesn't float the ball."

Kramer had missed only one game in the past two seasons (last year's 39-14 victory at Washington because of a hand injury), but when he had to sit out the first two this season, the Vikings sputtered like an old car on a cold morning, losing to Tampa Bay, 21-13, and to Oakland, 36-10.

He strained his left knee in the final preseason game against Los Angeles and still wears a brace to protect it. Steve Dils quarterbacked the first two games, but when he suffered a separated shoulder against Oakland, it was either go with a rookie or get Kramer ready.

"I wanted to play and I practiced that week, but coach never said anything to me until Friday," Kramer recalled. "He told me to take a day off. He wanted me to rest the knee completely, then see if I had enough mobility to play. I warmed up pretty good and he let me start."

That was the beginning of the Viking resurgence. They slipped past Detroit, 26-24, on Rick Danmeier's 20-yard field goal with four seconds to play. Following a 30-13 romp at Green Bay and another squeaker, 24-21, over Chicago, Minnesota has scored 68 points the past two weeks and now is averaging 30 a game since Kramer's return. The Vikings play at St. Louis Sunday.

"Tommy is very important to our offense," said Brown. "He's a very smart quarterback, he audibilizes well and gets us in the right play for the defense we're facing. When he's in there, we know we can score from any place, any time."

In the two years since replacing Tarkenton, Kramer has earned a reputation for pulling out dramatic victories. Including that 33-31 victory at San Diego two weeks ago, he has accounted for seven last-minute wins.

"Some people have it and some people don't," Grant said when asked about the youngster's poise under pressure. "It's something in his game, that belief in himself that he's going to be able to do it."

Perhaps his upbringing has something to do with it. The youngest of 11 children, Kramer grew up with football. His father coached six seasons at Texas Lutheran and three of his brothers were college quarterbacks. He first displayed his flair for dramatics in high school.

"We won about eight of 15 games coming from behind," he said. "That's when people started calling me the Comeback Kid and things like that. It also was the first time I realized I enjoyed it.

"I don't know what it is or where it came from, I just know it's there. And once you start believing you can do it, everyone starts believing."