TAMPA, FLA., JAN. 14 -- Wade Wilson didn't know he was a scrambling quarterback until about three weeks ago, though better seven years late than never.

Wilson now is avoiding the pass rush, even running for 75 yards against the Washington Redskins on Dec. 26. It seems Tommy Kramer still is the front office's choice as quarterback, but Kramer has a bum shoulder and Wilson's not playing like a bum anymore.

So Wilson starts Sunday's NFC championship game against the Washington Redskins, although Kramer will be available, peering over his shoulder as usual. If the past means anything, Coach Jerry Burns will replace Wilson at the drop of a hat -- or a pass. Burns already has made nine quarterback changes this year.

Certainly, the Vikings have every reason to have faith in Kramer, a Pro Bowl selection in 1986 who threw for 490 yards in a game against the Redskins last season. Vikings General Manager Mike Lynn said a couple weeks ago that Kramer is next season's starter even though this season isn't even over. Lynn also said: "If we had the Tommy Kramer of 1986 in 1987, we would've walked into the playoffs."

Instead, they had the Kramer of 1987, and they backed into the playoffs. Kramer's season got off on the wrong foot when he was picked up for drunk driving in August. Then he developed a nerve problem in his shoulder, causing him to put up more lobs than Gabriela Sabatini. After one of Kramer's lazy screen passes was nearly intercepted in the wild-card playoff game against New Orleans, offensive coordinator Bob Schnelker screamed: "Throw the damn ball." For Kramer, that's easier said than done.

That leaves the Vikings with Wilson, who's been around since 1981. When he looks back, he thinks he found himself in this season's Chicago game when he came off the bench and completed 12 of 19 passes for three touchdowns and 211 yards -- although Chicago won. In the Redskins game, he found that he could scramble, too, so what the Vikings suddenly have is a complete quarterback: strong arm, strong legs, no alcohol problem.

Actually, Wilson's nickname is "Whiskey," although it's not alcohol-related. Kramer, on the other hand, has been through alcohol rehabilitation and still has not rid himself of that drinking reputation.

The latest episode happened this offseason, when Kramer was at a Minneapolis restaurant, and the owners called police to say he was drinking. Police waited outside, and after Kramer left in his car, they pulled him over.

"Well, the public gets the wrong idea because of what they read about me and what they hear," said Kramer, who disputes the arrest. "They don't know the whole story, and once justice is served, they'll know the whole story."

The Vikings' third-string quarterback -- Rich Gannon, a rookie from Delaware -- also has been charged with driving while intoxicated. When the Vikings acquired Gannon last spring, Wilson wondered how long he'd be with the football team.

"It was my seventh year, and I was really beginning to wonder," Wilson said here this week as the Vikings prepared for the Redskins. "Especially when they got Rich. They were kind of proclaiming him as their next quarterback, and I kind of wondered if my time would ever come or if I'd even be in Minneapolis.

Wilson watches what he says about Kramer, because they dress right next to each other in the locker room, and he doesn't want Kramer to think he's bad-mouthing him. Besides they play cards every day (even though Kramer always gets tobacco chew on the cards). Their relationship is truly decent, Kramer even lending Wilson some short pants down here in balmy Tampa.

Kramer, though, is a forgotten man this week, while the media crowds around Wilson. "It's frustrating for me knowing here we are on the brink of a Super Bowl, and I'm not playing," Kramer said.

Kramer appears a little perturbed that the Vikings' offense is opening up more with him out of the picture. "All season long, we weren't throwing as much as we did the last two games," he said.

Wilson did throw 34 times in the Vikings' 36-24 victory over San Francisco last week, completing 20 for 298 yards and two touchdowns. On the other hand, Wilson has an arm right now that Kramer doesn't. Wilson played in a pro-style offense at East Texas State and reportedly has thrown a ball 55 yards from his knees.

For the season, Wilson has completed 140 of 264 passes for 2,106 yards with 14 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Kramer is 40 of 80 for 452 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions.

Although Kramer clearly has had to overcome a lot, so has Wilson, who was diagnosed as a diabetic in 1985. He'd been losing a lot of weight and, when he learned his ailment, he thought the Vikings might dump him. Lynn said that never crossed their minds, but it crossed Wilson's, who injects himself with doses of insulin twice every day.

"I found out you can lead a normal life," Wilson said. "I exercise, watch my diet and use the insulin. It {the shots} is a hassle, but it has to be done. What I like is that people are finding out that you can live and play professional football with it. My saying is that I have it under control, so it can't control me."

Just to have something to fall back on, he became a stockbroker last summer, but he wasn't enthused when the stock market crashed in October.

It appeared the Vikings had crashed, too, when Wilson threw three interceptions against the Redskins in the final regular season game, even though he scrambled well. One of those interceptions was returned 100 yards for a touchdown by cornerback Barry Wilburn, and it's that type of thing that prompts Lynn to think of Kramer.

"That was my problem early in the season," Wilson said. "I tried to do too many things outside of my ability because I wanted to make something happen {so he could} stay in the game."

That's the Kramer-peering-over-his-shoulder factor.

Against the Redskins in December, Wilson said he scrambled for 75 yards because the cornerbacks played a lot of man to man and had their backs to him. Same thing with the 49ers, he said. And against the 49ers, he said he was throwing balls away instead of forcing them, and that's another improvement.

"Yeah, I'm scrambling more, but I'm playing more," said Wilson, whose seven-year itch has dissipated.