Alex Karras of the Detroit Lions, 1971 AP file photo
“It takes more courage to reveal insecurities than to hide them, more strength to relate to people than to dominate them, more ‘manhood’ to abide by thought-out principles rather than blind reflex. Toughness is in the soul and spirit, not in muscles and an immature mind.”
Yesterday Alex Karras, All-Pro defensive lineman for the Detroit Lions passed away at the age of 77. Karras followed up with a sucessful career as a pro wrestler and as an actor in movies and on TV’s Webster. The New York Times obituary of Alex Karras reads in part:
Karras, at 6 feet 2 inches and 248 pounds — large then but smaller in comparison with today’s N.F.L. linemen — first earned fame as a ferocious tackle for the Lions. He anchored the defensive line for 12 seasons over 13 years, 1958 to 1970.
It was an era when the N.F.L. had abundant talent at the position; Karras’s contemporaries included the Hall of Famers Bob Lilly and Merlin Olsen. But Karras was an especially versatile pass rusher, known around the league for his combination of strength, speed and caginess. His furious approach — Plimpton described it as a “savage, bustling style of attack” — earned him the nickname the Mad Duck.
“Most defensive tackles have one move, they bull head-on,” Doug Van Horn, a New York Giants offensive lineman who had to block Karras, said in 1969. “Not Alex. There is no other tackle like him. He has inside and outside moves, a bull move where he puts his head down and runs over you, or he’ll just stutter-step you like a ballet dancer.”
Karras was named to four Pro Bowls, and he was a member of the N.F.L’s All-Decade team of the 1960s. He was not elected to the Hall of Fame, however, which has sometimes been attributed to the fact that the Lions fielded mostly undistinguished teams during his tenure. In Karras’s only playoff game, the Lions lost to the Dallas Cowboys by the unlikely score of 5-0 in 1970.
Read on at the Times for lots more. Some of my favorite Karras items:
- You can get an overview of his career in the Alex Karras entry on Wikipedia. He was recognized as part of the all-1960s Defense Team by the Pro Football Hall of Fame and won the 1957 Outland Trophy winner as the country’s best collegiate lineman and was a first- or second-team All-NFL choice nine times in his 12-year career.
- The Detroit Lions have an obituary from the Karras family that includes a tribute photo gallery. and some memories posted to Twitter. On the right (at least this morning) is an brief video chat with Karras from 2003 on the Paper Lion reunion.
- Participatory journalist George Plimpton’s book Paper Lion: Confessions of a Last String Quarterback is an incredible book that tells the story of Plimpton’s training with the Detroit Lions. It remains one of the best behind the scenes looks at the NFL. Karras is one of the stars of the book and the pair remained friends. Here’s a video of Plimpton & Karras talking about wresting.
- ESPN has a 2004 interview with Alex Karras about his football career, a $9000 annual salary and his reunion with Lions teammates. He also touches on the dangers of the game and health impacts. Karras was part of a 3500 player lawsuit against the NFL for negative health impacts and ultimately he suffered from dementia and other symptoms. There’s also an interesting interview of Karras from last year that touches on a variety of subjects including his Iowa Hawkeye & NFL career and his work as an actor.
- One of my favorite roles he played was Mongo in Mel Brooks Blazing Saddles. Click that link for some of the slightly off-color but totally hilarious clips.