Alex Karras (1935-2012)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Alex Karras (1935-2012)

Never mind that he was a member of some of the Detroit Lions best teams, Alexander George Karras was one of the funniest men to ever don a football uniform.

The late George "Paper Lion" Plimpton knew a good thing when he wrote about it, and did an even more hilarious follow-up entitled "Mad Ducks and Bears," devoted to just Karras and John Gordy.

Alex Karras in his Detroit Lions uniform

("Mad Duck" was how Karras' odd slew-footed gait in pur­suit of opposing quarterbacks was once described.)

Many, however, will recall Karras as the strong-like-tractor but slow-witted horse-punching "Mongo" in Mel Brooks' 1974 Old West spoof, "Blazing Saddles."

His comic talent first came to the fore in the film version of "Paper Lion," yet in the book version, ironically, Karras was barely mentioned since the season that Plimpton trained with the Lions, Karras was serving, along with Green Bay "Golden Boy" Paul Hornung, a year's suspension for gambling activities.

In college, Karras was first team All-American at Iowa in both 1956 and 1957, and runner-up for the 1957 Heisman Trophy, only one of two interior linemen to ever finish that high in the Heisman voting.

Not surprisingly, his Senior year he also took home the Out­land Trophy as the best interior linemen in college football.

Drafted in the first round of the 1958 NFL draft, 10th over­all, he became one of the league's dominant defensive tackles until his retirement following the 1970 season.

Though not a Pro Football Hall-of-Famer, Karras, along with Bob Lilly and Merlin Olsen, was recognized by the institution as a defensive tackle on the All-Decade Team of the '60s.

Alex Karras died today from kidney failure; he had also suffered other health problems in recent years, including cancer and, tellingly, dementia... it was something he spoke about, presciently, in his own words in 2004.

Because of the latter, his family, wife Susan Clark and six children (including five from his first wife Joan) earlier this year joined other former NFL players in filing a lawsuit against the league over issues of head injuries suffered during their careers that had caused various ill effects later in their lives.


1. Hampton West said...

I recall him putting a wicked sack on Y.A. Tittle in a Giants game circa 1961 or so, and then actually helping Tittle to his feet like saying "nothing personal." He was quite a player. I also recall he did commentary for CFL football games for awhile in the 1970's with a really sharp sense of humor.

Don't recall the CFL thing, just his three seasons with Cosell and Meredith on Monday Night Football.

Guy thrilled me on the football field, with that incredible defense of Joe Schmitt, Wayne Walker, Night Train Lane (later Lem Barney), Roger Brown, Carl Brettschneider, Darris McCord, Bruce Maher, Dick LeBeau, Mike Lucci and Yale Lary.

And he made me laugh with that second Plympton book and his always under-played talk show appearances.

2. Old Part-timer said...

Remember "Porky's"? He was funny as hell. May he RIP.

"Sheriff Wallace!" Of course I remember it, and him!

3. Jim Cordo said...

Loved when he knocked out the horse with one punch in "Blazing Saddles."

I loved it when he sacked an opposing quarterback, like Sam Wyche or John Stofa of the Bengals.

Commenting has been turned off for this entry.