Remembering Detroit Lions’ Legend Alex Karras

He was called “The Mad Duck,” “Tippy Toes,” and “Pig” by his teammates who were often victims of his practical jokes. Bigger than life on and off the field, Alex Karras became one of the game’s greatest defensive tackles in a brilliant and sometimes stormy All Pro career before moving to Hollywood and applying his keen sense of humor and innate acting ability to embark on a successful film and television career.

karras_alexAs soon as the Iowa All-American arrived in Detroit in 1958, Karras quickly became a dominant player in the days of the “front four defensive alignment”. As a member of the Lion’s much heralded “Fearsome Foursome” in the early 60’s, Karras, Roger Brown, Darris McCord, and Sam Williams wreaked havoc on quarterbacks scrambling for their life.

Although light for a tackle at 6’2 248 pounds and blind as a bat without his black horned rimmed glasses on, Karras used his quickness, agility and aggressiveness first honed from his high school fullback days to shoot through and around “the pit”.

“I figured out early on that if you wanted to play in the line, you have to be a matador,” he says. You don’t want to take a banging every time. In the passing game, the minute you collide it takes seconds and that’s all the backfield needs,” he says. “I was a bullfighter,” Karras says, while fondly recalling the Sunday afternoons in Tiger Stadium when the Lions roared.

“I loved that place and Wrigley Field in Chicago because the crowds were part of the game. It kept me up and encouraged me. The Lion fans were terrific. I had a wonderful time in Detroit, and even though I we didn’t win a championship, I am proud to say we played to win and were always in the game.”

Many have wondered why arguably the NFL’s preeminent tackle of the1960’s has not been elected to the Hall of Fame. Some speculate that it might be in part due to his constant stinging criticism of Pete Rozelle after the NFL Commissioner singled out Karras and Green Bay star Paul Hornung by suspending them for one year in 1963 for gambling on games. (Karras was never accused of betting against the Lions)

“I guess I’m not surprised,” says Karras. “I am in the Iowa, Indiana and Michigan Hall of Fames. That’s great, but it’s not as great as when I played,” he says.

During his 1963 suspension, Karras wrestled, and tended bar at the Lindell AC of which he was part owner until he was forced to sell his interest as a condition for reinstatement. One week after his suspension was announced, and just days after a staged pre-match challenge with wrestler “Dick the Bruiser” went awry and turned into the Lindell’s most famous brawl, (sending police officers to the hospital and fans to the ticket gate,) the two wrestled at Olympia Stadium before a sellout crowd. Although Bruiser won the match in 11 minutes, Karras was handsomely rewarded.

“For that one night’s work, I made $17,000, $4,000 more than I made with the Lions” he says. “Actually, I think I made more money working for Hoot and Tom McInerney selling cars in the off season than I did in my football career. But that was a different era and before agents.”

After starring in the movie Paper Lion based upon George Plimpton’s best selling book about his tryout with the Lions, Karras made numerous appearances on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” and was on his way to a new career in show-business.

After broadcasting for three seasons on ABC’s Monday Night Football with Frank Gifford and Howard Cosell (“both were real sweet people”) and making national commercials, Karras was off to Hollywood appearing in movies and the television show “Webster” that he developed with his wife, actress Susan Clark.

Although he is retired from show business, Karras has been highly successful with his real estate investments and still lives in California with Clark.

Hopefully one day he will receive the call to be enshrined in Canton where he belongs.