Karras cared more about making Hall of Fame than he let on

Jul 20, 2021, 10:06 PM | Updated: Jul 21, 2021, 10:13 am

A dozen NFL seasons packed with All-Pro roughhousing, easy celebrity and lots of laughs would be a fulsome career for any man. That was just Alex Karras’ opening act.

Karras was a natural in front of the camera, whether crumpling quarterbacks on a muddy field in Detroit or spilling locker-room secrets across the desk from Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show.” After his final season in 1970, he didn’t stay benched for long.

Karras put that tough-guy image and excellent timing to good use, launching a second career that introduced him to a new generation. He was a part-time pro wrestler, sportscaster, popular TV series guest, co-star of a hit sitcom, “Webster,” and all the while, a movie actor with credits ranging from “Against All Odds” to “Victor/Victoria” and perhaps most memorably to “Blazing Saddles.”

For all the acclaim that followed, Karras died at age 77 in 2012 without one of the honors he coveted most: a bust in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Better late than never, Karras will be formally enshrined as part of the Hall’s Centennial Class of 2020. During a small ceremony at Canton, Ohio, in April, Hall officials unveiled the bronze bust of Karras and handed it to his grandson.

“They let my son, Demos, lift it and place it on the spot where it will always be,” Carolyn Karras, one of Alex’s six children, said in a recent interview. “It brought a lot of closure.

“He knew he was good enough. To finally be in there with all those people,” she added, “I’m sure he’s very happy about it.”

Karras’ installment should put to rest years of speculation about why he wasn’t inducted sooner. Despite being one of the game’s most-feared defensive tackles, some suggested the three-time All-Pro and four-time Pro Bowler was hamstrung by a run of bad Lions teams and only one playoff performance. Others said Karras’ criticism of team owners and his running battles with then-Commissioner Pete Rozelle may have played a role, too. Most agreed that his nearly year-long suspension in 1963 for betting on NFL games — along with Green Bay Packers star running back Paul Hornung – made Karras a complicated choice. He didn’t help matters by refusing to show much contrition.

“He believed in fairness and he said what needed to be said, whether it was appropriate or not,” Carolyn Karras said. “And I’m not sure how, but I got this picture of him going into the hall stuck in my head. So I started finding out who the voters were. Two or three got back to me early on and were a great help.

“My argument was, ‘He bet on games, but never on his own team, and he wouldn’t kiss Pete Rozelle’s ass. So? Not every guy in the Hall of Fame lived a Hall of Fame life. C’mon, give him another look.'”

Her own football memories are snapshots from childhood: “Thanksgiving Day, in front of a tiny black-and-white TV. … Walking behind him on bring-your-kid-to-training-camp day. … Everybody looked big. But he looked enormous.”

Playing at 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds, Karras was indeed big for his time but small in comparison to NFL linemen today. His versatility, though, would have been a boon in any era.

“There is no other tackle like him,” Doug Van Horn of the New York Giants, a frequent opponent, said in 1969. “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, the son of a Greek immigrant doctor and a Canadian nurse, grew up in Gary, Indiana and seemed destined to play football. Two older brothers, Lou and Ted, made the NFL ahead of Alex, and after a rough start at Iowa, he won the Outland Trophy his senior year, and the Lions made him the 10th overall pick in the 1958 draft. He turned out to be as dominant in the pros as he’d been in college.

Late in life, Karras struggled with dementia, as well as heart disease and cancer, and joined 3,500 other former players in filing concussion-related lawsuits against the NFL.

“Honestly, I thought he’d quit caring about the game a long time ago. But just before I went to Canton, my brother George told me a story,” Carolyn Karras said. “They were at Dad’s house in Malibu and watching a Dodgers game. It was a couple of years before he died. And at one point, Dad tells George, ‘I can guarantee you two things that will never happen:

“One, the Cubbies won’t win a World Series; and two, I won’t ever make it into the Hall of Fame.'”

Karras was wrong on both counts.

___

More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - Jan Blachowicz, right, reacts after knocking out Luke Rockhold during the second round of th...
Associated Press

UFC 282: Suddenly vacant light heavyweight belt at stake

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Jan Blachowicz and Magomed Ankalaev have been waiting for their shot at the light heavyweight title, and neither expected it to come Saturday. They were supposed to compete in the co-main event of UFC 282 until champion Jiri Prochazka pulled out last month of his fight with second-ranked Glover Teixeira because […]
2 days ago
FILE - Brittney Griner (15) runs up court during women's basketball gold medal game against Japan a...
Associated Press

Quote Box: Reaction to Brittney Griner’s release from Russia

Reactions after WNBA star Brittney Griner was freed from a Russian prison in a high-profile prisoner exchange. ___ “A strong woman has the strength of 10 men. If you think about all the women that have been advocating for BG for nine months and you add up our strength. This movement brought her home. Yes […]
2 days ago
Perci Ami, left, of Laveen, Ariz., and Patty Talahongva show support for Brittney Griner, Thursday,...
Associated Press

Brittney Griner’s release celebrated by basketball world

Brittney Griner’s loved ones and extended basketball family were ecstatic when news broke Thursday about her release from a Russian prison and that she was on her way back to the United States. It has been nearly 300 days since the WNBA star was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February, when customs officials said […]
2 days ago
Associated Press

Youth hockey doctor faces more sex abuse charges

FARMINGTON HILLS, Mich. (AP) — A suburban Detroit doctor already jailed on criminal sexual conduct charges connected to his work with youth hockey organizations has been charged in two additional cases. Zvi Levran, 66, is accused of sexually assaulting a 30-year-old man in 2020 in Levran’s Farmington Hills home and a 14-year-old boy in 2018 […]
2 days ago
Associated Press

New Mexico State Police release fatal campus shooting video

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) — State Police have released surveillance footage of last month’s fatal shooting on the University of New Mexico campus in Albuquerque that involved a basketball player from a rival school. Rooftop parking lot video released Tuesday by police showed that three people approached New Mexico State University junior forward Mike Peake, […]
2 days ago
Poland's Arkadiusz Milik, left, and France's Youssouf Fofana, right, fight for the ball during the ...
Associated Press

From serving pizzas, Fofona now delivering World Cup crosses

AL RAYYAN, Qatar (AP) — Youssouf Fofana has gone from serving pizzas to delivering crosses in the World Cup. Dropped in 2015 at age 14 from Clairefontaine, France’s national training center, his future in soccer seemed at an end. So he went to work for a pizzeria. “That was the best way to earn money […]
2 days ago
Karras cared more about making Hall of Fame than he let on