Login |

NFL Great Alex Karras Dies at 77

NFL's Detroit Lion's Great Alex Karras Dies at 77

Photo – Alex Karras - Lions

Former NFL defensive tackle Alex Karras passed away this Wednesday at the age of 77 from kidney failure after being diagnosed with dementia in recent years.

Karras was one of the NFL's best feared defensive tackles throughout the 1960s, coupling with Roger Brown to form a dominant inside tandem. Karras was a huge success after his 12 year NFL career as an actor, best known for his role in “Blazing Saddles” as Mongo and later as the lovable dad in the sitcom “Webster”.

Karras was a defender who hounded QBs, combining both quickness and power that earned him four Pro Bowl invitations over his 12 year career. He spent his entire NFL career with the Lions before retiring in 1970 at age 35.

He transcended football in a different way that rarely happens for players of any era. In addition to his movie and TV sitcom experience he made a successful transition to his acting career with a stint as a commentator on "Monday Night Football," working opposite the always verbose Howard Cosell and former Giant great Frank Gifford.

He died at home in Los Angeles surrounded by family members, said Craig Mitnick, Karras' attorney. "Perhaps no player in Lions history attained as much success and notoriety for what he did after his playing days as did Alex," Lions president Tom Lewand said.

His death also will be tied to the NFL's conflict with former players over concussions. This past April, Karras joined the more than 3,500 NFL veterans suing the league for not protecting them better from head injuries. He became one of the best-known names in the legal fight that has caused the NFL to take new steps on addressing head injuries. Recently, his wife said Karras' quality of life had deteriorated because of head injuries sustained during his NFL playing career.

Mitnick said the family had not yet decided whether to donate Karras' brain for study, as other families have done. His wife Clark said her husband couldn't drive after loving to get behind the wheel and couldn't remember recipes for some of the favorite Italian and Greek dishes he used to cook.

"This physical beating that he took as a football player has impacted his life, and therefore it has impacted his family life," Clark told The Associated Press earlier this year. "He is interested in making the game of football safer and hoping that other families of retired players will have a healthier and happier retirement."

Clark has said he was formally diagnosed with dementia several years ago and has had symptoms for more than a dozen years. He joined hundreds of other former players suing the league.

Born in Gary, Ind., Karras starred for four years at Iowa. Detroit drafted Karras with the 10th overall pick in 1958, and he was a four-time All-Pro defensive tackle over 12 seasons with the franchise. He was the heart of the Lions' defensive line, terrorizing QBs for years. He will always be remembered for his performance when the Lions handed the powerful 1962 Green Bay Packers their only defeat that season in a 26-14 upset on Thanksgiving during which they harassed QB Bart Starr constantly.

He missed the 1963 season when he was suspended by NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle in a gambling probe. Karras was recognized by the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a defensive tackle on the All-Decade Team of the 1960s.

Karras later wrote an autobiography, "Even Big Guys Cry," and two other books, "Alex Karras" and "Tuesday Night Football." Lewand said Karras also loved to garden and cook.
Packers guard Jerry Kramer wrote in his diary of the 1967 season about his trepidation over having to play opposite Karras. Their one on one battles were legendary during the 1960s.

Frank Coyle is a long time member of the FWAA and voter in College player awards - Heisman, Outland, Nagurski, Lombardi, Thorpe etc for the past 18 years. He writes College Football Mondays weekly during the season. He is a longtime scouting consultant for the Senior Bowl, the nation’s premier postseason All-star game. He does sports radio shows for ESPN, CBS, Fox Sports and Sporting News on a year round basis related to College Football especially during the postseason team and All-star Bowl time. He has worked for CBS Sports, NBC Sports, Yahoo and Rivals sports publications and web sites.