The Way It Was


Photograph Courtesy of The Walter P. Reuther Library Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University (The Detroit News)

1970As a burly defensive tackle for the Detroit Lions, Alex Karras faced many a fearsome foe through the years, but none quite like this: an armor-clad knight. But with poleax in hand, Karras looks determined to crush his opponent. Of course, this scenario was staged — set in the Detroit Institute of Arts for a special football preview section in The Detroit News. Karras, born in Gary, Ind., played with the Lions from 1958-62 and again from 1964-70. It wasn’t an injury that sidelined Karras during that missing year of 1963; rather, he was suspended for gambling on NFL games. That year wasn’t a good one for Karras. Although he was trained as a wrestler, he foolishly agreed to a match with the sandpaper-voiced fireplug Dick the Bruiser (aka William Afflis), who annihilated him at Olympia Stadium. This came shortly after an enraged Dick the Bruiser tore apart the Lindell AC, a downtown sports bar of which Karras was part owner. Upon retiring at 35 after the 1970 season, Karras’ career took a sharp but fruitful turn. He played the doltish Mongo in the film Blazing Saddles, and also enjoyed a stint as commentator on Monday Night Football. He also starred as himself in George Plimpton’s Paper Lion. But perhaps most people fondly recall Karras as Emmanuel Lewis’ teddy-bear adoptive father in the 1980s TV series Webster. Karras died in 2012 after battling kidney and heart disease as well as dementia.


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