There’s a point in every documentary where someone always says, “We didn’t have the internet then,” or “There were no cell phones.” While the topic is usually valid, indicating where technology was at the time, it is usually a lazy throw-away line to show people could get away with certain things or information that wasn’t easy to access. One fun exercise along these lines is something people making NFL picks would likely enjoy.
What would members of NFL history be viewed differently now if they came along in the social media/24-hour news cycle era of sports news coverage? One player who immediately springs to mind is Alex Karras. Karras, an Indiana native who died at age 77 in 2012, was one of the league’s most colorful characters in the pre-Super Bowl era. Here’s a look at the life of a football player and actor.
An Athletic Family
Alex Karras started his collegiate career at Iowa. Anyone making NFL predictions during the 1950s and ‘60s could count on at least one Karras to be involved in the league’s games. Karras’ brothers Lou and Ted also played in the NFL.
Karras didn’t enjoy his time in Iowa City. He clashed with coach Forest Evashevski and would barely be on speaking terms with him by the end of his collegiate career. While Karras couldn’t stand his coach, he flourished with the Hawkeyes.
Karras helped Iowa win the Big Ten championship in 1956 to earn their first Rosel Bowl berth. The Hawkeyes beat Oregon State 35-19 in the bowl game. During Karras’ senior season in 1957, he won the Outland Trophy award for the country’s best lineman.
Professional Wrestling and the NFL
Karras was chosen as the No. 10 overall pick by the Detroit Lions in the 1958 NFL draft. However, Karras didn’t wait until he could start playing football to make money. Karras signed as a professional wrestler six months before being drafted.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers also offered Karras a contract. While Karras had plenty of offers, playing in Detroit proved to be a good match. He played 12 seasons with the Lions and was named All-Pro nine times, including three first-team selections.
Gambling Didn’t Cost Karras
Many NFL expert picks Karras enjoyed gambling himself. In January 1963, he was forced to sell his investment in a Detroit bar with ties to organized crime and gambling. As a result of the battle over the bar, Karras admitted to betting on the NFL.
He and Green Bay Packers legend Paul Hornung were suspended for the entire 1963 season. While he was away from football, Karras returned to professional wrestling and made more money than he did playing football.
Following a season where the Lions went 10-4 and made the playoffs in 1970, Karras decided to retire. He only missed one game due to injury during his career and played in 161 games for the Lions. Karras would be chosen to the Pro Football Hall of Fame posthumously, being selected in 2020.
Karras only had the chance to play in one playoff game during his career, which came during his last season in the league. Detroit’s defense played great. The Lions didn’t allow the Dallas Cowboys to score a touchdown. However, in typical Lions’ fashion, they lost the game 5-0.
Karras started acting shortly after returning from football. After starting in bit parts, Karras would turn in a memorable performance as Mongo, a villain, in 1974’s Blazing Saddles, a spoof of other western movies. Karras’ supporting role would end up being one of the more memorable parts of the film.
In one scene, Karras shows how tough his character is by punching a horse. He also got a few lines that drew big laughs about how his character was only a “pawn in the game of life.” Karras would pick up roles here and there until 1998.