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Alex Karras: Football Hero, Post Contributor

Published: October 11, 2012

Alex Karras

Alex Karras passed away October 10, 2012, at age 77. Mr. Karras was an All-Pro defensive tackle for the Detroit Lions. In addition to a 13-year career in football, he was a bar owner, actor, color commentator for Monday Night Football, and professional wrestler (briefly).

He was also a writer, as the 1971 Post article “Football, Anyone?” proves.

His writing skills might strike you as only slightly less surprising than his acting talent, which caught many people unaware back in the early 1970s.

Karras’ post-football career began in 1966. Author George Plimpton talked his way into training with the Lions for a season, hoping to eventually play with the team as a third-string quarterback. In the book he produced about his experiences, “Paper Lion,” Plimpton frequently mentioned Karras. The book was eventually made into a movie, with Alan Alda starring as Plimpton. Alex Karras played himself and was so believable that he was soon offered other roles in movies and TV shows.

He began his writing career after his team failed to renew his contract because of what was called “diminishing athletic prowess.” Fortunately he was just beginning to prove his prowess as an entertainer, writer, and—we think, justifiably—humorist. To wit:

Football, Anyone?
I can honestly say I never did have much fun playing football. I’m not trying to degrade the game, it’s the situation I was in. Basically, it is a rough sport, and when I speak of sense of humor, I mean being able to forget it off the field and make fun of the things you have to do.

We have summer camp that lasts six weeks. This means going twice a day starting in July, when the temperatures are in the mid-80’s or higher. If anyone enjoys that he must be a little sun-tetched.

There’s not much to do—it just consumes a lot of time. You’re there early in the morning, in the afternoon, and at a meeting in the evening at 8. This lasts until 9:30 and we have curfew at 11. There’s really not a helluva lot to do between 9:30 and 11. I always wanted to be able to have fun in that hour and a half, so I thought of many things I could do.

I always wanted a pet. Last year, at the age of 35, I decided to buy a pet and take it to camp with me. My pet and I could spend that hour and a half together. I didn’t really think a dog or cat would be fitting, cooped up in that cubicle we live in.

Finally, I came up with a great idea. A clam. I bought one and put it in one of those pails we use. My clam and I spent many weeks together in my room. We really didn’t do that much, just look at each other and spit. That little clam would spit and I would spit back. At the end of the evening when the coaches said lights out, I would play his favorite record—”Ebbtide.”

My clam and I had everything going until some damn, dumb rookie who got thirsty picked up my pail for a drink. He didn’t even use a dipper; he just tipped the pail up and swallowed everything in that bucket, including my clam.

 

… I’ll tell you what happened to us in New Orleans, which I think is ridiculous. I hope the Commissioner will take a stand on this.

Alex Karras with actress Lauren Hutton in a scene from "Paper Lion."

We had won five or six games straight, and our intentions were to go to New Orleans and have a good time. We played the Saints the following day and it looked like we’d had a good time. We were playing just well enough to be leading by one point and felt good about that.

New Orleans had the ball on their own 27-yard line, 27 seconds left to play in the game, fourth down, and called time out. We were waiting for the punting team to come out and the darndest thing happened.

The only person to come on the field was a stubby looking fellow with an odd type helmet. I haven’t seen a helmet like this since the banana-peel helmet of the Knute Rockne days. I’m not quite sure, and I hate to say this if it isn’t true; but on top of the helmet was a beanie-shaped thing with a propeller on it, and the propeller was going in the opposite direction propellers should go. It was the darnedest thing I’ve ever seen. I asked the referee if this was the new punter. No, he was their field goal kicker.

He was going to try and kick a 63-yard field goal. That was the funniest thing I’d heard in my life, and about five guys on our team who heard this went into convulsions laughing and had to leave the field as did three of theirs. I flipped with the fellow on the outside to see if I could play there, as I wanted to look over the little halfbacks who look like frogs on kicking teams. I wanted to watch this funny, funny sight a guy trying to kick a 63-yard field goal. It was the darnedest thing I’d ever heard.

The only other guy who was serious at the time was their center. They can thank the Lord, for he did snap the ball correctly, and it did go into the quarterback’s hands, who placed it down.

I never will forget the laugh. We laughed for about 62 yards. Then we got real serious about the whole thing. Tom Dempsey kicked a 63-yard field goal and beat us.

The Post editors concluded the article with this contemporary critique of the budding journalist.

Alex Karras is the defensive left tackle of the Detroit Lions and has been for 13 years. Despite the violence of his trade, he is a gentle and literate giant off the field, a devoted father, president of the parent-teachers group in his home town, and is willing at all times to offer his talents as an after-dinner speaker for worthy charitable causes. Looking 10 years younger than his 36 years, and oddly unmarked either physically or spiritually by his career, he has a strain of throwaway humor that suggests a locker-room Mark Twain. Most teams facing Karras put two men on him, so greatly is he feared, and it is reported that they can’t see anything funny about him.

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  • Ima Ryma

    Alex Karras, as a young kid,
    Did join the high school football team,
    So older brother Teddy did
    Not further smack his self esteem,
    Using him as a punching bag.
    Football or else, Teddy did say.
    Alex thought football was a drag,
    And Alex did not want to play,
    But life with Teddy could be grim.
    Football basics were kinda hard.
    First day the coach had to tell him
    A jock strap is not a nose guard.

    To football fame went The Mad Duck,
    Ruffled feathers and gave a pluck.