Alex Karras: Wikis


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Alex Karras
Defensive tackle
Jersey #(s)
Born July 15, 1935 (1935-07-15) (age 74)
Gary, Indiana, United States
Career information
Year(s) 19581970
NFL Draft 1958 / Round: 1 / Pick: 10
College Iowa
Professional teams
Career stats
Games Played 161
Fumble recoveries 16
Interceptions 4
Stats at
Career highlights and awards

Alexander George "Alex" Karras (born July 15, 1935, in Gary, Indiana, United States), nicknamed "The Mad Duck", is a former football player, professional wrestler, and actor who is best known for playing with the Detroit Lions from 1958-1962 and 1964-1970. In addition, he starred on the ABC sitcom Webster, alongside real-life wife Susan Clark, as the titular character's adoptive father.


College career

Alex Karras is the son of Dr. George Karras, a Greek immigrant who graduated from the University of Chicago and got his medical degree in Canada. There, George Karras met and married a Canadian woman, Alex's mother. George Karras opened a medical practice in Gary, Indiana, but he died when Alex was 13 years old. By that time, Alex Karras had learned to play football in a parking lot near his home, and he blossomed into a four-time Indiana all-state selection at Gary Emerson High School.

His older brothers, Lou (a future member of the Redskins) and Ted (who later played with the Bears and Lions), had played at Purdue but later Ted transferred to Indiana. Because of this, Alex said, "Indiana had the inside track" on recruiting him, but shortly after he graduated high school, several coaches from the University of Iowa took Karras up to Spencer, Iowa, and persuaded him to sign with the Hawkeyes. The coaches had taken Karras to secluded Spencer to keep him away from rival recruiters.

Karras struggled his first few years at Iowa, with classwork, homesickness and with his coach, Forest Evashevski. He was a pledge at Sigma Nu fraternity during his first year in school. Alex probably would have left Iowa had he not befriended a Greek theater owner, as well as fellow players Cal Jones and Bob Commings. Karras' sophomore year with Iowa in 1955 got off to a rocky start when he showed up for practice twenty pounds overweight. Karras was also hampered that season by a cracked ankle bone. After being disappointed at not getting to play in the season finale, Karras threw a shoe at Evashkevski and quit the team. Karras did not earn a football letter for the 1955 season.

Karras went to summer classes and whipped his body and grades into shape. He rejoined the football team, but a strained relationship resurfaced. Evashevski promised to start Alex Karras in the 1956 season opener against Indiana, when Alex would square off against his brother, Ted. But Evy played Karras off the bench instead, and Karras quit the team again. This time, he agreed to rejoin the team only after making Evashevski promise he would not talk to Karras other than in a purely coaching capacity. (Evashevski always denied any special agreement with Karras.)

Iowa took the lead in the 1956 Big Ten title race with a 7-0 victory over Minnesota. The Hawkeyes then clinched the Big Ten title and Iowa's first ever Rose Bowl berth by defeating Ohio State, 6-0. Karras sealed the game with a quarterback sack on the game's final play.

Iowa's final regular season game in 1956 was against Notre Dame, which Iowa won, 48-8. Karras called it his biggest college win, saying, "The Karrases have always had a rivalry with Notre Dame. The school was just 60 miles down the road from our home and we wanted to beat 'em at anything."[1] However, after the game, Karras got into a physical battle with Evashevski.

Karras did not enjoy his trip to the Rose Bowl, either. "Pasadena was the most boring town I’ve ever been in," said Karras. Karras helped the Hawkeyes win the 1957 Rose Bowl over Oregon State, 35-19. He was a first team All-American in 1956.

Karras spent the summer of 1957 with an American track team of Greek descent. He participated in the shot put, throwing a respectable 52 feet. In his senior season, Alex Karras was the most dominant lineman in the nation, winning the 1957 Outland Trophy. He also placed second in the voting for the Heisman Trophy, the highest finish ever for a tackle. In addition, Karras was a consensus first team All-American in 1957.

Hawkeye teammate Randy Duncan said,

Karras hated Evashevski, and he still does. I think Karras hated Evy for a lot of reasons. Evy was on everybody's back, and he was on Karras' back big time. Karras was a great football player, but he didn't really like offense and, in those days, you had to go both ways. So he didn't block anybody. What he wanted to do was chase down quarterbacks and play defense.

Karras has not returned to Iowa since his playing days. He once remarked,

It's ridiculous for Iowa to try to compete with Ohio State and Michigan in the Big Ten. Those schools have alumni groups that can get them anything they want.


NFL career and professional wrestling

Alex Karras was drafted in the first round by the Detroit Lions in 1958. However, before his NFL career got underway, he signed a contract as a professional wrestler on December 13, 1957, earning $25,000 during the six-month off-season. Eight days later, he officially signed with the Lions, spurning an offer from the Canadian Football League's Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

On January 7, 1963, Karras' ownership in Detroit's Lindell AC Bar became a source of controversy when league officials urged him to sell his financial interests in the place because of reports of gambling and organized crime influence. After first threatening to retire rather than give it up, Karras admitted placing bets on NFL games and was suspended by the league, along with Green Bay Packers' running back Paul Hornung, for one season (1963).

During his exile, Karras returned to pro wrestling, taking on such memorable characters as Dick the Bruiser, but was then reinstated, along with Hornung, on March 16, 1964 by NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle. Upon returning to action in 1964, Karras once refused when an official asked him to call the pregame coin toss. "I'm sorry, sir," Karras replied. "I'm not permitted to gamble."[2] During his first year back, player discontent with head coach George Wilson resulted in Karras asking to be traded. However, the Lions settled the issue when they fired Wilson after the 1964 NFL season.

After another season of controversy under new head coach Harry Gilmer, Karras was rumored to be ready to play out his option and sign with the expansion Miami Dolphins of the American Football League under his former coach Wilson. Instead, Karras signed a seven-year contract with the Lions on May 20, 1966, with Wilson stating that Karras had used the threat of signing with Miami to garner the large deal with Detroit.

Despite the new contract, controversy remained, as Karras and Gilmer sparred in midseason, with the coach reportedly ready to release the veteran defensive tackle. As before, it would be the coach who would depart, with Karras' former teammate Joe Schmidt taking over.

On June 4, 1967, Karras once again hinted that he would retire in order to work at a new business venture; but once training camp began, Karras was back with the Lions. During that preseason, he jokingly commented that he would walk back from Denver if the AFL Broncos defeated the Lions. When that actually happened, Karras backtracked and flew home on the team plane.

Longtime teammate Joe Schmidt became Lions coach in 1967. Karras was still an All-Pro selection in 1967-69, but after sustaining a knee injury late in the 1970 season, reported to training camp in 1971 with his job in jeopardy. After unimpressive performances in the 1971 preseason, Karras was released, ending his playing career at the age of 35.

Movies and television

In 1968, Karras figured prominently in the film adaptation of George Plimpton's sports book Paper Lion, playing himself. Three years later, Karras was under consideration for the part of Carlo Rizzi, the duplicitous brother-in-law of the Corleone family, in The Godfather. The role was one of many acting opportunities that developed following his performance in Paper Lion.

Following his release by the Lions in 1971, he began acting on a full-time basis, playing a Tennessee boy turned Olympic weightlifter named Hugh Ray Feather in 1973's The 500-Pound Jerk. He played a hulking villain who menaced Clint Walker in the ABC TV film "Hardcase." A minor but memorable role came one year later in the western parody Blazing Saddles: the very strong and slow-witted thug Mongo, who rides into town on a huge steer (marked with "yes" and "no" passing signals), knocks out a horse with one punch, and famously responds to a question from Sheriff Bart with, "Don't know..." (looking straight into the camera) "...Mongo just pawn in game of life."

That same year, he was quickly brought in by ABC to replace Fred Williamson as a commentator for the network's Monday Night Football. He served three years in that role until leaving after the 1976 NFL season, with his most memorable comment coming in his first game, when he joked that bald Oakland Raiders' lineman Otis Sistrunk, who never attended college, was from "the University of Mars." [3]

Karras returned to acting with roles that included as the sheriff (Porky's brother) in Porky's and as western settler Hans Brumbaugh in Centennial. He again showed a comedic flair playing a closeted homosexual bodyguard named "Squash" in the movie Victor/Victoria. Other roles were noted in Maid in America, Masada, Arli$$, FM, and Alcatraz.

His television roles included an appearance on M*A*S*H in the episode "Springtime", and a brief run on Match Game '75. In 1977 he was cast in the lead of the TV movie Mad Bull.[4]

In the 1980s, Karras had memorable success in the TV sitcom Webster, playing George Papadapolis, the adoptive father of the title character, in a role that showcased his softer side. His actual wife, Susan Clark, played his fictional wife in the series; she also had a role in Porky's but the two never appeared in the same scenes. He and Susan Clark were also in the CBS movie Babe (1975), playing George Zaharias to her Babe Didrikson (Zaharias). Karras also played in the 1980s movie Against All Odds starring Jeff Bridges.


In conjunction with the 100 Years of Hawkeye Football celebration in 1989, Iowa Hawkeye fans selected an all-time team. The squad featured eleven players on offense and defense, two kickers, and fifteen special mention players who received strong fan support. Alex Karras was voted to the team as a defensive lineman. Karras was elected to the Iowa Sports Hall of Fame in 1977 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1991.

Later activities

Karras also worked briefly as a football coach in 2007 and 2008. He worked for the SIL as an assistant coach to Bob Lombardi.

Alex recently owned an ice cream parlor in Surfside Beach, South Carolina called The Cow.


  • Tales From The Iowa Sidelines, by Ron Maly (ISBN 1-58261-574-8)
  • Greatest Moments In Iowa Hawkeyes Football History, by Mark Dukes & Gus Schrader (ISBN 1-57243-261-6)
  • Evy and the Hawkeyes, by Brian Chapman and Mike Chapman (ISBN 0-88011-186-0)

External links

Preceded by
Jim Parker
Outland Trophy Winners
Succeeded by
Zeke Smith


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