DETROIT LIONS GREAT ALEX KARRAS DIES AT 77
By TOM WEIR
The NFL lost not only a great player but also one of the great personalities of its formative years today with the passing of Alex Karras at the age of 77.
Karras died in Los Angeles surrounded by family after battling kidney disease, heart disease, dementia and stomach cancer the last two years, a family spokesman said.
Karras was a fearsome defensive lineman for the Detroit Lions from 1958-1970, a four-time Pro Bowl player who gets left out of conversations about the greatest pass rushers because individual sacks weren't counted until 1982.
But Karras' gift of humor made him known to generations of fans as one of the NFL's first players to have prominence in movies and on television after his playing career ended.
His affinity for acting first surfaced when he played himself in "Paper Lion," the movie version about writer George Plimpton's book on going through training camp with the Lions.
Karras also was on the Monday Night Football crew for three years in the '70s, and made the famous comment about the Raiders' Otis Sistrunk being from "The University of Mars" as steam came off the hulking lineman's bald head.
Karras was a master of punchlines, but his most memorable cinematic moment involved a real punch, when his "Mongo' character in "Blazing Saddles" dealt a one-punch knockout to a horse in the 1974 comedy classic.
In college at the University of Iowa, Karras won the 1957 Outland Trophy and was the rare defensive lineman to make a strong run for the Heisman Trophy, finishing second to John David Crow.
Karras' pro career was interrupted by a one-year suspension in 1963 for gambling, but he eventually found away to be humorous about that setback. In his first season back he was asked to call heads or tails in a pregame coin flip, and responded to the referee, "I'm sorry sir. I'm not permitted to gamble."
Karras' nickname was "The Mad Duck," and he honed some of his showman skills as a professional wrestler during his suspension year. His most popular television role came when he starred as a lovable father in the '80s sitcom "Webster."
Here's a collection of some of his other one-liners, culled from Glen Liebman's "Football Shorts."
On his college education: "I never graduated from the University of Iowa, but I was only there for two terms -- Truman's and Eisenhower's."
On his golf game: "My best score ever was 103. But I've only been playing 15 years."
On George Allen being a coach who preferred to have veterans: "He's great to the old guys. He's got one trainer just to treat varicose veins."
On what Karras thought would be the most profitable type of writing career: "Ransom notes."
On what was the best way to stop Jim Brown's running game: "Give each guy on the line an axe."