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A roundup of news on sporting events, people and places in Southeast Michigan by columnist Jim Evans.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

In homage to Alex Karras

Growing up as a fan of the Detroit Lions, Alex Karras was larger than life.
His seeming contradictions took on some real magnitude, too.
A seriously tough guy, he wore glasses that Wally Cox would’ve embraced.
An All-Pro football player who could also really act. Think Sir Laurence Olivier in eye black.
As a member of the Lions’ Fearsome Foursome, he routinely throttled people on the football field. He also knocked out a horse with one punch in Blazing Saddles.
His wife, Susan Clark, reported that her husband is suffering from kidney failure and does not have long to live.

In a sense, I grew up with Alex Karras. He came to the Lions as a first-round draft pick out of the University of Iowa in 1958. He played his entire NFL career with the Lions retiring in 1970 at age 35.
He was a first-team All-Pro in 1960, 1961 and 1965, and he made the Pro Bowl four times. He missed the 1963 season when he was suspended by NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle in a gambling probe. Karras was recognized by the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a defensive tackle on the All-Decade Team of the 1960s.
"We know Alex first and foremost as one of the cornerstones to our Fearsome Foursome defensive line of the 1960s and also as one of the greatest defensive linemen to ever play in the NFL," Lions president and Royal Oak Shrine grad Tom Lewand said in a statement released late Monday night. "Many others across the country came to know Alex as an accomplished actor and as an announcer during the early years of Monday Night Football.
"We join his legions of fans from both sports and entertainment in prayer and support for Alex, his wife Susan, and his entire family during this most difficult time."
Like I said, I grew up with Alex Karras. When I was a kid in Walled Lake, the Lions used to hold training camp on the grounds of Cranbrook school in Bloomfield Hills.
Many, many times, my dad would take my two brothers and me to those lush grounds to watch the Lions get ready for another season.
The setting itself was a sweaty dichotomy. There, amidst the ivy-covered trappings of private school privilege, were men who earned their living in the most primal way.
For all of its garnishments, especially in today’s NFL with multiple camera angles on every eye tic and sideline reporters commenting on each burp and hiccup, football remains a brutish game.
It is sheer will lined up against sheer will on fourth and goal at the one-yard-line with time expiring.
Few were better in his era in figuring out that equation than Alex Karras. He was an exceptionally fine football player.
Karras played himself in the Paper Lion. He played Mongo in Blazing Saddles. He spent three years in the booth on Monday Night Football. He was the adoptive father in the television sitcom Webster
The 77-year-old Karras has suffered from a variety of health problems in recent years, including dementia and cancer, and is part of the mass concussion lawsuit more than 3,000 former players have filed against the NFL.
Alex Karras has only a few more days left at best in this life.
I never met the man and yet, I will mourn his passing. I saw him pass by many times at Cranbrook. A chunk of my young life will pass also. Really, much of it has already been interred. My dad’s been gone more than a decade. My brother, Bill, died a few years ago.
The circle of life does not just wear Honolulu blue and silver. I’m wearing reading glasses with stark black frames as I write this.
In homage to you, Mr. Karras.


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