Alex "Mad Duck" Karras passed away today. Many of you may not know who he was or what he did until you saw the news. I knew that he played football for the Detroit Lions and that he played George Papadapolis on the television show "Webster"...that was it.
When I heard the news that he only had a few days to live (kidney failure), I decided to sit down and do some research on the man and was amazed at what I learned.
He starred for four years at the University of Iowa and was later drafted by the Lions with the 10th overall pick in 1958, and he was a three-time All-Pro defensive tackle over 12 seasons with the franchise.
Before his NFL career began though, Karras was a professional wrestler. He wrestled during the off season before his first year with the Lions. He would return to wrestling in 1963 when he was suspended by NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle for failing to sell his interest in a Detroit bar because of reports of gambling and organized crime (he was reinstated in 1964). During the 1964 season, he refused an official asking him to call the pre game coin toss before a Lions game. He told the official, "I'm sorry sir...I'm not permitted to gamble".
His playing career ended in 1971 due to a knee injury. Karras, who had already dabbled in acting a few years before, was able to now do it full time. Apparently, he was up for consideration for the part of Carlo Rizzi in "The Godfather". He had a few smaller roles (including playing Mongo in the cult classic "Blazing Saddles" where he punched a horse...no really, he punched a horse. You can see it by clicking on this link. That same year he began working on "Monday Night Football" alongside Howard Cosell and Don Meredith.
Probably Karras's most famous role was that of George Papadapolis on the television series "Webster". That show ran from 1983 - 1989. He hosted Saturday Night Live and even wrote a couple of books (Even Big Guys Cry & Tuesday Night Football).
Karras was elected to the Iowa Sports Hall of Fame in 1977 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1991. He was named to the NFL all decade team for the 1960's.
He was a fascinating individual. Both the sports world and the acting world have lost one of the greats...