Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Alex Karras, RIP

It is mere weeks before the election, and Obama & Co. have been caught not only lying about the nature of last month’s attacks which killed our ambassador in Libya -- but also covering up the fact that in the weeks leading up to those attacks, they were warned about what might be coming yet refused the now-dead ambassador’s request for additional security.

That is the kind of scandal that would be receiving 24/7 media coverage if Obama was a Republican, but is instead getting scant attention since he is a Democrat. In other words, it is the kind of thing I would normally be writing about feverishly. However, I am instead moved to write about the passing of a septuagenarian who was in the sad, early stages of dementia.

Alex Karras was born in Gary, Indiana, to an immigrant doctor at the height of the Great Depression. He made his first marks on the national scene during the 1950’s, as an All-American football player at the University of Iowa, where he won the Outland Trophy as the nation’s top defensive lineman. He was so dominant that he did something almost unthinkable for a defensive player, especially a defensive lineman -- come in second in the voting for the Heisman Trophy -- and eventually he was named to the College Football Hall of Fame.

Karras moved on to the NFL and played twelve seasons for the Detroit Lions, during which he missed only one game and was named to four Pro Bowls. Among his opponents and teammates, it is a nearly unanimous opinion that Karras was the best at his position during the 1960’s. Mike Ditka, who played tight end for the Bears at the time, said “I know there was Big Daddy Lipscomb. There were a lot of guys. But he was the best. I think if (Coach) Halas would have put in a play where I had to block him, I would have said, ‘No thanks.’”

Alex Karras’s last year in the NFL was 1970. I was born in 1971. Therefore, I never got to see him play, but that did not mean I was ignorant of who he was. For in an age when football was less popular than baseball and athletes rarely went on to become multimedia personalities, Karras proved to be ahead of his time by parlaying his gridiron notoriety into a television and film career that spanned decades.

Many people of my generation remember him mostly as the adoptive father of the title character in the 1980’s sitcom Webster. Many others remember him mostly as the hulking dunce from Blazing Saddles who punched out a horse and described himself as a “pawn in game of life.” I, on the other hand, remember him mostly from the first role I saw him in -- that of Hans “Potato” Brumbaugh, the innovative farmer in the 1978 miniseries Centennial, which was a faithful adaptation of James Michener’s epic novel about the settlement of Colorado.

Alex Karras is survived by six children and his wife Susan, an actress who appeared with him as his character’s fictional wife in Webster. They also appeared as small screen husband-and-wife back in 1975, in the made-for-TV movie Babe. That movie was a biopic in which she played legendary golfer Babe Didrickson Zaharias and he played Zaharias’s husband George. In a side note that is probably interesting only to me, I would love to see Babe sometime, because in real life the Zahariases resided in the neighborhood where Erika and I purchased our first home; and she designed the golf course that still wends through the neighborhood and bears her name to this day.

But I digress. There is much more to Alex Karras’s life story that what I have written here. For example, see wrestling; and 1963, suspension; and 1966, George Plimpton. But always know that the life of this big, stocky individual personifies much of what makes America great. Rest in peace.

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