State Your Case: Alex Karras


NFL Historical Imagery

(Courtesy of the Detroit Lions)

By Rick Gosselin

Talk of Fame Network

Much was expected of Alex Karras when the Detroit Lions selected him with the 10th overall choice of the 1958 NFL draft.

Karras didn’t disappoint.

Karras was a two-time All-America tackle at Iowa and finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1957 — the highest a defensive player had ever finished in the 23-year history of the award. It would be 23 more years before another defensive player would finish that high and 40 years before a defender would finish higher.

Karras also was an NCAA heavyweight wrestling champion. Wrestling skills are coveted NFL traits for linemen because they can provide an edge in tight spaces with leverage and balance, plus hand and foot speed. So Karras arrived in the NFL quicker and more powerful than the offensive linemen who would block him on Sundays.

It showed. Karras set a Detroit franchise record in his 12 seasons with his 97 ½ career sacks. And he was tackling quarterbacks when NFL offenses were throwing only 22-24 passes per game. No Lion has overtaken him since then even though NFL offenses are now throwing the ball 34-36 times per game, offering more weekly sack opportunities.

Karras intercepted four passes and recovered 17 fumbles, earning four Pro Bowl invitations and four first-team All-Pro honors. He also was named one of three defensive tackles to the NFL’s all-decade team for the 1960s along with Bob Lilly and Merlin Olsen.

Lilly and Olsen were both first-ballot Hall of Famers. Karras has never even been discussed as a finalist. He’s been eligible 38 years, and his fate is now in the hands of the senior committee. Karras passed away in 2012 at the age of 77.

Two things may have worked against Karras. In 1963, at the height of his career, he was suspended for a season by commissioner Pete Rozelle for gambling. But so was Paul Hornung that same year — and it didn’t keep the Packers’ Golden Boy out of Canton.

Unlike Hornung, Karras suffered the misfortune of playing for a team that never won a championship. He didn’t play in his first post-season game until his final season in 1970 – and final game of his career. His defense held the Cowboys without a touchdown but still lost, 5-0, to a Dallas team on the way to the Super Bowl.

Karras and his Lions also had the misfortune of playing in the same conference as the Green Bay Packers, who would win five NFL titles in the 1960s and appear in six title games. Three times the Lions finished second to Green Bay in the West and each time won the post-season runner-up bowl played in Miami against the East’s No. 2 team.

The pool of senior candidates is awash with defensive players who never won championships. Karras already should have been discussed by now. There’s a strong argument to be made he should already be in by now.

Follow Rick Gosselin on Twitter at @RickGosselinDMN

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3 Comments

  1. Brandon Kerr
    October 31, 2014
    Reply

    When the Senior committee was going to meet this past summer, I wrote here to you to please consider Alex Karras aka The MadDuck. Ive been a big fan of his since growing up. He was a Detroit Sports Icon with Al Kaline, Gordie Howe & Dave Bing along with Joe Louis. I even had a custom made jersey made with his 71 & Mad Duck on the back.
    The stats you found on him were better than I thought! Just 1.5 sacks less than Sapp & like you brought out, in a run oriented league. Especially in division with the Packers. As a reminder, I mentioned too, like Sapp & other DT’s after Karras played, a lot of credit of the tremendous play by Lary (Safety), NightTrain Lane, Lebeau, Schmidt and even Lem Barney is owed up front to the play of Karras. Today, Suh is making his presence felt & Detroit’s LB’s & secondary are capitalizing in similar fashion.
    Despite his maverick personality that rubbed then NFL execs & even media wrong ( Al Davis would of LOVED him as a Raider) his stats & influence showed who was the anchor of that terrific Defense his whole career.
    I might add, as a reminder, he was one of the ORIGINAL Fearsome Foursome. That term was coined in Detroit when Roger Brown played next to him. The Rams inherited it when Brown was traded to them. It’s a real shame the NFL hoards old games that could show off these great players. Can’t even find clips of him. One game was on YouTube, but the NFL found it & had it removed.
    It’s a really too bad that he will not see a possible enshrinement, but maybe now with your help, he gets the honor he deserves in Canton posthumously. I can’t even imagine what his acceptance would’ve been like.

    Thank you for this article Mr Gosselin!
    Brandon aka @SFHCommissioner

  2. Carter Dary
    February 17, 2016
    Reply

    I’m out of touch when it comes to the NFL HOF; However, Karras not being voted in is ridiculous! I watched him play–he was unstoppable especially if angry. I did not like him personally for his big mouth–shouting at Lombardi as an example. However, he was a force as much as Merlin Olson. This is shameful!

  3. bachslunch
    March 17, 2016
    Reply

    I’ve come around on Alex Karras for the HoF. His profile is very good at 4/4/60s and he grades out excellently at Ken Crippen’s site. Part of my objection stemmed from his gambling suspension, but now that all of Paul Hornung, Bobby Layne, Joe Schmidt, and Ken Stabler are in (not to mention owners with gambling pasts like Tim Mara and Art Rooney, as well as Charles Bidwill and Eddie DeBartolo who count shady characters among their associates and friends), it’s clear the HoF doesn’t care about this sort of thing.

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