Alex Karras, one of Iowa’s greatest football players, a three-time All-Pro with the Detroit Lions and a longtime Hollywood actor, died Wednesday at his home after suffering from kidney failure, according to the Detroit Lions.
Karras, who was 77, was one of the most decorated defensive linemen in college football history. In 1957, Karras became the first of only two defensive linemen to ever finish in the top two in Heisman Trophy balloting. Karras won the Outland Trophy that year as college football’s best interior lineman and was Iowa’s first two-time consensus All-American.
Karras started a defensive tackle on the Hawkeyes’ first Rose Bowl team following the 1956 season was named to Iowa’s all-time football team. He was inducted into the Iowa Sports Hall of Fame in 1977 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1991.
He also was known for his spats with Iowa Coach Forest Evashevski, who once pulled Karras’ scholarship.
“Evy didn’t like me,” Karras told The Gazette in 1981. “He has his own philosophy, and I didn’t agree with him.”
Karras made his mark in professional football. The Detroit Lions drafted Karras in the 1958 first round and he was a four-time Pro Bowler. He played 12 seasons in Detroit but was suspended for the 1963 season for gambling on football.
In Detroit, Karras played in 161 games and is a member of the Lions’ All-Time team. He was known as “the Mad Duck” and intercepted four passes and recovered 16 fumbles in his career. NFL Network listed Karras No. 8 in a show documenting the greatest players not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
After retiring, Karras had a long and successful career on television and movies. He spent three seasons on “Monday Night Football” and later spent five seasons as George Papadapolis alongside his wife, Susan Clark, on the situation comedy “Webster.” He also appeared in several mini-series and movies, including “Porky’s,” “Victor/Victoria,” “Centennial,” “Paper Lion” and “Against All Odds.” He may be best known for the character Mongo in “Blazing Saddles.” Karras’ line, “Don’t know, Mongo only pawn in game of life,” remains an oft-quoted quip.
Karras is survived by his wife and six children.