Sad news this morning: Legendary Hawkeye defensive lineman, sportscaster and actor Alex Karras has been given just days to live. According to reports in The Gazette and Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, Karras was admitted to a hospital in Santa Monica, California last week to treat complications due to kidney failure. He has since been sent home with hospice care. He is 77 years old.
Karras grew up in Gary, Indiana, and was a four-time all-state selection at Gary Emerson High School. He played defensive tackle and offensive line for Forest Evashevski from 1954 to 1957. He frequently clashed with the legendary Iowa coach, quitting the team twice, getting into multiple confrontations on the sideline, and allegedly throwing a shoe at Evashevski at the end of the 1955 season when he was benched for the season finale. He then became one of the centerpieces of Iowa's 1956 Rose Bowl team, sealing the Big Ten title with a quarterback sack on the final play of a win over Ohio State. By 1957, Karras has become the nation's top defensive lineman, becoming the second Hawkeye to win the Outland Trophy and finishing as runner-up for the Heisman Trophy.
The Detroit Lions took Karras with the tenth pick in the 1958 NFL Draft, and Karras spent twelve years with the team. During the offseasons, he worked as a professional wrestler. Karras was a four-time All-Pro defensive tackle. Following his retirement, Karras was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1991 and was named to the NFL's 1960's All-Decade Team.
He first appeared on screen in the 1968 film Paper Lion; the performance opened the door to other acting opportunities, and Karras soon left football for Hollywood. Karras appeared in such movies as Blazing Saddles (in which he played Mongo), Victor Victoria, and Porky's, and television shows like M*A*S*H and The Odd Couple. He also spent three seasons in the booth on Monday Night Football. For fans of my generation, he's best known for his work on Webster, where he played the father, George Papadapolis, opposite Emmanuel Lewis' title character.
Karras has suffered from many health problems in recent years. He was diagnosed with cancer, and also suffered from dementia. Karras was one of the plaintiffs in a class action suit brought against the National Football League by former players for health problems due to continued head trauma.
The BHGP community's thoughts and prayers go out to Alex and his family.