More memories from Karras’ friends, family
By Mike Hutton 648-3139 or firstname.lastname@example.org October 13, 2012 11:40PM
This undated photo provided by the NFL shows Detroit Lions defensive tackle Alex Karras. Karras, who gained fame in the NFL as a fearsome defensive lineman and later as an actor, has died. He was 77. Craig Mitnick, Karras' attorney, said Karras died at home in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012, surrounded by family. (AP Photo/NFL Photos)
Updated: November 15, 2012 6:53AM
Some leftovers from the retrospective on Alex Karras, who died this week in Los Angeles at the age of 77. The tidbits didn’t fit snugly in the earlier story but it’s interesting stuff about an interesting guy who lived an interesting life.
Gary city athletic director Earl Smith played with Alex at Iowa — he was two years older than Karras. Smith went to Iowa on scholarship for track but moved into football when his roommate convinced him he’d be a good fit for the team.
Smith has loved Karras like a brother all these years even though he hardly saw him after college.
Here is why.
The two of them worked together for the city during the summer when they were in college, repairing potholes and helping to maintain streets. One afternoon, four of them — three of them white — went into a restaurant in Miller to eat lunch. When the waitress only brought three glasses of water out, Smith knew what that meant.
It was time for him to bolt. Blacks weren’t welcome.
Karras told him not to worry about it. When the food came, he and his entourage “accidentally” shattered all the dishes on the floor, causing a huge commotion. The owners called the police but that backfired. Karras told the mayor, who had hired him and Smith, what happened and he was furious.
It’s just one of those moments you never forget if you were a black man growing up in Gary in the 50s.
“He was crazy,” Smith said. “He was just unbelievably loyal to us. You can just never lose that connection. He never cared what color you were.”
Karras’ father, Dr. George Karras, had a general practice at 1614 Broadway in Gary. George was a stern disciplinarian who died from a pulmonary embolism (blood clot that traveled to his lungs) in 1948 when Alex was 13. The Karras’ —Lou, Nick, Helene, Ted, Alex and Paul — lived in a two-story house on 7th and Connecticut. All of the boys were given the middle name, George, which was part of a Greek tradition where the boys took the first name of the father for their middle name. According to Paul Karras, like many doctors in those days, his father took a taxi in the middle of the night to the deliver babies because he couldn’t afford a car. The family was poor, which is why the boys had to rely on football as a way out.
“Thank God they had scholarships in those days,” Paul Karras said. “Who knows what would’ve happened to Alex if weren’t for football.”
Four of the boys (Nick, Ted, Lou and Alex) were stricken with dementia. Ted and Alex are part of a class action lawsuit against the NFL that maintains that the repetitive head trauma that football players endured can lead to dementia and Alzheimer’s. Both Alex and Ted, who lives in Miller, require constant care, prompting Paul to say that NFL coaches should be required to care for Alzheimer’s patients to see how difficult it is. There is one lingering issue with the Karras brothers that doesn’t fit neatly into the football-can-cause-dementia puzzle: Their brother Nick, who didn’t play football in college, was stricken with it while Paul, who is a year younger than Alex (76) doesn’t have any signs of it.
Ann Karras, Ted’s wife, said that when Ted and Alex talked on the phone over the last couple of years, even though neither could remember what happened “yesterday or today, they would have long conversations about childhood memories. It was like new to them.” Ann was touched by that.
The last time Alex came to Northwest Indiana was in 1983 for the funeral of his mother Emmeline Karras, who lived in Gary until her death. Alex was close with Hobart coach Don Howell, who would visit and fish with him in Malibu when he was alive.
His brother Paul visited him last July.
Almost every national obituary I read of Karras included the fact that he was both an actor and football player somewhere near the top of the story.
Here is what the New York Times wrote about Karras’ playing style in its story: “Karras was an especially versatile pass rusher, known around the league for his combination of strength, speed and caginess. His furious approach — (George) Plimton described it as a savage, bustling style of attack — earned him the nickname “Mad Duck.”