One of my favorite football players, Alex Karras, died last week.
I never saw him play, he retired in 1970, but I know everything about his life and career, especially his football playing days with the Detroit Lions. That’s due to some of my all-time favorite books, Paper Lion, Mad Ducks and Bears and One More July all by George Plimpton. In each book Karras is a primary character – with emphasis on “character” as he certianly was! In each book his sense of humor, cutting and creative wit, and a tireless imagination made for a slew of positively hysterical moments.
Especially in Mad Ducks and Bears which is 1/2 a biography of Karras and his Detroit Lions teammate John Gordy (the other half is essentially a sequel to the story behind the classic Paper Lion, with Plimpton again trying his hand at QB, only this time against the Lions). Karras was the “Mad Duck” thanks to his quickness and squat build; Gordy the “Bear” thanks to, well, a lot of body hair. Few things have ever made me laugh harder than the stories Karras tells in this book – of running a charity golf tournament with a slew of imaginative props, gags and booby traps to hysterical descriptions of off-season work including selling “personal massagers.”
Karras was just a force, and such a personality, that he’s a major character in Paper Lion – which takes placesin the Lion’s training camp the year he was suspended from football.
Karras was a seriously good football player, a very fast defensive tackle with trememondous upper body strength. If he didn’t get around you with his quickness he would run you over. His epic battles with All-Pro Green Bay Packers guard Jerry Kramer are given a lot of space in Kramer’s classic book Instant Replay.