State Your Case: Alex Karras

Alex Karras photo courtesy of the Detroit Lions
Alex Karras photo courtesy of the Detroit Lions

(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