The best DT not in the Hall of Fame? It's Mongo

Only three defensive tackles have more career sacks than Alex Karras. All are in the Hall of Fame. Karras has never even been discussed as a finalist.


(Alex Karras photo courtesy of the Detroit Lions)

(Joe Klecko photo courtesy of the New York Jets)

Talk of Fame Network

Alex Karras played in the NFL for 12 seasons for the Detroit Lions. He was voted first-team all-pro three times, second team five times and was one of three defensive tackles named to the 1960s' all-decade team. Karras also finished his career with more sacks than Warren Sapp.

His fellow all-decade selections, Bob Lilly and Merlin Olsen, were first-ballot Pro Football Hall-of-Fame selections, as was Sapp decades later. But Karras has never even been a finalist for the Hall of Fame.

That’s a wrong that needs to be righted, according to last week’s Talk of Fame Network poll. We asked our listeners and readers to identify the best defensive tackle not enshrined in Canton. Karras won easily, receiving 41.7 percent of the vote to outdistance Joe Klecko. The former New York Jets' nose tackle received 25 percent of the vote.

Gene “Big Daddy” Lipscomb was next at 13.9 percent, followed by Keith Millard, Roger Brown and Tom Sestak, all in single digits.

The Talk of Fame Network hosts agreed with the poll result with Ron Borges, Rick Gosselin and Clark Judge all casting ballots for Karras.

“Big Daddy Lipscomb had a chance to be the best, but he didn't do enough long enough,” Borges said, “so my vote goes to Karras. He was the best defensive tackle on one of the top D-lines of the 1960s. Roger Brown deserves due consideration, too, but had Karras not been involved in the gambling scandal that got him suspended for a year plus the outspoken personality he became, he'd have been in a long time ago.”

Karras was suspended for the 1963 season along with Green Bay Packers' star running back Paul Hornung by NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle for gambling. That may have damaged his chances for Canton, except that Hornung has been enshrined. But Hornung played on a team that won five championships. Karras played on a team that didn't win any.

"If Paul Hornung isn't going to be penalized for gambling, Karras shouldn't be, either," Judge said. "He should be in Canton. Not only was he an all-decade choice, but he was one of the first pass rushers from inside who helped make the Lions a defensive force by producing 97-1/2 sacks, still a club record. I don't care that he didn't win a championship. Neither did Cortez Kennedy or John Randle. And they're in the Hall."

Karras won an Outland Trophy at Iowa and became the 10th overall pick of the 1957 draft by the Detroit Lions. His speed complemented the power of Brown on the inside. He was one of the game’s first great inside pass rushers with his 97 ½ career sacks back when the NFL wasn’t counting sacks. Only three tackles in NFL history had more, Hall-of-Famers Alan Page, Randy White and John Randle. Karras became an actor in retirement and was best known for his role as Mongo in the movie, Blazing Saddles.

Klecko holds the unusual distinction of having been voted to the Pro Bowl at three different positions – defensive end in a 4-3, defensive tackle in a 4-3 and nose tackle in a 3-4. He was voted the NFL’s Defensive Player of the year in 1981 when he led the league with 20-½ sacks for the New York Jets. He played 11 seasons but two of them were shortened by knee injuries, finishing his career with 77 ½ sacks.

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