Alex Karras, former All-Pro Lions defensive lineman and one of the NFL’s most dominant defensive players of the 1960s, died today at age 77. It was reported in recent days that he was gravely ill due to kidney failure, and he also suffered from dementia. It was sad news, news we wouldn’t want to obscure the life story of someone who found success in life both in and outside of football.
So let’s remember Karras as first, a football great. He was so good in college that he once finished as the runner-up in Heisman voting as a lineman, and it translated to the pros. He made four Pro Bowls, garnered four All-Pro selections, made the 1960s NFL All-Decade team, made the Sports Illustrated cover (on which he was touted as the “pride of the Detroit Lions”), and was generally one of the best players the Lions ever had. ESPN just released an interview of Karras reflecting on his career:
And of course, Karras wasn’t done there. He made the transition to TV, as both a Monday Night Football commentator and actor – Webster, a sitcom on which he starred, ran for six seasons during the 1980s. And then… there were movies. Well, technically Karras did appear in several movies, but there was one that stood out above the rest.
You knew this was coming. Blazing Saddles. Mongo. A role any comic actor would have been proud to sport on his resume – so iconic that if you mentioned the name “Alex Karras” to a less football-inclined person, they might say “Who?” but if you then clarified, “You know, Mongo in Blazing Saddles,” they’d know exactly who you meant. Playing one of the most beloved roles in one of the most beloved comedies ever made in addition to NFL stardom? That’s a life most of us can only envy. Below, relive Mongo – including, of course, his most famous line. RIP.