NFL star, actor Alex Karrasdies of dementia at age 77
Alex Karras was a man of many roles.
Fearsome NFL defensive lineman. Lovable TV dad. Hilarious big-screen cowboy.
And in the end, a dementia victim who blamed the NFL for his illness along with thousands of former players in lawsuits accusing the league of not doing enough to protect them from the long-term effects of head injuries.
The 77-year-old Karras, who managed to be tough, touching and tragic in the span of a lifetime, died Wednesday at his Los Angeles home surrounded by family, said Craig Mitnick, Karras' attorney.
Mr. Karras was one of the NFL's most ferocious — and best — defensive tackles for the Detroit Lions from 1958-70, bulling past offensive linemen and hounding quarterbacks.
The charismatic bruiser went into acting after his football career, and in his signature scene dropped a horse with a punch as the soft-hearted outlaw Mongo in the 1974 comedy Blazing Saddles. He also portrayed the father in the 1980s sitcom Webster, along with his actress-wife Susan Clark, and was in the Monday Night Football broadcast booth along the way.
Born in Gary, Ind., Mr. Karras starred for four years at Iowa and was later inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. Detroit drafted him with the 10th overall pick in 1958, and he was a three-time All-Pro defensive tackle over 12 seasons with the franchise.
But Karras also had run-ins with the NFL long before his lawsuit. He missed the 1963 season when he was suspended by NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle in a gambling probe. Karras insisted he only wagered cigarettes or cigars with close friends.
"Alex Karras was an outstanding player during a time when the NFL emerged as America's favorite sport," the league said in a statement. "He will always be remembered as one of the most colorful characters in NFL history."
Karras may have gained more fame as an actor.
He had already become known through George Plimpton's behind-the-scenes book Paper Lion: Confessions of a Last-String Quarterback, about what it was like to be an NFL player in Detroit.
Mr. Karras and Plimpton remained friends for life, and one of Mr. Karras' sons is named after the author. Karras played himself alongside Alan Alda in the movie adaptation of the book, and that opened doors for Karras to be an analyst on Monday Night Football.
In Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles, Mr. Karras played a dim, rough-around-the-edges outlaw who not only slugged a horse but also delivered the classic line: "Mongo only pawn in game of life."
In the 1980s, he became a hit on TV as Emmanuel Lewis' adoptive father, George Papadapolis, in Webster. "I had a very heavy heart this morning and I did not know why. I understand now," Lewis said Wednesday. "Rest in peace, my friend."
In addition to Clark, his wife of 37 years, Mr. Karras is survived by their daughter and his four children from his first marriage to the late Joan Powell.
HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL
Devils seek to extend rule over Dunbar
Henry Clay (3-5) plays host to Paul Laurence Dunbar (2-5) in high school football on Thursday night.
The Blue Devils have beaten Dunbar 11 times in row since 2003.
Henry Clay looks to have an offensive advantage over Dunbar, having rolled up 3,076 yards this season to the Bulldogs' 1,558.
Jones' 20 spark Rockets past Thunder
Ex-Wildcat Terrence Jones came off the bench to score 20 points and grab six rebounds in his pre-season debut as the Houston Rockets beat the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder 107-105. Ex-Cat Patrick Patterson started and got 10 points, three boards.
Boise State's appeal, argument rejected
The NCAA has rejected an appeal from Boise State and is standing by its decision that the football program must reduce the number of scholarships it hands out this season and the next.
As part of the penalty package, the NCAA ordered the football program to cut scholarships from 85 to 82 for the 2012-13 and 2013-14 academic years. The school had already self-imposed the scholarship reduction for last season.
Still, Boise State lawyers argued that the scholarship sanction was excessive, especially when compared to past infraction cases. But NCAA officials said the Boise State case has no direct comparison to past cases. "While past infractions cases and their respective penalties are part of the institutional memory of the Committee ... they do not provide a 'one-size-fits-all' measure of whether a penalty is fair and appropriate," the committee said in its report.
Browns' Fujita blasts Goodell
Angered by Roger Goodell's handling of the New Orleans Saints' bounties scandal, Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita accused the commissioner of misusing his power, questioned his record on player safety, and vowed to keep fighting to clear his name.
"The commissioner says he is disappointed in me," Fujita said. "The truth is, I'm disappointed in him."
Fujita was angered by the "condescending tone" in Goodell's letter that lessened the suspension — and most of its content. "For him to come out and say he was disappointed in me for not standing up to my coach," Fujita said after practice Wednesday. "I haven't had someone tell me they were disappointed in me since I was 12 years old, and that was my father."
■ Washington rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III practiced and showed no effects from a mild concussion. Barring any setbacks, Griffin will start Sunday against the visiting Vikings.
■ The Buffalo Bills have suffered another blow to their porous defense. Defensive end Mark Anderson will have surgery on his left knee and will be out indefinitely.
Anderson, who signed a four-year, $27 million contact before the season, suffered the injury in the second half Sunday during the 45-3 blowout at San Francisco.
Lysacek's comeback delayed
Evan Lysacek's competitive comeback will have to wait a little while longer.
The Olympic figure skating champion withdrew from Skate America on Wednesday because of a groin injury. Skate America, which is Oct. 19-21 in Kent, Wash., was to have been his first competition since he won gold at the Vancouver Games.
Lysacek doesn't have any other Grand Prix assignments, meaning his competitive debut would be at the national championships in January. But U.S. Figure Skating is exploring whether there is another competition he could do before then.
The last word
Kevin Kolb of the Arizona Cardinals threw 50 passes against the St. Louis Rams last Thursday night, and was slammed down on most, if not all, of them. Fifty passes are too many, Coach Ken Whisenhunt said.
"That's going to give you issues. I don't want to do that. I'd like to sit here and say if we have to do it, we'll do it, but I don't want to do it."