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The Pride of Gary: The Karras Brothers



There is no more powerful link in the sport of football than that of brotherhood. The best teams often speak very highly of the subject and live within its principles. Sometimes, there are actual brothers in the league such as the Bosas, Mannings and Watts, each family dominating the NFL in its own unique manner. Often forgotten amidst the smattering of more famous families are the Karras brothers.


Hailing from Gary, Indiana and spawning from a Greek immigrant, each of the trifecta learned the value of hard work while observing their father, a physician who died when each were in their teens. Lou came first, born just before the Great Depression in 1927. Ted came seven years later and Alex arrived a year later. Yearning for an outlet for their grief, the brothers turned to the gridiron, sharpening their skills in the neighborhood sandlots.



Lou was the first to go, playing for the Purdue University Boilermakers in the late 1940s. He played well enough to be drafted by the Washington Redskins in the third round of the 1950 NFL Draft. After three frustrating years trying to crack Washington's lineup, he retired in 1952 and the NFL was left bereft of the Karras brothers for the next six years.



Ted was next in line. After starring on the defensive line at Emerson High School, he earned a scholarship to Indiana University. Despite being a regular contributor for the Hoosiers' defense, Ted went undrafted in 1958 and had to work harder than either of his brothers to make it in the NFL. He caught on with the Steelers for two years before moving on to Chicago in 1960.


He enjoyed a fruitful time in the Windy City and won the NFL championship in 1963. He spent one more year in Chicago before he moved on to Detroit, joining his brother, Alex. Of the three brothers, it was Alex who was destined for fame and stardom in the National Football League. He was a four-time all-state selection as a defensive tackle in high school and probably would have gone to Indiana University if it wasn't for the guile of the Hawkeyes. Iowa's coaches liked him a lot and sent a plane to take him back to campus just long enough for him to change his mind. That summer must have been stressful for his whole family as they never knew where he had gone. By the time they received word from him, Alex had decided to stay in Iowa City.



It wasn't an easy transition for him. As a sophomore, he reported to camp 40 pounds overweight, thinking that it would get him noticed by the NFL scouts that usually flocked to Iowa's games. The plan backfired and after playing on a cracked ankle for much of the year and barely sniffing hardly any playing time, he threw his shoe at coach Forest Evashevski to end his miserable sophomore year. Believing his NFL dreams to be dashed, Alex worked hard over the offseason, taking summer classes to raise his GPA and lost the weight that had held him back for much of the previous year.


Over the next two years, though he would never have a healthy relationship with his coach, Alex Karras built a reputation as one of college football's most dominant defensive linemen. As a senior in 1957, he led the Hawkeyes to the Big Ten Title and a Rose Bowl berth, sacking the Ohio State quarterback to seal a critical 6-0 victory along the way. After beating Oregon State 35-19 in the Rose Bowl and earning the Outland Trophy to finish his collegiate career, Alex was drafted 10th overall in the 1958 NFL Draft by Detroit.



Having just claimed their final NFL championship, the Lions were riding high in those days. Alex was soon caught up in the city's nightlife as he was quarterback Bobby Layne's designated rookie wingman. This unique opportunity helped acclimate Alex into the NFL's often complicated culture. Night after night, he witnessed one of the era's greatest and most polarizing players kick back and take charge of Detroit's thriving nightlife. While bar-crawling around the Motor City with "Sweet Bobby" Layne, Alex Karras learned how to loosen up with the weight of expectations constantly on his shoulders.


He would need that mentality for much of his career. While he would go on to be named either first or second-team All-Pro from 1960-1962 and 1964-1969 while going to four Pro Bowls in that decade, he wouldn't taste the playoffs until 1970, a low scoring 5-0 loss to the Cowboys in the first round.


His career didn't come without some blemishes. In 1963, Alex along with Packers running back Paul Hornung were busted for gambling on NFL games and promptly suspended for the year. While both career would be permanently scarred for the offense, it can be argued that it was Alex who suffered the most. After all, despite being named to the All-Decade Team of the 1960s, his name was never etched in Canton until 2020, eight years after his death. Meanwhile, Paul Hornung would be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1986. Of course, the main difference between the two is the championships won, with Hornung boasting four world titles to Karras's zero.



Perhaps, Alex never really cared about the consequences. He never showed any remorse for the offense for the rest of his career and even joked about it once in a while, refusing to participate in a pregame coin flip because he wasn't allowed to gamble. But what lay beneath was a man whose ego had been bruised. Late in life, he lamented that his beloved Chicago Cubs would never win the World Series and that he would never be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was wrong on both counts.


The end came for the three Karras brothers in reverse of their birth order. Alex passed first, on October 10, 2012. Ted went next on January 26, 2016 and Lou died last on September 20, 2018. Their legacy lives on, but not just in Canton, Ohio. Ted's grandson, Ted III, is a longtime center in the league, having won two Super Bowls with the Patriots in the 2010s and losing another with the Bengals where he currently resides.


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