Former “Monday Night Football” commentator Alex Karras has died.
The actor/athlete/analyst had been suffering from a combination of kidney disease, heart disease, stomach cancer, and most recently, dementia. He had been receiving hospice care at his home in Los Angeles since last weekend and passed away on Wednesday morning at age 77.
A four-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle who played a dozen seasons in the NFL, all with the Detroit Lions, Karras enjoyed a successful career off the field, with memorable roles in movies such as “Porky’s” and “Against All Odds,” and on the small screen, he and his wife, Susan Clark co-starred in “Webster,” with Emmanuel Lewis, who played the title role.
But football fans in the mid-70’s remember Karras as a commentator alongside Howard Cosell and Frank Gifford in the “Monday Night Football” booth for three seasons. It was during this span that Don Meredith had left for NBC to work with Curt Gowdy. Meredith bookended Karras in the “MNF” booth with two stints (1970-1973, 1977-1984).
In fact, Karras was not ABC’s initial choice to replace Meredith in the 1974 season, but rather, Fred “The Hammer” Williamson – who, like Karras, is a native of Gary, Indiana. However, when “The Hammer” went to work during preseason “MNF” telecasts, ABC executives did not like what they saw. So they went and selected Karras, likely off of a wave of popularity from his role as Mongo in “Blazing Saddles” which was released in the spring of 1974. Though Karras did have some experience in the field, as he worked the booth for Canadian Football League games in the early 1970’s.
Karras appeared to have hit it off in his very first “MNF” broadcast on September 16, 1974, when he made a comment during that night’s Bills/Raiders matchup about Oakland defensive end Otis Sistrunk, who did not attend college, the Raiders listing his alma mater in their program as “U.S. Mars.” – an abbreviation for “U.S. Marines.” At one point during the game, when steam was rising from Sistrunk’s bald head, Karras joked that the player went to “the University of Mars.”
As a result of the aforementioned dementia diagnosis, he joined other former NFL players in a lawsuit against the league for failure to protect them from concussions.
Since late September, according to an account Clark gave to an acquaintance, Karras suffered kidney failure, and parts of his body started swelling. Mike Tirico acknowledged Karras’ grave condition late in the October 8 edition of “Monday Night Football.” With 17 seconds remaining, and the Houston Texans about to advance to an undefeated 5-0 record with a 23-17 victory over the New York Jets, he said: “Saw the news here earlier this evening that Alex Karras is in very poor health. He was a part of the NFL during his days with Detroit. One of the less than two dozen folks to be in the “Monday Night Football” booth, ’74 through ’76. We wish good thoughts to Alex and his family, as he’s struggling with his health, here tonight.
Added Jon Gruden: “He was a great one.”
SportsRantz sends our thoughts and prayers to Alex Karras, his family and his loved ones.