Bloomington, Minn. — Nearly 50 years after he finished his career with the Detroit Lions, Alex Karras is still one of the franchise’s most recognizable names.
The four-time All-Pro, who went on to have a lengthy career in acting, was a larger-than-life figure, whether he was hunting down quarterbacks as part of the Lions’ Fearsome Foursome or knocking out a horse playing Mongo in the 1974 comedy classic “Blazing Saddles.”
But one thing Karras never accomplished in his 12 seasons with the Lions was winning a championship. He was drafted by the team in the first round in 1958, the year after the franchise’s last title.
But three generations later, the Karras legacy lives on, and for the second year in a row, his great nephew, Ted Karras III, will represent the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.
While Alex was the unquestioned star of the family, Ted is the fifth Karras to play in the NFL. Alex’s brothers Lou and Ted Sr. spent three and eight years, respectively, in the league, while Ted Jr., the father of the second-year Patriots guard and center, played part of the 1987 season in Washington, as a replacement player during the strike.
Ted Karras III, 24, is in his second season with the Patriots. A sixth-round draft pick out of Illinois in 2016, he’s appeared in all 32 games, primarily on special teams, while making three spot starts on the offensive line.
Every Karras played in the trenches, three on the offensive line and two on the defensive side. Ted figured out quickly he was best suited as a blocker.
“I think it just suited me better and there were more opportunities for me,” he said. “I didn’t have the athleticism to play on the defensive line. I played both ways in high school, but I knew, early on, I was a better O-lineman.”
So what is it about those Karras genes that’s allowed three generations to play at the sports highest level?
“I got blessed with some size, for sure,” Ted said. “And I think it’s a passion for the game. Beside Alex, the rest of the Karras crew, we haven’t been underrated, because I hate that term, but we haven’t been in the forefront. We’ve had to battle our way to carve out spots on teams. We have a lot of passion, a lot of want-to and a lot of intensity for the game. We love to play and we’ve been able to carve out five different paths to the NFL, and I’m extremely grateful I get to continue that legacy.”
Ted said the family always has been very close, but he only had the opportunity to meet Alex once in person, taking a trip to his Los Angeles home he shared with second wife and “Webster” co-star Susan Clark during a recruiting visit to UCLA.
“It was a really special experience,” Ted said. “I remember him being a cool guy, like most of the Karras men are. He was pretty funny. He was an older man when I met him, but he was still intense. He took a lot of pride in a lot of his artifacts he had around the house. I’m really glad I got the opportunity to meet him and talk to him.”
Alex played 12 seasons for the Lions, from 1958-62 and 1964-1970. He was suspended the 1963 season for placing bets on NFL games. He played during a time before tackles and sacks were recorded, but registered four interceptions and 16 fumble recoveries during his career.
Alex passed away in 2012 at the age of 77.