Former Hawkeye Karras dies at 77


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Alex Karras, a Hawkeye football star from 1955 to 1957, died Wednesday. He was 77.

In 1957, Karras’ senior year, he earned the Outland Trophy, a distinction that names the best lineman in the nation. Karras was named the runner up for the Heisman Trophy that same season.

The Daily Iowan described Karras as having the “size, desire, quickness, agility, and speed to go with his power physique” prior to his sophomore year in 1955. The article also stated, “If there is much more a lineman needs, the coaches have not discovered it.” Karras started for Iowa all three years.

The Hawkeyes won the Rose Bowl in 1956 with Karras’ help, defeating Oregon State, 35-19, and finishing out the season with a 9-1 record.

Beyond his accolades as one of the best defensive tackles in Iowa history, Karras was a beloved personality for the Hawkeyes and later for the Detroit Lions, for whom he played for 12 years.

Karras was selected by Detroit with the 10th overall selection in the 1958 NFL draft. Throughout his career with the Lions (1958-1970), the lineman earned all-pro recognition and went to the Pro Bowl four times. The Hawkeye was inducted into the Iowa Varsity Club Hall of Fame in 1989 and to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1991.

Following his career in football pads, Karras entered the film industry, appearing as an actor in the 1980s sitcom “Webster” and the 1974 Western-spoof film Blazing Saddles.

Karras set a prime example of the value of hard work and dedication after he worked his way up from a mediocre player in 1955 and became a two-time All-American in 1956-57.

Current Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz extended his condolences to Karras’ family. Ferentz said the former lineman left a lasting mark on the football program, one that is still significant today.

“Alex played a key role in the success of Iowa football during his career and will always be remembered as a leader of the great Iowa teams of that era,” Ferentz said in a release. “He served as an outstanding representative of Hawkeye football and the University of Iowa throughout his career.”

Karras’ career — his accomplishments on the field as well as his work ethic, attitude, and leadership ability — set a standard for Hawkeye football players in the future.

Look magazine reported in 1957, “Alex was the bulwark of the Hawkeye line, one of the nation’s best.”

“The story of Karras is one of football’s best,” Look said. “As a sophomore, he was a mediocrity and was just about ready to hand in his suit.”

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