Alex Karras, who died today at 77 (see Aaron Goldstein), led a very entertaining life. After 12 years in the NFL as a defensive tackle, four as an all-pro, Karras moved on to television and the movies (better money, and you take fewer hits).
Movie buffs remember the straight right Karras delivered to a horse in Blazing Saddles. OK, I didn’t think that was funny either. But Karras was a natural comic and made us laugh in roles such as the gay bodyguard in Victor Victoria. He was cuddly in Webster. But he didn’t need a script to get a laugh. He was funny ex-tempore. Which is why he popped up as Johnny Carson’s guest of an evening. And it was why he was teamed with Howard Cosell on “Monday Night Football” during the late seventies. Alex could sink the needle into the pompous and humorless Cosell to great comic effect. When Howard, the king of malapropisms, would misuse a large, unfamiliar word, Alex would ask him: “Is that one of those Jewish holidays, Howard?”
Perhaps my favorite Cosell/Karras exchange came one night when a quarterback had to scramble behind the line of scrimmage looking for someone to throw the ball to and wound up dumping it off to a back for about a half-yard gain. Howard called it in this wise: “His primary receivers were covered, his secondary receivers were covered, so he had to go to his tertiary receivers.” Karras took a beat and said: “Tertiary? Howard, that’s not football. That’s sewage treatment.” Exactly so.
Karras also did some TV ads. My favorite is where he comes out in a blue blazer, sans tie, and says to us in TV land: “Hello. I’m big, warm, and wonderful.” From off-stage left comes a screechy female voice saying, “Hey, Mr. Wonderful, take out the garbage.” Alex then gives about 15 seconds on the beauties of a kind of trash compactor that is on stage with him. This done, he winks at the audience, points his thumb to where the screechy voice came from, and says: “Hey, you got one of them? Get her one of these.” Funny stuff.
We’ll miss you, big guy. My guess is Alex is setting the table on a roar now in a better place.