RIP Alex Karras

Where do you begin?

Clowning with Dick the Bruiser

Mongo

All American DT at Iowa-2nd in Heisman Trophy vote to John David Crow in 1957

Outland Trophy Winner-1957

Lead Iowa to their 1st Rose Bowl

College Football HOF-1991

Detroit Lion All Pro—12 year career

Alex Karras on MNF 1976

Schlitz Malt Liquor

On Match Game

Faygo

MONGO!!!

Drafted out of Iowa in 1958, the defensive tackle was listed at 6-feet-2 and 248 pounds, small by today’s standards (Ndamukong Suh is 6-4, 307) – and he wore glasses.

• First- or second-team all-pro every year during the 1960s, except for one.

• 1963: Suspended, along with Green Bay running back Paul Hornung, for one season for gambling on NFL games. (Hornung elected to Hall of Fame in 1986; Karras hasn’t been.)

• Missed one game in 12 pro seasons, ending in 1970.

• Lost his last Lions game by the oddest of scores, 5-0, to Dallas in the first round of the ’70 playoffs.

• Reported to training camp in 1971 but was released by his old pal and then-Lions coach Joe Schmidt; playing career over at age 35

• Took up professional wrestling before he signed with the Lions and returned to it when suspended for the 1963 season. Memorable bouts included ones with Dick the Bruiser.

• Part owner of the Lindell AC , a sports bar in downtown Detroit.—MUST READ this NYT article…

October 8, 2012

Amid Newfound Glory, Echoes of Old Detroit

By BILL MORRIS

For more than a century, the city of Detroit has been driven by a pair of powerful but erratic engines: cars and sports. Detroiters are no strangers to the sorrows these engines can bring: layoffs, factory shutdowns, losing streaks, even winless seasons. Yet, many Detroiters are feeling giddy these days. The auto industry has come roaring back from the brink of ruin, and the Tigers are back in the playoffs for the second straight year — routine stuff in the Bronx, perhaps, but something that hasn’t happened in the Motor City since the 1930s.

To top it off, the star of this year’s Tigers is a slugger named Miguel Cabrera, who led the American League in home runs, batting average and runs batted in, a trifecta last accomplished nearly half a century ago by Carl Yastrzemski of the Boston Red Sox, and by only a handful of others in the history of the game.

The team plays in a sparkling downtown park that was built a dozen years ago and named, to the dismay of many purists, after a bank. More than three million fans have passed through its turnstiles so far this year, and it’s a safe bet that many of them don’t remember or have managed to forget the team’s previous home, a great sooty iceberg built in 1912 just west of downtown. Tiger Stadium is gone to dust now, memories of it growing dimmer every time Cabrera whacks another ball over the outfield wall at Comerica Park.

But Detroiters tend to have a deep, quirky sense of pride, and more than a few of them will tell you that there’s a bygone relic even more worthy of mourning than Tiger Stadium. Or the downtown J. L. Hudson department store. Or Cass Tech High School, whose alumni roster includes John DeLorean, Lily Tomlin and Diana Ross.

That other place was a bar called the Lindell A.C. It was in an unexceptional-looking brick building a few blocks from Tiger Stadium, but it became a legend, a place where the famous rubbed elbows with the unknown.

It was first opened in 1949 in the no-star Lindell Hotel by Meleti Butsicaris. In the 1950s, a regular customer suggested putting signed photographs of athletes on the walls. He even showed Butsicaris and his sons, Johnny and Jimmy, how to cut a baseball bat in half lengthwise, the better to screw it into the wall. Soon other bats and baseballs, hockey sticks and pucks were added, along with the jerseys of local gods like Al Kaline, Norm Cash, Gordie Howe and Dave Bing, a Pistons star who is now the mayor of Detroit. But the maraschino cherry on the memorabilia was surely Lions linebacker Wayne Walker’s jockstrap, which was fastened to a plaque in a prominent place on the barnacled walls. The customer who came up with the original suggestion about hanging the signed photographs was a Yankees infielder named Billy Martin.

After relocating to the corner of Michigan and Cass Avenues in 1963, the Butsicaris family added “A.C.” to the name at the suggestion of a local sports columnist and repeat customer named Doc Greene — a wry swipe at the swells who patronized the nearby Detroit Athletic Club. The Lindell A.C.’s burgers were out of this world, there were three television sets, and the place was always jumping. Jimmy Butsicaris installed himself at the corner of the bar every night, where he could keep one eye on the door and one on the cash register. “He didn’t want to have any seepage,” the owner of a nearby bar says. “And he wanted to know everybody who walked in that door — cop or robber, friend or foe.” For foes, Jimmy kept a set of brass knuckles in his pocket.

In 1963, Pete Rozelle, the commissioner of the N.F.L., suspended Paul Hornung, the golden boy of the Green Bay Packers, and Lions defensive lineman Alex Karras for gambling on games in the Lindell A.C. Rozelle also ordered Karras to divest himself of his one-third interest in the saloon. Hornung was contrite; Karras was outraged. The scandal was excellent for the Butsicarises’s business.

To work out his anger, Karras took up professional wrestling during his suspension. One night, he and a future opponent, Dick the Bruiser, went at each other inside the Lindell A.C., an epic brawl that left the place — and Karras — in tatters.

Six years later, Martin, then manager of the Minnesota Twins, got into a dispute inside the Lindell A.C. with one of his own pitchers, burly Dave Boswell, a 20-game winner that year. Though Martin was giving away several inches and many more pounds, they took their differences into the alley behind the bar. When it was over, Boswell’s face required 20 stitches while Martin’s needed just seven. Apparently impressed by Martin’s way of handling his pitching staff, the Tigers hired him two years later, and he led the team to the division title in 1972.

But perhaps the thing that truly set the Lindell A.C. apart — and the thing that reveals just how different its world was from the world we live in today — was the way professional athletes and other celebrities, from Mickey Mantle to Milton Berle to Andre the Giant, mingled with ordinary fans.

Terry Foster had a ringside seat for this cultural shift. His mother, Roxanne, worked at the Lindell A.C. for 20 years, and Foster, now 53, worked there as a cook while attending Cass Tech, then tended bar during college. “I remember going in after a Tigers game and seeing Willie Horton, Earl Wilson and Gates Brown sitting next to fans, having a beer and a burger, just talking to the fans,” says Foster, who writes a sports column for The Detroit News and hosts a radio sports show. “It was almost like they’d just gotten off the third shift at G.M. Players from all the visiting teams came into the Lindell A.C., and there wasn’t all this fawning. They were one of the fellas. Today, I see athletes at parties, and they’re roped off in their private area with their ladies. That doesn’t do it for me.”

The ballplayers back then, of course, often had little choice. Most of them had to work jobs during the off-season because they weren’t multimillionaires who breathed their own ether, safely shielded from hoi polloi. It was a time of greater intimacy, rougher edges and, yes, more excess. It was also more colorful, more vivid, in many ways more alive than our high-dollar, heart-smart, smoke-free, sanitized times.

Vaughn Derderian Sr., who runs the Anchor Bar in downtown Detroit, agrees with Foster. “The players don’t hang out anymore,” says Derderian, 65, whose family has been in the bar business since the 1920s. “The reason is because they’re a little smarter — and they’re making a whole lot more money. They don’t want to get hassled by the fans. The Lindell A.C. was one of the last places where that contact happened.”

It had stopped happening by the time the bar closed for good in 2002. Four years later, the building was demolished to make way for a bus station.

“To call it legendary is an understatement,” Derderian adds. “It was the first sports bar in the country. Now there’s one on every corner.”

There’s a big one on the corner of Woodward Avenue and Montcalm Street, across the street from Comerica Park. It’s called the Hockeytown Cafe. It has 45 TVs, including 30 63-inch plasma sets, and its walls are plastered with sports memorabilia.

There are only three things missing. Actual athletes mingling with the customers. A tough little Greek guy sitting at the corner of the bar with a set of brass knuckles in his pocket. And Wayne Walker’s jockstrap high on the wall.

Bill Morris grew up in Detroit in the 1950s and ’60s. He is the author of the novels “Motor City” and “All Souls’ Day,” and has finished another, “Vic #43,” set during the 1967 Detroit riot and the Tigers’ 1968 championship season.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: October 10, 2012

Because of an editing error, a picture credit with an article on Tuesday about Lindell A.C., a famous bar near Tigers Stadium in Detroit that closed in 2002, misidentified the photographer. The picture of memorabilia on the wall of the bar was taken by John T. Greilick of The Detroit News, not J. Kyle Keener of The Detroit Free Press.

 

• In 1968, he and teammates played themselves in “Paper Lion,” the movie version of George Plimpton’s book in which Plimpton tried out with the Lions.

• Starting in 1970, displayed a dry sense of humor and gained notoriety during repeat appearances on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.”

• Played Mongo in Mel Brooks’ “Blazing Saddles” in 1974.

• Color commentator on “Monday Night Football,” 1974-76.

• Played George Zaharias opposite Susan Clark in the TV movie “Babe” (1975), the story of Babe Didrickson.

• Karras and Clark married in 1980.

• Starred in the TV sitcom “Webster” with Clark and Emmanuel Lewis, 1983-89.

• Hosted “Saturday Night Live” in 1985.

• Returned to Detroit in 2003 for the 40th anniversary of the publication of “Paper Lion,” appearing with, among others, Plimpton, Schmidt, Lem Barney, Ron Kramer, Mike Lucci and Earl Morrall. But the loudest cheers at Ford Field were for the famed Fearsome Foursome defensive line of Karras, Roger Brown, Darris McCord and Sam Williams.

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