NFC North: Alex Karras
The video offers three minutes worth of excerpts from a 2004 interview with former Detroit Lions defensive lineman Alex Karras, who died Wednesday at 77. What's amazing to me is how stark and clear he was on a concussion issue that only recently has become a major source of public debate.
"I've seen a lot of us, us characters, in the last five years, and a lot of them are not in good shape," Karras said, speaking of the period between 1999-04. "A lot of them have very bad problems with their heads, the concussions they've had. Some of them have lost their sight. Some of them have lost their memories. It's not a good thing to finally find out what's going on with the older professional football players that played for a long time."
Sadly, Karras experienced his own set of mental issues late in life. He had been suffering from dementia, among other health ailments, in recent years.
Alex Karras retired from the NFL before I was born. So for me and many others who grew up in places other than Detroit, he was a goofball actor who -- we found out later -- just so happened to be a pretty darn good football player a few decades earlier.
Karras had lived a full life when he died Wednesday morning at the age of 77, and we don't devote a post to every former NFC North player who passes away. But Karras transcended football in a way that didn't often happen for players of his era (1958-71), and in many ways he paved the way for the celebrity status that current NFL players enjoy as a matter of course.
His role as Mongo in "Blazing Saddles" made him a household name for many. I mean, who wouldn't remember the guy who punched a horse? In the 1980s, Karras' role in developing and playing a sentimental father on television's "Webster" introduced him to another generation.
This is not to downplay Karras' dominance as a football player in the 1960's, when he made the NFL's All-Decade team as a defensive lineman. The point is that Karras' life was only beginning when he retired from the game at age 35.
The next time you see a former athlete branching out into another form of entertainment unrelated to the game, you can know that Karras played a role in paving that path. And when you see a former athlete fail at it, you'll realize how talented Karras really was.
Week 5 brought a number of significant injuries to the NFC North. As we noted late Monday night, the Green Bay Packers have lost tailback Cedric Benson for at least eight weeks and perhaps the season because of a Lisfranc foot injury. The Minnesota Vikings believe receiver Jerome Simpson has a back injury that is causing leg numbness, and I also want to point out another ailment that might have been lost in the shuffle Monday.
Chicago Bears rookie receiver Alshon Jeffery has a fractured right hand, according to Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com, and will miss a couple of games even though the Bears have their bye this week. The injury occurred in Sunday's 41-3 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Jeffery is the Bears' second-leading receiver behind Brandon Marshall. He's caught 14 passes for 184 yards and two touchdowns amid limited playing time for Devin Hester and a hand injury that has cost veteran Earl Bennett two games.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- The Bears' Marshall helped open up big plays for other players Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars, writes Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune.
- The Bears' defense has a scoring mentality, according to Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times.
- Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on the performance of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers: "The Packers might need extraordinary, not ordinary, play from their leader."
- Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette takes a closer look at the Packers' sputtering offense.
- The Packers are trying to remain calm, writes Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.
- Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com breaks down the tape of the Vikings' victory over the Tennessee Titans.
- Vikings linebacker Jasper Brinkley has dispelled the notion that he's a liability in pass coverage, writes Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune.
- Brian Murphy of the St. Paul Pioneer Press: "Percy Harvin ignites, Christian Ponder commands and Adrian Peterson powers the offensive assembly line that has produced enough points for four attention-grabbing victories. But fueling the Vikings' revival has been their defense."
- Former Detroit Lions star Alex Karras has been in kidney failure for two weeks and only has a few days to live, according to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
- Chris McCosky of the Detroit News doesn't think the Lions are frauds. McCosky: "You have to trust the body of work here."
- The Lions need tailback Jahvid Best back in the lineup, writes Anwar S. Richardson of Mlive.com.
Let's breeze through some NFC North headlines on a quiet Friday morning (jinx):
- Former Detroit Lions defensive tackle Alex Karras has joined a lawsuit against the NFL on behalf of players who suffered concussions, according to the Associated Press via the Detroit Free Press. Karras has been diagnosed with dementia.
- The Lions are happy to have kept continuity from their 10-6 season, writes Carlos Monarrez of the Free Press.
- The offseason will help the Lions' second-year players, according to Anwar S. Richardson of Mlive.com.
- Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com wonders if the Minnesota Vikings will commit long-term to receiver Percy Harvin.
- The Vikings' No. 3 pick in the draft is being nationally discussed, notes Michael Rand of the Star Tribune.
- Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com looks at the Green Bay Packers' 2009 draft.
- The Bears' mandatory minicamp will be June 12-14, notes Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com.
The 1970 Lions ranked second in the NFL in points scored and points allowed, won their first two games by a combined score of 78-3 and finished the season with the league’s second-highest average point differential (10.4), according to pro football-reference.com. They had the best turnover ratio in the league, were the victims of Tom Dempsey’s then-record 63-yard field goal and produced an impressive five-game winning streak to end the regular season.
This team fielded two Hall of Fame cornerbacks, and both Barney and LeBeau had the best seasons of their careers. LeBeau intercepted nine passes, while Barney had seven -- returning two for touchdowns. The Barney/LeBeau team helped the Lions limit the powerful Dallas Cowboys to five points in the playoffs, and that total should have been enough for an offense that put up at least 28 points in six of its regular-season games.
But the offense inexplicably fell flat that day in a 5-0 defeat, leaving Lions fans their first in a series of torturous “what-ifs.” At the time, there was a feeling the Lions were bound for a Super Bowl victory had they gotten past the Cowboys.
I realize there is some room for discussion here. But the 1970s were a newly competitive era for the NFL, and that’s where I landed when comparing this team with the 1950s teams.
Most impressive victory: I’ll go with a tie for the Lions’ collective performances in shutting out Green Bay twice -- 40-0 in the season opener and 20-0 in the season finale. The Packers weren’t a good team that year but they did win six of their other 12 games.
Did you know? The 1970 Lions were the first wild-card playoff team in NFL history. When the league merged with the AFL, the postseason was expanded to eight teams -- three division winners and one wild-card team.
Did you know, Part II? Soul musician Marvin Gaye had a failed tryout for the 1970 team.
1952: A high-powered offense scored 40-plus points five times on the way to a 9-3 record and an NFL Championship.
1953: A similar team scored a touchdown in the final minutes of the championship game to become the third team in NFL history at that point to win back-to-back titles.
1957: The Lions overcame the training camp resignation of coach Buddy Parker and the broken leg of quarterback Bobby Layne to win its last NFL title.
Already today we’ve noted Darren Sharper’s Super Bowl championship and asked for some feedback on Dick LeBeau’s pending enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. Depending on travel conditions, this might be Monday’s last post. If it is, I’ll be back with you Tuesday and throughout this week as the NFL offseason begins in earnest.
Until then, let’s catch up on some NFC North news and analysis:
- Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times takes an in-depth look at the Bears’ “litany of disappointments” since making the Super Bowl three years ago.
- Bears receiver/returner Devin Hester had a chance to “party with my boys” during Super Bowl week in Miami, according to the Chicago Tribune.
- Alex Karras is another former Detroit player who belongs in the Hall of Fame, writes Jerry Green of the Detroit News.
- The grandson of Hall of Fame Green Bay coach Vince Lombardi was part of New Orleans’ championship team. Here’s an Associated Press profile of saints quarterbacks coach Joe Lombardi, via the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
- You can view this Facebook page to see outtakes from Brett Favre’s Super Bowl commercial, the one where he discusses his “role” in the Super Bowl 10 years from now.
Intent is not a part of most NFL rules. So it makes no difference that Allen steadfastly maintained he wasn't trying to hurt Schaub by hitting him below the knees last Sunday. (And given the state of the Texans' quarterback situation, the Vikings might have been better off with Schaub in the game rather than backup Sage Rosenfels, anyway.)
But Allen's intent doesn't matter. The reason the league put that rule into place is that a quarterback's eyes are never supposed to be on the pass rush. He's not always going to see a defensive lineman lurking near his feet, and certainly not if the lineman comes from behind. A shot below the knee is the easiest way to get the quarterback to the ground, but it puts him in a high-risk injury situation -- especially if his feet are planted to throw -- that the league isn't willing to perpetuate.
Allen seemed pretty upset earlier this week when he thought Houston coach Gary Kubiak accused him of intentionally trying to hurt Schaub. Kubiak clarified those comments Friday and said: "By no means do we think this young man was trying to hurt anybody."
We'll leave conspiracy theories for another day. But even if you give Allen the benefit of the doubt, and that he was merely playing out his instinct to bring down the quarterback, it should now be clear the NFL isn't interested in explanations.
Continuing around the NFC North on a wintry Saturday morning in the Upper Midwest:
- Minnesota receiver Robert Ferguson cleaned out his locker Friday and has asked for his release, according to Judd Zulgad and Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune. Ferguson has three receptions this season. The Vikings worked out former Miami receiver Derek Hagan on Friday.
- Second-year Vikings defensive end Brian Robison has a chance to establish himself assuming he starts in place of Allen on Sunday against Green Bay, writes Rick Alonzo of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
- The contract of Green Bay right tackle Mark Tauscher expires after this season, Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette points out. Asked if he thinks he'll be back with the Packers next season, Tauscher said: "I have no idea. I really don't know."
- Packers tight end Donald Lee is averaging 7.4 yards on 22 receptions this season, points out Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Lee attributed his quiet numbers to a downturn in passes thrown his way.
- Tennessee defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth on Chicago tailback Matt Forte: "He's going to be one of the toughest running backs we have to face.'' Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times has the story.
- David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune calls on five Bears to step up their play Sunday against the Titans: quarterback Rex Grossman, punter Brad Maynard, defensive tackle Tommie Harris, cornerback Nate Vasher and receiver/kick returner Devin Hester.
- Former Lion Alex Karras had this to say about the current team during a conversation with Detroit News writer John Niyo: "They need a big change in the coaching situation. Obviously, it's not getting it done. And they need a change in how they draft players. When you lose, there's a reason. There's always a reason you lose."