Detroit Lions great Alex Karras was suspended for gambling 60 years ago

Detroit Free Press

News of four Detroit Lions suspended by the NFL for violating the league’s policy on gambling reminds football fans of a similar circumstance, involving the same team, exactly 60 years ago.

While sports gambling is legal in many more states nowadays, including Michigan, and the NFL has not shied away from corporate partnerships with online gambling sites, the sanctity of the games being on the level remains important to players, fans and the league.

On Friday, Lions wide receivers Jameson Williams and Stanley Berryhill were suspended six games for placing bets on sporting events (but not football) while on company time. Teammates Quintez Cephus and C.J. Moore, along with Washington Commanders defensive lineman Shaka Toney, were suspended indefinitely for betting on NFL games.

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But back in 1963, the NFL wasn’t comfortable with Alex Karras’ relationship with the Lindell A.C., known as one of America’s first sports bars. The Lions’ then-three-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman was a part-owner of the establishment, which was rumored to be hosting sports betting.

What happened?

Karras seemingly told NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle to take a long walk off a short pier. But by April of that year, the league suspended Karras after he admitted on national TV that he bet on football games. Packers star Paul Hornung was also suspended indefinitely and four other Lions, including eventual Hall of Famer Joe Schmidt, were fined $2,000 each for betting on the 1962 NFL championship game.

While Karras told the Free Press he entertained joining the AFL, he instead took the year to concentrate more on his professional wrestling career.

“This is a real shock,” he told the Free Press. “I didn’t think it would be that bad. I’m still a bartender and I have a wrestling match coming up with Dick the Bruiser. From the sounds of Rozelle’s decision, I may be wrestling for the rest of my life.”

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And so, later that month, Karras was promoted to take on Dick the Bruiser in a match that was propped up by a “bar fight” at Lindell A.C., though it resulted Dick the Bruiser mixing it up with some eight police officers, who weren’t in on the rouse.

Post suspension

The suspensions were lifted in time for the next season, and Karras was fourth in the NFL Comeback Player of the Year voting in 1964. He was named to the All- Pro first or second team five more times and finished his career in 1971 after a preseason injury led to his release.

Karras’ third career made him more notable: He became an actor and played in not only himself in the 1968 film “Paper Lion,” but was Mongo in “Blazing Saddles” and George Papdopolis in the TV series “Webster.”

Some believe it was the gambling suspension that kept Karras out of the Pro Football Hall of Fame for some four decades. But he was voted in along with the NFL’s Centennial Class in 2020.

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