University of Iowa Athletics
Former Iowa defensive tackle Alex Karras won the Outland Trophy in 1957.

Former Iowa DT Alex Karras’ best role was making Mongo memorable

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ANSWER: Alex Karras was one of Iowa’s greatest football players. As a dominant defensive tackle (and sometimes disinterested offensive lineman), Karras won the Outland Trophy in 1957 and was a first-team All-American. He also starred for Iowa’s first Rose Bowl team in 1956 for coach Forest Evashevski, with whom Karras frequently sparred.

Karras later became a four-time All-Pro for the Detroit Lions and is perhaps the best player not yet inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. When Karras retired after the 1970 season, he moved to Los Angeles and became an actor.

Among the more popular roles Karras portrayed included Volga Deutsch farmer Hans Brumbaugh in the miniseries Centennial, Squash Bernstein in Victor Victoria and Sheriff Wallace in Porky’s. In a role that belied his image as one of the NFL’s roughest competitors, Karras played cuddly father George Papadapolis on the show Webster. Karras also played himself in the movie Paper Lion.

But there’s no question the role for which Karras is best remembered is Mongo from the 1974 comedy Blazing Saddles. Mongo was a roughneck bent on destruction. As the Waco Kid (played by Iowa alum Gene Wilder) described him, “Mongo ain’t exactly a who; he’s more of a what.”

When Mongo strolled into the peaceful town of Rock Ridge riding a Texas longhorn, the streets cleared. Mongo tied up his bull and he was approached by a man on a horse.

“Hey, you can’t park that animal over there. It’s illegal,” the man said. Mongo says nothing, walks up to the gentleman, punches his horse in the face and knocks it out.

Local sheriff Bart outsmarted Mongo with a telegram. After the delivery, Karras utters, “Mongo like candy,” as the box explodes. Mongo ends up in jail. After he was released from jail, Karras provided one more doozy of a line during questioning from Sheriff Bart and the Waco Kid.

“Mongo only pawn in game of life,” Karras said. But as movie characters go, Karras turned Mongo into memorable.

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