The best pages of one of our best sports books involved a beefy pro football player who had a manic gift of gab and a heightened sense of life's absurdities. The book was George, Plimpton's Paper Lion, and the player, need it be said, was Alex Karras. Plimpton brought out the best in Karras and vice versa, with the happy and memorable result that the book contains some of the zaniest tall-tale-telling to be found in print.
Paper Lion made something of a celebrity of Karras, as he quickly and graciously admits; he got to play himself in the successful movie adaption of the book, which in turn led to his less successful stint as the third mouth on Monday Night Football. That, in turn, seems to have led to a book Karras has done with Herb Gluck called Even Big Guys Cry (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, $8.95). There's surprisingly little of the vaunted Karras humor in it (maybe he misses Plimpton more than he realizes), but the book is not without its modest and surprising virtues.
To be perfectly frank, it's a book that I was prepared to dislike; the freshness and rough innocence of Karras' humor seemed to me to have worn away under the pressures of television, and I expected the book to be a collection of stale chuckles. It is not. The occasional laughs it contains are good ones, and as an account of Karras' life it is unexpectedly touching.
With obvious feeling, Karras describes his boyhood in Gary, Ind., where his father worked long hours for little money as the community doctor and Alex and his brothers played sandlot football. He tells about his youthful romances with an appealing wistfulness and considerable candor. He has some tart words for a couple of famous footballers. Forest Evashevski and Otto Graham, whom he encountered as a young man. And he writes about his years with the Detroit Lions with affection.
November 14, 1977
On the subject of his suspension from pro football for alleged associations with gamblers, he makes a fairly convincing case for his innocence. On some other subjects he makes almost no case at all: Monday Night Football gets only a few paragraphs, and his well-publicized marital difficulties of recent years get none.
But most autobiographers keep a few cats in the bag, so that's no real surprise. What is a surprise is that Even Big Guys Cry gives the reader a genuine, and favorable, feeling for the kind of person its author is.