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Paul Hornung and Alex Karras

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One of the black marks in NFL history came in 1963 when the league suspended two of its star players for the season for betting on games. With one fell swoop, the league levied severe punishments to Paul Hornung, the former Notre Dame star and league MVP in 1961 with the Green Bay Packers and Alex Karras, an All-Pro defensive lineman for the Detroit Lions. The suspensions were controversial but proved that the NFL had learned from betting scandals that had beset college basketball in the early 1950s and meant business about gambling.

Hornung and Karras were forced to miss the 1963 season by NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle after it was discovered that they had each regularly bet on the outcomes of their team’s games (Hornung had bet up to $500 on games while Karras had placed bets ranging from $50 to $100). In addition, both Hornung and Karras had kept fast company including being seen with friends who were also reputed to have connections to gambling and organized crime. Five other members of the Lions; Joe Schmidt, Wayne Walker, John Gordy, Gary Lowe and Sam Williams, were each fined $2,000 by Rozelle for betting on the Packers in the 1962 championship game against the New York Giants, which Green Bay won.

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Karras’ problems began in January, 1963, when the league asked him to sell his one-third interest in Detroit’s Lindell AC Bar  because of mob influences and reputed gambling activities taking place there. Karras had threatened to retire rather than sell the bar, but later relented and sold his share, which paved the way for his reinstatement. Unlike many other sports betting scandals, both Hornung and Karras admitted their transgressions and accepted their punishments. Their contrition was enough for Rozelle to allow them to come back for the 1964 season and resume their careers. During a game in 1964, Karras refused to make a call of the opening coin toss, telling the referee that he “wasn’t permitted to gamble.”

Neither player suffered any lasting damage to their reputation, as Karras went on to have an impressive acting career after his career ended. While best known for his role on Webster, Karras also appeared in numerous movies, such as Blazing Saddles, and was a member of the Monday night Football broadcasting team for three years. Hornung did some broadcasting work and hosted the Paul Hornung Sports Showcase show, while becoming successful in the business world.