In collaboration with Sportsecyclopedia.com
In news that stuns the NFL, Commissioner Pete Rozelle is suspending Green Bay Packers All-Pros Paul Hornung and Alex Karras for betting on NFL games. Hornung, who was the NFL MVP in 1961, was accused of betting $500 on NFL games from 1959 to 1961, while Karras admitted to making multiple bets of $50 or $100. Both suspensions lasted a year since they were reinstated in 1964.
As the NFL grew in popularity, gambling became a real concern. Two of the league’s top stars have had their names popped up in an investigation that has owners concerned about the integrity of the league. The suspensions of Alex Karras and Paul Hornung were the first game-related suspensions issued by the NFL.
Paul Hornung, born on December 23, 1935, was one of the NFL’s biggest stars. After winning the Heisman Trophy at Notre Dame, Hornung was the first pick in the NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers. As the Packers became the NFL’s top team, Hornung was one of their key players, winning the NFL MVP title in 1961. This was a year after Paul Hornung set a record 176 points.
Alex Karras was born on July 15, 1935. After playing his college ball in Iowa, Karras was selected with the tenth overall pick in the 1958 draft by the Detroit Lions. Alex Karras quickly became a star defensive tackle, as he regularly appeared in the Pro Bowl and was named first-team All-Pro three consecutive years from 1960 to 1962.
The suspensions came at the height of both players’ careers. At first, the suspensions handed down by Pete Rozelle were indefinite. Paul Hornung was contrite upon learning of the suspension, saying, “I made a terrible mistake; I’m so sorry.” Alex Karras, meanwhile, was bitter as five fellow Detroit Lions, Joe Schmidt, Wayne Walker, John Gordy, Gary Lowe and Sam Williams, were fined $2,000 for betting on the NFL championship game.
The loss of Paul Hornung had a negative effect on the Green Bay Packers, who finished in second place after winning back-to-back NFL Championship games. The Detroit Lions, who finished 11-3 in 1962, went to 5-8-1 without Alex Karras in 1963. Both players were reinstated in 1964. While the Packers again finished second, the Lions are moved to 8-5-2. The Packers would win a championship again in 1965, but Paul Hornung was in decline, as Karras was named All-Pro for the fourth time in his career.
Paul Hornung left the Packers after winning the first Super Bowl when exposed to the expansion draft and selected by the New Orleans Saints. However, he would retire during training camp; he would be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1986. Alex Karras would retire after the 1970 season and go on to a long career in broadcasting and theatre. Karras was posthumously inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2020.
The NFL would not have another game-related suspension until 1983, when Baltimore Colts quarterback Art Schlichter was suspended for a year. As gambling became legal, the confusion led to free agent defensive back Josh Shaw being suspended in 2020, while Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley will be suspended for the 2022 season.