Monday, February 13, 2017

Alex Karras and Dick the Bruiser's Detroit Bar Brawl

One of the most infamous chapters in Detroit sports history involved Alex Karras--defensive lineman for the Detroit Lions--and William Fritz Afflis--AKA wrestler Dick the Bruiser. What started out as a publicity stunt to promote a professional wrestling match between Karras and the Bruiser became a full-blown brawl at the original Lindell Bar on Cass and Bagley Avenues. 

Before signing with the Detroit Lions, Karras was a rookie professional wrestler and learned the skills and secrets of the squared circle. When the Lions picked him up, he gladly quit the wrestling game because he did not like daily life on the road.

Alex Karras played football for twelve seasons with the Detroit Lions from 1958 through 1962 and again from 1964 through 1970. One week before the bar brawl in 1963, the NFL gave Karras a one-year suspension for gambling on professional football games. NFL officials urged Karras to disassociate himself from the Lindell Bar because of alledged organized crime influence.

Mel Butsicaris explained to me that Alex Karras bought into the Lindell with brothers Jimmy and Johnny Butiscaris. Johnny was Mel's father and Jimmy was his uncle.The bar business was on the bottom floor of the old Lindell Hotel, a rundown flopshouse. The bar was less than a block away from the Leland Hotel where visiting sports teams stayed. The bar became a gathering place for Detroit and out-of-town sports teams. With Karras's recent NFL suspension, the Lindell was his only source of income, now that he was no longer drawing his football salary. Karras refused to sell his interest in the bar until his suspension was lifted.


William Afflis was an offensive left tackle for the Green Bay Packers from 1950 until 1954 before becoming a professional wrestler and changing his name to Dick the Bruiser. There was much more money to be made wrestling, so he quit the Packers. The Bruiser was five feet, eleven inches tall, built like a fire plug and just as tough. He wore a crew cut and had a gravelly voice that struck fear into his opponents. His finishing moves were the Atomic Drop and the Diving Knee Drop. After thirty-two years in the wrestling game, the Bruiser retired in 1986.

According to Mel Butiscaris, the Bruiser walked into the Lindell Bar on cue at 1:25 am on Tuesday, April 23, 1963.  The Bruiser pointed at Karras and bellowed in his gravelly voice, "I want that fat, (expletive deleted), four-eyed bartender to serve me." He was belligerant and continued verbally abusing Karras as the staged confrontation was scripted.

Tavern co-owner Jimmy Butsicaris refused to serve the Bruiser, and the wrestler grabbed Butsicaris's shirt and threw a short punch at him, tearing Jimmy's shirt as planned. Mel tells me that his uncle wore one of his old shirts for the occasion. That was part of the publicity stunt. Everybody in the bar knew the scene was staged. Everyone but Jimmy's visiting out-of-town uncle. He had just walked in the bar when he witnessed the mayhem.

Uncle Charley took a pool cue and came to his nephew's defense. He pasted the Bruiser in the face leaving a cut beneath the wrestler's left eye that needed five stitches to close. Dick the Bruiser on a good day had an impulse control problem. Bleeding profusely, the Bruiser gave free range to his rage and virtually tore the bar apart. The Bruiser tore a peanut vending machine off the wall and threw it through the television screen. Some of the bar patrons tried to subdue the Bruiser. Big mistake!

The Detroit Times reported that Karras hit the Bruiser across the back with a chair, but Mel Butsicaris disputes that account. He says the newspaper story was written before the brawl happened as part of the carefully planned publicity stunt. The real story is that Karras wanted nothing to do with the brawl and ducked out the back door.

Two Detroit cops walking their beat looked in the window and saw the melee. They phoned for some backup. It took eight Detroit policemen to subdue the Bruiser with wrist and ankle manacles before taking him to jail. Two policemen were seriously injured. The Bruiser easily made bail and had to appear in a Detroit courtroom the following Monday morning where he was arraigned on assault and battery charges.

Both Karras and the Bruiser told the police the brawl was a publicity stunt to promote their upcoming Saturday wrestling match at Detroit's Olympia arena. Prior to the brawl, Karras had signed on to wrestle the Bruiser because he needed the cash after his NFL suspension. In Karras's brief wrestling career, he and the Bruiser had become friends. After the brawl, the Bruiser told a local sports reporter that he heard Karras said he was a third-rate pro-football player, and he was angry about it.

On April 27, 1963, a mere five days after the brawl, the men were scheduled for a grudge match. A disappointing crowd of only 10,000 showed up for the match which lasted only eleven minutes and twenty-one seconds. The crowd thought the two men were sell-outs. Nobody was fooled. The match was a humiliating defeat for the out-matched Karras, who took a beating in the ring for a $30,000 pay out. What the Bruiser made that night is not known. Whatever the amount, the two injured policemen sued William Afflis, AKA Dick the Bruiser, for a total of $50,000.


After his career with the Detroit Lions, Alex Karras became a television and movie actor, and co-host of ABC's popular Monday Night Football with Howard Cosell and Frank Gifford, from 1974 until 1976. Suffering from dementia in his final years, Karras died of kidney failure at the age of seventy-seven on October 10, 2012.

After retiring from the ring, the Bruiser bought the National Wrestling Association and became a promoter. Dick the Bruiser died from internal bleeding on November 19, 1991 in Largo, Florida at the age of sixty-two. He was weightlifting with his adopted son when a blood vessel ruptured in his esophagus.  

More tales from the Lindell Bar courtesy of Mel Butsicaris:
http://fornology.blogspot.com/2017/02/detroits-lindell-ac-nations-first_21.html