Being known as the toughest guy in the room doesn't always guarantee success, but it can add extra spice to your personality. That was the case for William Afflis, once known as "Dick The Bruiser" and Alex Karras, known as "The Mad Duck." Each played football and moonlighted as wrestlers, and each became a mainstay in the Motor City as a result.
Decades later, James Bryant is trying to turn back the clock and duplicate their feat of crossover success in Detroit. Though he might not come with a comical ready made nickname, Bryant has participated in boxing and enjoys that unique underworld nearly as much as playing football. He even wore a Hannibal Lecter mask while competing in the ring. Now, he wants to stare down defenses and lead the way for the Lions' running game.
(In your best Anthony Hopkins "Silence Of The Lambs" impersonation voice): Is this Brian Urlacher? Why, hello Brian.
For a sport which now obsesses about injuries, dirty play and taking things too far physically, it's exciting to see another tough guy trying to make it. Bryant might not be the best player, but given his history, it's already obvious that he's tough enough to get the job done. To survive in the world of boxing, you've got to be hardened, disciplined and more than a little bit crazy.
Kind of like Karras was when he took the world by storm as a Lions' defensive lineman in the late 50s. Originally, his first love was wrestling, and he competed during the offseason prior to his arrival in football. After he was temporarily banned in 1963 for owning the Lindell AC bar downtown, Karras had a legendary encounter with Afflis, a former Green Bay Packer who gained notoriety as a wrestler in Detroit. During this time, as described in George Plimpton's Mad Ducks and Bears, Karras alluded to how he competed in a tag team wrestling match with the legendary Bronko Nagurski. All three were tough wrestlers because they were scrappy football players, and vise versa. The training, necessary focus and personality meshes for each sport. As Plimpton describes, Karras "relied on deftness and guile to get to the opposition."
Thus, word that Bryant impressed in training camp isn't surprising at all. The mentality of going into the ring is the same as breaking the huddle. Taking on an intimidating linebacker or lineman is like getting ready to deal a devastating uppercut. There's no better position for Bryant than fullback, where he'll get to plow full speed into the line and do damage. Just like wrestling required the upper body strength and agility of a lineman for Karras and Afflis, fullback commands the controlled crazy of boxing that Bryant already possesses.
Can Bryant make the impending final cut? Will there be any use for him in a high octane offense? That's up to Jim Schwartz, Martin Mayhew and Scott Linehan to ultimately decide. If he does survive, though, Detroit's anemic running game will definitely reap some much needed rewards in the toughness department. He'll also become another throwback favorite in Detroit.
Maybe, if given the chance for a one on one encounter in 2012, Bryant would even get the chance to eat Clay Matthews' liver with some fava beans and a nice bottle of Chianti. Metaphorically, of course.
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