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Late Detroit Lions’ great Alex Karras gets Pro Football Hall of Fame nod

This is a 1971 team photo of Detroit Lions’ defensive lineman Alex Karras, who passed away in 2012 at age 77. He was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame this week. (AP file photo)

By BARRY WILNER

AP Pro Football Writer

Former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has made the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his fifth attempt.

Tagliabue and former New York Giants general manager George Young made it to the hall in Canton, Ohio, as contributors. Ex-Dallas Cowboys safety Cliff Harris and former Cleveland receiver Mac Speedie completed the centennial class announced Wednesday. The class of 10 senior candidates, three contributors and two coaches are part of the hall’s celebration of the NFL’s 100th season.

Tagliabue replaced Pete Rozelle as league commissioner in 1989 and served 17 years, during which there was labor peace, expansion to 32 teams and widespread upgrades in stadiums. The NFL’s television revenues under Tagliabue skyrocketed, and he helped establish a pension system for former players.

The issue that seemed to keep him from earlier selection to the hall was how the NFL dealt with concussions and head trauma. But, as with all commissioners, Tagliabue was doing the bidding of his bosses, the team owners. He made some unwise comments about the connection between concussions and football for which he later apologized.

Young, who also worked under Tagliabue in the league office, was a front-office executive for the Colts and Dolphins before joining — and turning around — a moribund Giants franchise. New York won two Super Bowls under his guidance.

Harris was one of the hardest-hitting defensive backs in the NFL, a major part of the Dallas defenses of the 1970s who made three All-Pro teams and six Pro Bowls. He played in seven conference title games and five Super Bowls, winning two.

Speedie was part of the unstoppable Cleveland Browns offense in the AAFC and then in the NFL. As one of two primary targets for quarterback Otto Graham, along with Dante Lavelli — both already are in the hall — Speedie averaged 16.1 yards on 349 receptions and scored 32 touchdowns. Twice he gamed more than 1,000 yards receiving.

Another member of the Steel Curtain, safety Donnie Shell, made it as did fellow safety Bobby Dillon and defensive tackle Alex Karras.

Dillon was a superb player on a bad team. He was with the Packers from 1952-59, retiring after Vince Lombardi’s first year as coach in Green Bay. Despite a childhood accident in which he lost an eye, Dillon was an NFL star. He made nine interceptions in a season three times and seven picks twice. Dillon picked off four passes in one game against Detroit on Thanksgiving Day 1953 and led the NFL in interception return yardage (244) in 1956.

Karras, who became well known off the field as an actor and also was suspended for one year by commissioner Rozelle for gambling, was an unmovable defensive tackle for the Lions. A three-time All-Pro in 12 seasons, Karras unofficially had 97 1-2 sacks — it was not an NFL statistic in the 1950s and ’60s — and was considered by Lombardi the one Detroit player who could single-handedly disrupt the Packers.