From Bears to Patriots, Karras family linked by Super Bowl rings

Three generations of the Ted Karras lineage won NFL championship rings, including for the Bears in 1963, the Patriots in Super Bowl LI and the Redskins' 1987 season. Courtesy of Karras family

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The picture of three Super Bowl rings – from the 1963 Chicago Bears, the 1987 Washington Redskins and the 2016 New England Patriots – is a sparkling reminder of the championship link between reserve Patriots guard Ted Karras III, his father and his late grandfather.

It is timely to highlight that link this week, with the Patriots visiting the Bears on Sunday.

It was in Chicago, at Wrigley Field, where Ted Karras played guard for the ’63 Bears and helped pave the way on Billy Wade’s two quarterback sneaks for touchdowns in the NFL championship.

The Bears later moved to Soldier Field, and that’s where Ted Karras Jr. -- who played three games as a replacement player for the Washington Redskins in '87 and was finally awarded a Super Bowl ring this year -- would bring his son for countless games.

Now the son, who was a key backup in the Patriots’ Super Bowl LI season and is in his third NFL campaign, will have a much different view at Soldier Field.

This is the latest development in what has been a special year for the likable Karras family.

The snapshot of the three rings side by side was made possible only a few months ago when the Redskins brought back replacement players from the 1987 strike-shortened season, and owner Dan Snyder and former general manager Charley Casserly acknowledged their contributions by presenting them with rings.

“It kind of completed the trilogy -- of watching my son have it and my dad, and me only having a small part [of the Redskins’ title], but it’s a symbol of that year and really cool,” Karras Jr. said in a telephone interview.

Comparing the rings, Karras Jr. noted the Patriots’ is the size of a belt buckle before adding, “That's how the NFL has grown, when you think about it.”

Seeing his father receive the Redskins ring was a source of pride for Karras III, one of the Patriots’ most outgoing players and whose “Ted Talks” have become a social media favorite of New England fans.

"Growing up, my grandfather's ring was like the family heirloom, what everyone wanted to see," he said. "Now, all of a sudden, we have three as a family. It's pretty crazy."

The Redskins ring was most unexpected, but both father and son credited director John Dorsey and ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary on the Redskins’ replacement players as the catalyst to recognize the group that was referred to as the "Scabskins."

Karras had signed with Washington in 1987 as an undrafted free agent out of Northwestern, going through double-session practices in training camp before being let go at the cut to 60 players. When the players who made the roster went on strike during the regular season, the Redskins signed some who had been with them in training camp, including Karras Jr.

“The Redskins took that seriously and first brought back a good core of guys they had cut late, so everyone knew the system and how they operated. Then they brought in some guys with storied pasts,” recalled Karras Jr., a defensive lineman who recorded one sack over three victories before he was cut by the team when the strike ended.

Karras Jr. went on to become a stockbroker and work in the corporate world for a few years before transitioning to a successful career in coaching. Football, after all, is a big part of the Karras family bloodline (Alex Karras, the former Detroit Lion who went on to a starring role in the 1980s sitcom "Webster," is the great-uncle of Karras III).

Karras Jr. tells great stories of his father’s time with the Bears, such as how players would smoke cigarettes before games and during halftime.

“[Coach] Halas would come in and they’d put them out real quick,” he said.

And, of course, he has taken great pride in watching his son stick with the Patriots despite playing under three head coaches and five offensive line coaches at the University of Illinois.

So when Karras Jr. looks at the three Super Bowl rings, he sees “true perseverance” across three different generations -- all three were not highly recruited and fought hard to keep their careers alive -- as well as connections to coaching excellence.

“One of the things is just having the honor, all three of us, to play for three of the great coaches in football -- my dad for George Halas and all the stories he has, and I got to play for Joe Gibbs, and Ted now with Bill Belichick,” he said. "Those coaches and having those rings and getting to know their philosophies and how they do things, it’s been really cool to have all of us have that breadth of knowledge and to be touched by them.”

And, of course, the rings represent something else that is special to them.

“As a longtime football player and coach, you play football for a lot of reasons,” Karras Jr. said. “The ultimate symbol of success for a season is that ring.”