Dick Afflis isn’t much remembered as a football player. A muscular 6-foot, 251-pound lineman, he spent four seasons with the Packers in the early ’50s, but the franchise was nigh invisible in those days. It wasn’t until Vince Lombardi arrived in 1959 that Green Bay got back on the radar screen.
After leaving the NFL, though, Afflis became famed in the Midwest as a wrestler — Dick the Bruiser. In fact, David Letterman, who grew up in Indianapolis, named his television show’s band “The World’s Most Dangerous Band” in homage to The Bruiser, who billed himself as “The World’s Most Dangerous Wrestler.” Afflis even won the heavyweight title — or one of them, anyway. (Of course, who didn’t?)
Jim Murray, the Los Angeles Times columnist, probably had the best description of him. “Combine the worst aspects of the Japanese fruit fly, the rose aphid, rabies or the giant spider, together with the best of Benito Mussolini, and you get an idea what kind of man Dick Afflis is,” he wrote. “. . . He wrestles for a living and hates for fun. He looks as if he eats people. He’s the kind of guy who would put Albert Schweitzer adrift in a lifeboat, then poke a hole in his canteen.”
One of Afflis’ more memorable episodes came in 1963, when he started a brawl in a Detroit bar owned by Alex Karras, the Lions’ Pro Bowl defensive tackle. Karras, who had just been suspended for betting on NFL games, was slated to wrestle Dick the Bruiser five days later. (Alex, it seems, had antagonized him by referring to him in a newspaper story as a journeyman football player. Then again, maybe they were just trying to build up the gate.)
This is from a book Bob O’Donnell and I wrote, The Pro Football Chronicle:
[Afflis] no sooner walked in the door than the punches started flying. The first two policemen arrived in no time, but they weren’t a match for the 6-foot, 250-pounder. One suffered a broken wrist, the other a torn elbow ligament. (Neither knew how to counter a body slam.)
Six more cops arrived, and only then was The Bruiser subdued. Nearby, a television set and vending machine lay in ruins. . . . They had to cuff his hands and feet.
Afflis also sustained a five-stitch cut under his left eye, which he attributed to a pool cue. He was fined $400 for his misbehavior, but the money wound up being refunded. Read the crazy explanation here.
When Afflis and Karras met in the ring, the wrestling pro — to no one’s surprise — pinned the amateur in 11 minutes, 21 seconds. Alex left the arena with teeth marks in his bicep. Said The Bruiser: “Football players should leave wrestling to wrestlers and go back to their betting.”
In tonight’s bout, Afflis takes on Ivan Rasputin, a.k.a. “The Mad Russian.” The date is June 10, 1955. The place is the International Amphitheatre in Chicago. Let’s get to it, shall we?
Afflis died in 1991 at 62. According to the obituary that ran in the Chicago Tribune, he “had been weightlifting at home [in Largo, Fla.] and ruptured a blood vessel in his esophagus.” His gravel voice, the Tribune said, was “the result of a football injury to the larynx,” but his wrestling career also took its toll.
“He broke both ankles, his nose and other bones,” the Tribune reported. “‘I’ve got so many stitches on my head that it looks like a baseball,’ he once bragged.”