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George Karlaftis: The Greek Freak of American Football?

George Karlaftis American football
Chiefs rookie George Karlaftis: the next Greek Freak? Credit: Kansas City Chiefs

Greek-born George Karlaftis is becoming the National Football League’s (NFL) emerging star.

Karlaftis, a rookie defensive end for the Kansas City Chiefs, is just getting started. His position is known for rushing the passer and sacking quarterbacks.

An emerging fan favorite, Karlaftis is unexpectedly making his name as a rookie. Spectators are euphoric as he tramples opposing offensive linemen, tackles running backs behind the line of scrimmage, and pressures the other team’s quarterback.

Is Karlaftis the Next Greek Freak?

The National Basketball Association (NBA) has its Greek Freak, Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks. Now, NFL may have its own emerging Greek Freak in Karlaftis.

“Freaky” refers to a very unusual or unexpected situation, such as an accident while a freak is a human with unusual physical abnormalities or gifts. Furthermore, people expressing wild or irrational behavior might be in the process of “freaking out.” They might start smashing things or even people. This, is, of course, permitted in American football.

In many ways, Karlaftis’ life can be described as a tad bit “freaky.” He is 6’4″ and weighs 263lbs. He is indeed huge compared to most humans, but perhaps his abnormality in American football is that he may be a bit undersized. Some question if he can compete among the many strong players of the NFL. It turns out observers find him relentless.

A Raw Prospect With an Opportunity

The first-round pick out of Purdue University grew up in Athens, Greece. Playing for the Purdue Boilermakers, he received all-Big Ten honors. Still, his college career was limited by testing positive for COVID-19 in 2020.

Before being drafted into the NFL, many teams had their doubts. A raw prospect, many team scouts saw his potential as up and down. Karlaftis did not dominate in video representations; he did not have optimal strength for his position. Yet, once the Chiefs drafted the defensive lineman, he was ranked third behind less-than-stellar veterans, and, in his first few games, trust was earned from teammates and coaches. Whether beginning each game or not, he is near the top among defensive players for minutes played.

From Alex Karras to George Karlaftis?

Very few Greek-Americans have distinguished themselves in American football. However, one is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame who also played on the defensive line. Alex Karras played for the Detroit Lions. Karras, much like Karlaftis, was raised in Indiana. Both lost their fathers when they were young teenagers. Karras’ father happened to be named George.

The Lion of Greek origin was an all-star while playing football in the 1960s. However, most Americans who are middle-aged or older today remember Karras as an actor. He played a famous if understated role. He was the adopted father of a young African-American son played by Emmanuel Lewis in the 1980s television program Webster.

Karras’ character was named George Papadapolis. Many American children, who were Webster’s friends on the show and who watched at home, chuckled. It was difficult for them to pronounce Mr. Papadapolis’ name.

George Karlaftis is a potential role model for young fans to identify with. How many will come to know his name?

Overcoming Family Tragedy and Anxiety About Football

George Karlaftis’ father, Matt, a javelin thrower, was a star in track and field at the University of Miami. His father, while attending graduate school, met his mother Amy at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. Purdue has an unsung relationship with Greece and Greek-Americans.

George’s parents returned to Athens where his father became a professor. The family had four children. Everything changed, however, when their father died of a heart attack while traveling for work at age forty-four. Within days, their mother, Amy, moved the children back to Indiana, where she had more support.

It was in Indiana that George, who played many sports in Greece, fell in love with American football. In Greece, he excelled in swimming, track and field, water polo, basketball, and soccer. When George got to Indiana he excelled particularly at the shot put in track and field. Indiana for George was serene compared to what he knew of urban Athens in Greece.

While processing the trauma of his father’s death, George learned American English and journeyed toward self-discovery. He made new friends playing a game that is rather rare in Europe. In Greece, American football was most often perceived as barbaric. His father’s only brush with football left him with a traumatic head injury. This initially left George with some hesitation until overcoming his anxiety about the sport.

A Good Listener With A Fine Motor

Even though George can wreak havoc on the field, he approaches football as a thinking man with a dedicated personality. Veterans pass down secrets of the game to George. He is known as a good listener and is now playing among greats like Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce.

In the preseason, Kansas City Chiefs Coach Andy Reid remarked that George has a great motor. Actually, they had to slow him down a little in the preseason, where practice and games are less intense. In the first third of the regular season, both the Chiefs and Karlaftis have yet to hit their stride. Placing in the playoffs and playing well in December counts the most.

The Kansas City Chiefs were Superbowl contenders for the last three years and won in 2019. Theys lost in the championship game in 2020. Falling short of competing in the Super Bowl by one playoff game last year, are the Chiefs now possibly in decline?

George Karlaftis and the Renewal of the Chiefs

George Karlaftis has the opportunity to take part in the renewal of a competitive team. In the first five games of the season, the Chiefs have been up and down. They lost to the Indianapolis Colts and the Buffalo Bills in close games. They won a close game with the Las Vegas Raiders. The Chiefs have had stronger wins against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and San Francisco 49ers.

The media featured Karlaftis during the preseason. In the regular season, George has only been credited with half a sack thus far. His potential as the NFL’s Greek Freak and the Chiefs’ capacities this season are clearly tied together. It is unclear what nickname might stick, however, but right now, Karlaftis likes “Furious George.”

The future of Kansas City’s Superbowl prospects may be in the hands of George Karlaftis. As increasingly opposing quarterbacks find themselves in his clutches, his reputation will only continue to grow. Tossed for a loss, this will be the gain of the Chiefs, the NFL, and global fans.

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