Heraclitus’ Philosophy

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Heraclitus Philosophy or, You Can’t Step in the Same River Twice


“Yes you can,” Alex Karras once said about Heraclitus’ Philosophy.  Alex died a few weeks back.  You may remember him as George Papadapolis in the television sitcom, Webster, playing Webster’s adoptive father.  But, before Webster, and earlier character parts in Victor Victoria and Centennial, you might also remember him as an extraordinary defensive tackle for the Detroit Lions in the 1960s, and before that, as an all-American lineman—playing both offense and defense—for the University of Iowa Hawkeyes in 1957.


Iowa City’s Legendary Airliner Bar


That’s where I knew him, in Iowa City in the spring of 1958.  You couldn’t say we were great pals or anything.  But we did shoot the breeze once in the Airliner bar one afternoon in April of 1958.  It was the extent of our association.

In those days the University of Iowa had less than ten thousand students.  Thus, you knew or thought you knew most everyone including the high profile jocks.  And most of those students, including the jocks, would also frequent the Airliner bar, some more often than others.  I mean, why not?  It was right across the street from Schaeffer Hall, so convenient that a guy could finish class, grab a tap beer, even buy a shirt and tie from the men’s store next door, and still make it to his next class with time to spare.


Budweiser: another word for water


I think it was sometime in April, with graduation less than a month away, when a few of us puffed-up seniors were leisurely drinking fifteen cent draught Budweisers and talking about all the great jobs we had already secured depending, of course, on our actual graduations.  We also palavered about where the action was this Friday night and of the football teams’ chances of playing in the Rose Bowl in 1959.  During our rambling, Alex Karras sat down across from me at one of several tables by the Airliner’s front windows.  I remember shaking his hand and subsequent pleasant conversation with a confident and amiable hulk who was also, obviously, no one to mess with.

One or two at our table must have known him but I can’t remember who they were or how.  Anyway, we were commenting about a course on the History of Philosophy all of us had taken and how stupid—ignorant would have been more suitable—was Heraclitus, an early Greek philosopher, pre-Aristotle, for proclaiming that “you can’t step in the same river twice.”


Who was that masked man?


“Yes you can,” said Alex, acting like Heraclitus might have been his roommate.  Yet we all agreed with Alex, because Heraclitus—while attempting to answer an earlier question of Thales, “What is the stuff of the world?” had attempted to make a case for change as the major stuff.  As evidence he included his view that you can’t step in the same river twice because the flowing water was always new or changing.  Leaving Heraclitus’ Philosophy, I remember commenting and explaining about a different subject with Alex.  I also remember him listening attentively then commenting in return while adding a smile.  So, what I said must have sounded reasonable or at least had some wit behind it.

After ten or fifteen minutes he left as unobtrusively as he had arrived.  I remember thinking at the time that I’ll probably never see him again, but I’ll remember our meeting.


Jockey Shorts to George Papadapolus


At the time, of course, we knew him only as an all-American lineman, an Outland Trophy winner and a top rookie for the Detroit Lions.  Only later with a few pro years behind him would we realize that he was one of the best in the NFL.  Later, he went on to become a movie actor and producer with his wife, Susan Clark, before entering the College Football and Iowa Sports Halls of Fame.

Over the years his image has jogged my brain from-time-to-time, usually during football season or when something else triggers a memory.  He was smart and picked-up on things quickly.  He was also quick study of football coaches having quit the Iowa team several times because he hated coach Forest Evashevsky.  Also, I get a boot now and then remembering a Jockey underwear ad in a 1960s Sports Illustrated showing ten to fifteen NFL players including Alex, Paul Hornung, and Frank Gifford hiding their self-consciousness in back of smug mugs while sitting on stadium-like tiers decked only in their Jockey skivvies.  Could this incongruous scene have given some SI staffer the idea for a future swim suit issue?

I have no idea how Alex did academically at Iowa.  It’s not important.  But he could have made a name for himself in any number of careers.  He had that rare combination of brains, physical stature, savvy, and confidence to do most anything.

Notwithstanding Heraclitus’ Philosophy, I’ll raise a glass to you, Alex.


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