Skip to main content

Ted Karras Carries His Man Of The Year Message To NFL Red Carpet

Cincinnati Bengals center Ted Karras (64) arrives at the red carpet at the NFL Honors awards show on Thursday, February 8, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Perry Knotts/NFL)
Cincinnati Bengals center Ted Karras (64) arrives at the red carpet at the NFL Honors awards show on Thursday, February 8, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Perry Knotts/NFL)

LAS VEGAS _ It's been five years since Ted Karras went to the last of his three Super Bowls with The Man.

But with Tom Brady retired and Karras looking to go back as a Bengals captain centering for Joe Burrow, he seamlessly eases into his role here Thursday as Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year candidate.

He surprises Bengals fan and friend Kay Adams by showing up with a Cincy Hat on the set of "Up and Adams," and gets invited on stage for a cameo.

He bumps into former Eagles center and current cultural phenomenon Jason Kelce at the Green Light Podcast and gives him a Cincy Hat before promising him one with University of Cincinnati colors.

With Karras sitting next to him live on NBC Boston, Patriots insider Phil Perry catches a Cincy Hat from an off-camera toss and jams it on his head.

"First time on Radio Row," Karras is saying as his handlers bustle him from microphone to camera in his first Super Bowl as a private citizen.

"I've never been to it on the spectator side. Obviously, I'm disappointed we're not in the big show. But we'll take an emotional break and get ready to go."

Before Karras was all of these things, not to mention the founder of The Cincy Hat and St. Tatty's Day, he was a Bears fan. So when one of Thursday's appointments takes him to the show of WGN sports anchor Jarrett Payton, there is no break from emotion as he speaks with the son of the greatest Bear of them all.

There is Jarrett Payton holding a Cincy Hat and telling Karras what an honor it is to have him on the show.

"That's the great thing about this," Payton is saying later, finally breaking away from Radio Row to get ready to see the trophy handed out here at Thursday night's NFL Honors. "To be able to meet these great young men who do so much out in their communities and do the work like my dad did. It really is an honor for me."

The only thing better than that for Karras this day would be getting the trophy of the caped lineman, symbolic of anyone being able to win the award based on their commitment to community.

It turned into a royal ceremony with Prince Harry presenting the statue to a fellow AFC North knight in the trenches, Steelers defensive lineman Cam Heyward. But Karras met a prince earlier in the day.  

"To be involved with the Payton family is a tremendous honor. To be mentioned in the same sentence as Walter is an honor I can't even express the magnitude of that feeling," says Karras, who didn't get in here until Wednesday night. "I'm still in the whirlwind of Vegas. It's fun to rub shoulders with all the stars. Jarrett Payton is one of them. It's good to see my old Boston guys. Jason Kelce. Met him for the first time today. Really an honor to meet him. Probably the most dynamic center of all time and a guy I looked up to."

It sounds like Kelce is looking up to Karras now. Asked for a few words on Karras as he is being led to another appearance, Kelce says, "Love Teddy Karras," and then, looking at his bevy of handlers, asks, "Where's my hat?"

But that's all he's got. "I'm trying not to do media," says Kelce as he goes to do media.

Karras, who is being handled by reps from Nationwide, the sponsor of the award, is doing all the media he can.

"How was that?" Karras asks after his first interview, a reunion with the Patriots flagship station The Sports Hub.

It turns out the post-Belichick Bostonians are, at the moment, more into offense than community.

"More Nationwide? More Hat? We didn't talk at all about the Hat."

NBC Boston takes care of that, asking Karras to walk its audience through how a gesture to his new teammates when he arrived in Cincinnati in the spring of 2022 ended up becoming a $1.2 million charity juggernaut.

How he designed The Cincy Hat and had a couple dozen made as an offering to his new Bengals teammates. How it went viral in locker room interviews. How the demand exploded when he gave the first thousand bucks or so to the Village of Merici in his hometown of Indianapolis.

The microphones and the cameras and the pretty faces change, but the passion stays the same.

How he has been involved since high school with The Village, an organization run by his best friend's mother seeking to facilitate housing for adults with intellectual disabilities. How has meant more than 70 new units since it took off around Thanksgiving of 2022.

"I'm grateful to them for their purity and kindness and joy they provide in my life," Karras tells one mic of the adults whom he considers his friends. "And they should feel so proud how they've inspired millions of people with their spirt."

How he has joined forces with the Ken Anderson Alliance in order to start building similar homes in Cincinnati. How Anderson won the NFL Man of the Year back in the day. The first Bengal to do so, by the way, in 1975. Walter Payton's rookie year.

How overwhelmed he is by the generosity of Cincinnati and Bengals fans. A group he lovingly calls "Who-Dey Nation."

Then he delves into the ensuing plans.

St. Taddy's Day on March 17. Fowling Warehouse in Cincinnati. 12-5 p.m.

When he was mired in third place in the Charity Challenge among the 32 Payton nominees back in December, he said he'd pay for tattoos, real and temporary, if they won. More than 2 million votes later, they did.

St. Tatty's Day. Games. Food. Drinks. Free Tattoos. Fundraising. Karras' Thank You note.

"St. Tatty's Day. I told you we had something big," Karras is saying, away from the swirl of Radio Row.

A win Thursday night would seem to be as improbable as the whole damn improbable run itself.

"It keeps on running and we have no plans of stopping. Hopefully, this spurs us into another huge year," Karras says. "I think we have a chance. I think this is the year to win it. Let's do it."

He is talking about his plans to wear a black-and-orange suit Thursday night as he walks down the NFL red carpet with his wife and parents. It nicely matches the black-and-orange Cincy Hat he'll also be wearing.

The first ball cap on the red carpet?

He is thinking about the Villagers who have been wishing him well on social media. Marty. Angie. Mary.

"I'd love to bring the trophy back for them," he says.

It seems as he leaves his message and Radio Row, he already has.