Chuck Bednarik

Last updated

Chuck Bednarik
ChuckBednarik1952Bowman.jpg
No. 60
Position: Linebacker, Center
Personal information
Born:(1925-05-01)May 1, 1925
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
Died:March 21, 2015(2015-03-21) (aged 89)
Richland, Pennsylvania
Height:6 ft 3 in (1.91 m)
Weight:233 lb (106 kg)
Career information
High school: Bethlehem (PA) Liberty
College: Penn
NFL Draft: 1949  / Round: 1 / Pick:  1
Career history
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics
Games played:169
Interceptions:20
Player stats at NFL.com  ·  PFR
Chuck Bednarik
Allegiance Flag of the United States.svg United States
Service/branch US Army Air Corps Hap Arnold Wings.svg U.S. Army Air Forces
Years of service1942–1946
RankStaff Sergeant
Unit Eighth Air Force
Battles/wars World War II

Charles Philip Bednarik (May 1, 1925 – March 21, 2015), nicknamed "Concrete Charlie", was an American professional football player in the National Football League (NFL). He was one of the most devastating tacklers in the history of the NFL[ not verified in body ] and its last 60-minute man, or full-time two-way player. A Slovak American from the Lehigh Valley region of Pennsylvania, Bednarik played for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1949 through 1962 and, upon retirement, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1967, his first year of eligibility.

Contents

Early life, military service and college career

Bednarik's parents emigrated in 1920 from Široké, a village in eastern Slovakia, for work, settling in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and working for Bethlehem Steel. Their son Charles was born in 1925. He attended school at SS. Cyril & Methodius in Bethlehem, which was a Slovak parochial school with Slovak the language of instruction.

Bednarik began playing football in Bethlehem. He played for Bethlehem's Liberty High School.

Following his graduation from high school, he entered the United States Army Air Forces and served as a B-24 waist gunner with the Eighth Air Force. Bednarik flew on 30 combat missions over Germany, for which he was awarded the Air Medal and four Oak Leaf Clusters, the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal and four Battle Stars. [1]

Bednarik subsequently attended the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, where he was a 60-minute man, excelling as both center and linebacker, as well as occasional punter. He was a three-time All-American, and was elected a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, as were two of his teammates on the 1947 squad—tackle George Savitsky and tailback Tony Minisi—and his coach, George Munger. At Penn, he also was third in Heisman Trophy voting in 1948 and won the Maxwell Award that year. [2] In 1969, he was voted by a panel of sportswriters, coaches and hall of fame players as "The Greatest Center of All-Time."

Professional football career

Bednarik was the first player drafted in the 1949 NFL Draft, by the Philadelphia Eagles, starring on both offense (as a center) and defense (as a linebacker). He was a member of the Eagles' NFL Championship teams in 1949 and 1960. In the final play of the 1960 NFL Championship Game, Bednarik, the last Eagle between Green Bay's Jim Taylor and the end zone, tackled Taylor at the Eagles' eight-yard line, and remained atop Taylor as the final seconds ticked off the clock, ensuring the Packers could not run another play and preserving a 17–13 Eagles victory. [3] The controversy surrounding this play led to the NFL putting in a rule penalizing defensive players for not allowing an offensive player from getting up off the field.

In 1960, Bednarik knocked Frank Gifford of the New York Giants out of football for over 18 months, with one of the most famous tackles in NFL history. [4] Bednarik was criticized after the game by Giants players and fans for apparently celebrating Gifford's injury and a picture from Sports Illustrated became iconic, showing Bednarik in mid-celebration, right above Gifford as he laid on the field, unconscious. Bednarik defended himself by saying that he was celebrating the fumble caused by the hit, which the Eagles recovered and was going to clinch the game for them, and the right to play for the NFL Championship. Years later, Gifford called the hit "a clean shot", and said, "Chuck hit me exactly the way I would have hit him." [5]

Bednarik had a famous quarrel with Chuck Noll, who once, as a player for the Cleveland Browns, smashed him in the face during a fourth-down punting play. A few years later, Bednarik punched Noll in an on-field confrontation after a game, in retaliation. NFL commissioner Bert Bell fined Bednarik $500 and ordered him to apologize to Noll for the punch. According to Bednarik, when he gave the apology, Noll simply responded, "Bullshit."

Bednarik proved extremely durable, missing just three games in his 14 seasons. He was named All-Pro eight times and was the last of the NFL's "Sixty-Minute Men," players who played both offense and defense on a regular basis.

Bednarik's nickname, "Concrete Charlie," originated from his off-season career as a concrete salesman for the Warner Company, not (contrary to popular belief) from his reputation as a ferocious tackler. Nonetheless, sportswriter Hugh Brown of The Evening Bulletin in Philadelphia, credited with bestowing the nickname, remarked that Bednarik "is as hard as the concrete he sells."

Bednarik served as an analyst on the HBO program Inside The NFL for its inaugural season in 1977–78.

In 1999, he was ranked number 54 on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Football Players. This made him the highest-ranking player to have spent his entire career with the Eagles, the highest-ranking offensive center and the eighth-ranked linebacker in all of professional football.

In 2010, Bednarik was ranked number 35 on the NFL Network's "The Top 100: NFL's Greatest Players". Ranked one spot ahead of Bednarik at #34 was Deion Sanders, a player for whom Bednarik has held open contempt in regards to being a two-way player. Bednarik was not the highest placed Eagle on the NFL Network's list. That distinction was held by Reggie White at number 7.

Opinions on current NFL players

Bednarik was an outspoken, even bitter critic of modern NFL players for playing on only one side of the ball, calling them "pussyfoots", noting that they "suck air after five plays" and that they "couldn't tackle my wife Emma". He even criticized Troy Brown of the New England Patriots and Deion Sanders of the Dallas Cowboys, two players who also have played both offense and defense. Bednarik noted that Brown and Sanders saw time at both wide receiver and cornerback, positions that did not require as much contact as he endured while playing both center and linebacker. [6]

Relationship with the Eagles

Bednarik's former Eagles number, 60, has been retired by the Eagles in honor of his achievements with the team and is one of only eight numbers retired in the history of the franchise. [7]

When the Eagles established their Honor Roll in 1987, Bednarik was one of the first class of inductees. He attended reunions for the 25th anniversary of the 1960 NFL Championship team in 1985 and the 40th anniversary of the 1948–49 NFL Championship team in 1988 (though he had not played for the 1948 team), held in pregame ceremonies at Veterans Stadium.

Bednarik quarreled with current Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie in 1996. Lurie refused to buy 100 copies of Bednarik's new book for $15 each for the entire team, as that was against NFL rules, and that grudge carried over into the Eagles' Super Bowl appearance in 2005, when he openly rooted against his former team. [8] [9] He was a consistent critic of several league issues, including his pension, today's salaries, and one-way players.

During Eagles training camp in the summer of 2006, Bednarik and the Eagles reconciled, seemingly ending the feud between Bednarik and Lurie. At the same time, however, Bednarik made disparaging remarks regarding Reggie White, leading to a somewhat lukewarm reception of the reconciliation by Eagles' fans. In the edition of August 4 of Allentown's Morning Call newspaper, however, it was reported that Bednarik apologized, stating he had been confused, and meant to make the statement about former Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens. [10]

Health and death

On March 26, 2011, Bednarik was reportedly taken to St. Luke's Hospital in Bethlehem. Hospital spokesmen stated that he was "in serious condition", but did not give any further details. The next day, however, it was announced that he was doing fine and had no pre-existing medical conditions. His son-in-law stated that he had passed out from shortness of breath and low blood pressure, but did not suffer a heart attack or anything related and was expected to make a full recovery.

In his last years, Bednarik resided in Coopersburg, Pennsylvania, in the Lehigh Valley with his wife, Emma.

Bednarik died at 4:23 a.m. on March 21, 2015, after having fallen ill the previous day. He was 89. [11] Although the Philadelphia Eagles released a statement saying he died after a "brief illness", Bednarik's eldest daughter, Charlene Thomas, disputed that claim. She said he had Alzheimer's disease, had been suffering from dementia for years, and that football-related injuries played a role in his decline. [12]

See also

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References

  1. "Football and America: World War II," Professional Football Hall of Fame.
  2. Chuck Bednarik at the College Football Hall of Fame
  3. Longman, Jere. "Eagles’ 1960 Victory Was an N.F.L. Turning Point", The New York Times , January 6, 2011. Accessed January 6, 2011.
  4. Fox Sports. "Chuck Bednarik's legendary hit on Frank Gifford". FOX Sports. Retrieved March 21, 2015.
  5. Anderson, Dave (November 11, 2010). "Chuck Bednarik's Hit on Frank Gifford Still Echoes". New York Times.
  6. Bowen, Les (no date). Philadelphia Eagles , (MVP Books; ISBN   1610597427), pp. 36-37.
  7. Chuck Bednarik career highlights, Pro Football Hall of Fame
  8. "Bednarik still angry over 1996 meeting - NFL - ESPN". ESPN.com. Retrieved March 21, 2015.
  9. "Bednarik is rooting against the Eagles - The San Diego Union-Tribune". utsandiego.com. Retrieved March 21, 2015.
  10. Jones, Gordie (August 4, 2006). "Bednarik: I meant T.O., not Reggie". The Morning Call . Retrieved March 17, 2019.
  11. "Eagles Legend Chuck Bednarik Passes At Age 89". cbslocal.com. Retrieved March 21, 2015.
  12. Olanoff, Lynn (March 21, 2015). "Chuck Bednarik's daughter: Football-related injuries led to dementia and death". The Express-Times .