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It’s very rare for an athlete to be as loved by a fan base as Chuck Bednarik was. It’s even rarer for an athlete to become such an icon for an era as Chuck Bednarik was. Rarer still is for such an icon to so completely embody the attitude of an entire city and Chuck Bednarik did for Philadelphia.
That’s why the picture of Bednarik at the top of this piece is clearly my favorite. Bednarik was quintessentially Philadelphia. He wasn’t pretty. He wasn’t refined. He wasn’t concerned with what you thought of him. But you can ask any of his NFL compadres of his day…Bednarik was the toughest son-of-a-bitch you could ever want to deal with on the gridiron.
To understand Philadelphia, you have to understand the “The City of Brotherly Love” was the first capitol of this country, and was the central point for all things American for close to two centuries after the dawn of the colonial era. But then New York City blew past it, and Philadelphians have been pissed off about that ever since.
That’s why Philadelphians have the reputation of being a no-nonsense, two-fisted sort of crowd. Philadelphia is a city of underdogs; of people who never had anything handed to them. This is why there is a statue of Rocky Balboa on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Rocky Balboa was the embodiment of all the things it meant to be a blue-collar Philadelphian.
Except Rocky was a fictional character. There was nothing about Chuck Bednarik that wasn’t 100% genuine, and that’s why Philadelphia lost a true icon this morning. The Philadelphia Eagles’ all-time great and Pro Football Hall of Famer died earlier today following a brief illness at an assisted living facility in Richland, Pennsylvania, according to the team’s official website.
Bednarik came from humble roots; he was the son of a Slovakian immigrant steelworker. He served a tour of duty in World War II, which was another experience which forged the toughness in his game. Not only was he tough, he was talented, which we he quickly became a fan favorite.
“Concrete Charlie” helped make an instant impact by leading the Eagles to a championship in his rookie year in 1949. He was one of the league’s last true “iron men,” playing offense, defense and special teams; often Bednarik would be on the field for all 60 minutes.
That made him an NFL icon. Bednarik played both center and linebacker from 1949 until 1962. As he got older, he began splitting time between the two positions as two-way players became more of a dying breed in the NFL. But when the injury bug ran rampant across the Eagles’ roster in 1960, a 35-year-old Bednarik was forced back into a two-way role. It might have been his finest hour.
One of the most indelible images of not only that generation, but in NFL history as a whole came from that 1960 season when Bednarik delivered one of the hardest hits the game had ever seen. It was a blow so mighty that not only did it nearly end the career of fellow Hall of Famer Frank Gifford, there was a split-second when people feared Gifford had actually been killed on the field. The scene of Bednarik standing over Gifford, who was knocked completely senseless, came to be known simply as or “The Hit.”
While it may be for what Bednarik is best remembered, “The Hit” is really just the icing on the cake that was a great season for teh Eagles in 1960, and the capper to his Hall of Fame career.
In 1960, the 35-year-old Bednarik led the Philadelphia Eagles to another title in one of the greatest finishes in championship game history. Playing 59 of the 60 minutes, Bednarik ended the game by tackling Green Bay Packers fullback Jim Taylor at the 10-yard line, leaping to his feet and screaming “This fucking game is over!” It was the last time the Eagles won an NFL championship, and he lived that moment in prototypical Philadelphia fashion. He’ll never be forgotten for it.
Bednarik played another two seasons before retiring after the 1962 season. “Concrete Charlie” holds franchise records for most Pro Bowl appearances (8) and seasons with the team (14). He played in 169 regular-season games, was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1967 and had his # 60 jersey retired by the Eagles in 1987. Bednarik also was a member of the NFL’s 75th Anniversary Team and the 1950s All-Decade Team.
America was at its greatest when it produced men like Chuck Bednarik.