Chuck Bednarik: The NFL’s Last True 2-Way Player

September 6, 2017 1:45 pm0 commentsViews: 71
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“Concrete Charlie” Chuck Bednarik, the greatest linebacker in Eagles history, was a menacing tackler. “He just snapped them down like rag dolls,” recalled Tom Brookshire in a 1993 interview in which he compared Bednarik favorably over Dick Butkus.

The last true 2-way player in the NFL was born in the Lehigh Valley.  After graduating from High school, he joined the Army and served 30 missions as a B52 waist gunner over Europe.  Returning home, he spent his college days at Franklin field playing for Penn University. Chuck was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1967.

Bednarik was the first pick of the 1949 draft and quickly became an important member of that 1949 Championship team.  He spent his entire career as an Eagle.  Eleven years later he was still the central figure for the 1960 championship season.  In the championship game that year, Bednarik was all that stood between Green bay’s Jim Taylor and the goal line with 8 seconds remaining and the Eagles up by 4. Chuck stopped him there and sat on him as the time ran out, ensuring the Eagles victory. “It’s ok to get up now, Jim” Chuck said as he removed his weight from Taylor. “The game is over.”

Late that same season Concrete Charlie was involved in another enormous stop in a game with playoffs on the line for each team. With the Giants down by 7 but moving the ball, Frank Gifford caught a pass over the middle for a decent gain and decide to head out of bounds.  But he ran into the most famous NFL hit of all time as Bednarik layed him out, jarring the ball loose. The Eagles recovered to help secure the win and Gifford would miss the next 18 months.

Bednarik’s celebration over the sudden good fortune was misconstrued as mocking the unconscious Gifford. “I really puffed him” recalled Bednarik later in life. “His head snapped and the ball flew and Chuck Weber falls on it.  I clenched my fist, closed my eyes and said this game is F-n over!”

With 8 Pro Bowls to his credit, the 5 time All-Pro who led the league annually in menacing hits (if there was such a stat) probably changed the offensive strategy of every opposing team. It’s amazing that as great as he was on defense, he was just as good on offense.

 

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In 1969, a panel of college coaches and players along with sportswriters voted Chuck Bednarik as the Greatest College center to ever have played. We sometimes forget that it was his play on the offensive side of the ball that sparked the Eagles to grab the future greatest Eagles offensive lineman of all time.

Missing just three games in his entire career, he blocked for Norm Van Brocklin’s 24 touchdown passes in the 1960 championship season. As a rookie he anchored the 1949 championship team. His nickname “Concrete Charlie” was pinned on him by a sports writer when he learned that Chuck was a concrete salesman in the off season. The name was perfect, as many a defender crashed helplessly off his fearsome blocks.

George Allen, long time NFL coach said, “He was the strongest, surest snapper I have ever seen and an absolutely brutal and unbeatable blocker.”

Full time linebacker, full time center, and full time off season concrete salesman, Bednarik had little use for the latter-day ballplayer.  “The positions I played, every play I was making contact” he said, “not like…Deon Sanders. He couldn’t tackle my wife.”

Chuck’s disdain for today’s players grew to include his own team. Bitter that salaries and benefits far exceeded his pay in the fifties, Chuck decided in 1996 that Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie should fork over $1,500 for 100 copies of Bednarik’s book.  When Lurie refused the “tip money,” Bednarik grew distant from the organization. Before the 2005 Super Bowl he openly rooted against them saying: “I hope the 1960 team is the last Eagles championship team”.

Despite his recent bitterness, when Chuck Bednarik died on March 21, 2015 all Eagle players and fans mourned.  Said Jeffrey Lurie: “With the passing of Chuck Bednarik the Eagles and our fans have lost a legend.  Philadelphia fans grow up expecting toughness, all-out effort and a workmanlike attitude from this team, and so much of that image has its roots in the way Chuck played the game.” ■

—George Porgeman / Yardley

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