What They’re Saying: Remembering Concrete Charlie
There have been a lot of great items published remembering Chuck Bednarik, who passed away Saturday morning.
Here’s a roundup of some that are worth your time. If we missed any, feel free to post links in the comments.
Bednarik was perfect for Philadelphia, writes Rich Hofmann of the Daily News:
Thus began a rollicking half-hour that was a three-way conversation with two telephones — me, Chuck, and his beloved wife Emma on the side, filling in the details he couldn’t remember.
Put it this way: Chuck possessed neither an appreciation for the modern athlete nor a filter. I might have been able to use half of what he said without getting him in trouble. At one point, he said, “Deion couldn’t carry my jock!” Then he said, “They should put that in the headline.” Seeing as how I worked for obliging people, they did just that, on the back page, in type so big that it had last been used for “Man Walks on the Moon,” or maybe “Japan Surrenders.” You know, big.
Put it this way: Chuck was pleased.
Ray Didinger on Bednarik, via PhiladelphiaEagles.com:
“I came from a family of six kids whose parents came from Czechoslovakia,” he said. “We had nothing. Life was hard. My father worked in the (steel) mill. I thought I’d spend my life in the mill, too. Instead, I got the chance to play football. Look how it turned out.
“Now I can’t walk anywhere without people coming up to me and saying, ‘Are you Chuck? I just want to shake your hand.’ I walk through a mall and I’m stopped a dozen times by people saying, ‘Hi Chuck. How are you doing, Chuck?’ That makes me feel so happy and so proud. Money can’t buy that kind of stuff.
“Life has been good to me,” he said. “I’m a lucky man.”
Chuck Bednarik had been introduced to life, and death, at the tender age of 18. He was a machine gunner in World War II B-17 bombers. He flew 30 missions – and he saw friends shot down, heard the ping-ping-ping of antiaircraft flak, saw some parachutes open and some that didn’t – and he survived all 30. And this is what he took away from it: “I started going to early Mass. Still do, every day. I’ve had a lot of miracles in my life.”
Home from the war, he enrolled at Penn, absolutely dominated everyone, scared the liver out of most overmatched opponents who were cowed by his ferocity, was taken by the Iggles, and proceeded to play every position: center, middle linebacker, punt and kick coverage, and snapper.
“Now you tell me what was left,” he demanded.
Gary Myers of the New York Daily News caught up with Frank Gifford:
George Shaw, the Giants quarterback. stepped up in the pocket and found Gifford over the middle. Gifford took a few steps and Bednarik leveled him. Gifford has seen the play over and over in the last 54 years. He didn’t think Bednarik was disrespecting him by celebrating. He believes he was just excited about making a big play.
“Was it a clean hit? Absolutely,” Gifford said Saturday. “No question. The way I fell and popped my back, it was on the ungrassy part of the field and as I recall, it was semi-frozen. The doctors didn’t want me to move. I knew something was wrong. I knew it wouldn’t be a smart thing to move.”
And this from a 2007 Sports Illustrated feature on Bednarik:
For all the laughing Gifford does when he spins that yarn, there was nothing funny about Nov. 20, 1960, the day Bednarik handed him his lunch. The Eagles, who complemented Concrete Charlie and Hall of Fame quarterback Norm Van Brocklin with a roster full of tough, resourceful John Does, blew into New York intent on knocking the Giants on their media-fed reputation. Philadelphia was leading 17-10 with less than two minutes to play, but the Giants kept slashing and pounding, smelling one of those comeback victories that were supposed to be the Eagles’ specialty. Then Gifford caught that pass.
“I ran through him right up here,” Bednarik says, slapping himself on the chest hard enough to break something. “Right here.” And this time he pops the passenger in his van on the chest. “It was like when you hit a home run; you say, ‘Jeez, I didn’t even feel it hit the bat.’ “
Go on the Internet, in fact, and you’ll find opposing fans – rival NFC East fans love to do it the most – mocking the Eagles for having zero Lombardi Trophies. Hardcore Eagles fans know that the game and the league existed before Vince Lombardi’s Packers. They know that before those Packers reeled off five NFL titles in seven years, the Eagles beat them in 1960, with the signature moment coming on the final play, when Bednarik threw Jim Taylor to the ground at Franklin Field as the final seconds ticked off.
In its tribute to Bednarik on Saturday, the NFL Network described that win over the Packers as the only NFL title in franchise history. It was, in fact, the third and final one in Eagles history. Bednarik, a two-time all-American center at the University of Pennsylvania, was a rookie when the Eagles won their second title in 1949.