Chuck Bednarik, The NFL’s Great Hitter, Dead at 89

by Fred Pahlke | Posted on Saturday, March 21st, 2015

safe_image I cannot tell you how former NFL great and husband of Kathy Lee feels about it today, but Frank Gifford could tell you how he felt many years ago when Philadelphia Eagles defensive stalwart Chuck Bednarik hit him so hard in a game in 1960 that the All-Pro receiver of the New York Giants didn’t play another game until the 1962 season. It took almost two years for Gifford’s head to clear before the league allowed him to suit up for the Giants. Before there was a Ray Nitschke, a Dick Butkus, or a Lawrence Taylor there was the hardest hitter in the NFL and his name was Chuck Bednarik, nicknamed “Concrete Charlie.” The great died today at 89 in a assisted living facility in Richland, Pa.

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Chuck Bednarik University of Pennsylvania…circa 1946-49

Bednarik was one of the last two-way players in the League where he did his work from 1949 through the 1962 season. Until Deion Sanders played both ways for Dallas in 1966, Bednarik was the last NFL starter to play regularly on both offense and defense.  Sanders’ achievement 34 years later did not impress Bednarik. “The positions I played, every play, I was making contact, not like that … Deion Sanders,” Bednarik said. “He couldn’t tackle my wife. He’s back there dancing out there instead of hitting.”   ChuckBednarik1952Bowman     The Pro Football Hall-of-Fame member (first ballot in his first year of eligibility 1967) was a ten time All-Pro. He attended the Univ. of Pennsylvania where he was a 60 minute man, playing every play of a game, kickoffs and returns included.  He was critical of the modern football player saying that today’s players “suck air after five plays.” He missed only three games in his 14-year career. Flying 30 mission over Germany in World War 2 as a bomber gunner, Bednarik enrolled at the Ivy League Pennslyvania Univ. (he was no dummy) and played through 1948.  (Bednarik is also a member of the College Football-Hall-of-Fame)  A first round draft choice (first player selected in that draft of 1948) of the Eagles, Bednarik started center on offense and linebacker on defense. He was considered the hardest hitter in league along with the Giants Sam Huff during his career.

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Standing over Frank Gifford moments after he knocked cold the Giants receiver in a 1962 game at Yankee Stadium. Gifford missed the rest of that season and the next with effects of a concussion. This was when “real” men played “real” football.

DSC05744   Bednarik was noted for two hits, the one on Gifford and the more significant one on the Green Bay Packers Jim Taylor, the great fullback, in the NFL title game of the same year (1960) to save the win for Philly.  The stop of Taylor, a game-saving tackle at the 9-yard line on the final play of the game,  was typical Bednarik. He threw Mr. Taylor to the ground and refused to let him up while the final seconds ticked off as the Eagles held on for a 17-13 win.

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Leaving the field after the 1960 Title Game in 1962 as a champion with the Eagles. #5 HOF member and Heisman winner Paul Horning and #31, HOF member the great Packer fullback Jim Taylor.

Bednarik remarked of that championship game that “Everybody reminds me of it and I’m happy they remind me of it.  I’m proud and delighted to have played in that game.”

 

It is an emotional time for the Eagle Nation with the passing of the great hitter. Current Head Coach Chip Kelly’s statement today says as much. “I have had the opportunity to spend time with Chuck Bednarik, who is truly one of the most unique players that this game has ever seen. The foundation of this organization and this league is built on the backs of past greats, with Chuck at the forefront.  The way he played the game with an endless passion and tenacity helped establish the standard of excellence that this organization stands for; one that we strive to achieve each and every day,” Kelly finished.

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Bednarik at an Eagles game. Note his fingers. Photo Courtesy: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

CAn4Iw1VEAA1w9D   As youngster I watched this fabulous football player on TV.  The kind of player he was in that day and age would not be allowed today. With respect to the current football players on the rosters of the teams of the NFL, I doubt there is a harder and more effective player in the game today with regard to the total dedication towards working to put another player out of the game through a hard legal hit.  Yes, Bednarick was a tough SOB, the likes that would make a Ray Lewis proud. The game is not the same and neither are the type of men that play professional football today. This current generation of fans don’t and can’t understand what they are missing. That is a shame.

 

Fred Pahlke is a an NBA/NFL/NCCAF/NCAAB analyst and Senior Editor for @prosportsextra  ProSportsExtra.com. Follow him on Twitter @DukeSkadoris and www.fredpahlke.com

About the Author

Oklahoma native has viewed over 10,000 sporting events in his 61 years. A season ticket holder of the Oklahoma City Thunder and expert in both professional and college basketball and football. A graduate of Oklahoma City University. Elementary School Principal in the Oklahoma City Public Schools for 31 years. www.fredpahlke.com

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