"Pro football players prepared themselves for games that were like atomic wars. There were no winners. Only survivors."
— Chuck Bednarik
When you look at the Philadelphia Eagles' recent history, one would see a lot of success, followed by disappointment. In eight years, there has been six playoff appearances, four conference championship games, and one Super Bowl loss.
The Eagles may never have won a Super Bowl, but they have a history of being number one. Before the Super Bowl came about, the NFL had championship games. The Eagles won three of them in 1948, 1949, and 1960.
In those days the Eagles had a lot of good players. One man stands out to me though That man is Chuck Bednarik.
Charles Philip Bednarik was born May 1, 1925 in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He went to Liberty High School and after graduating, he went into World War II as a B-24 waist-gunner. He flew in over 30 combat missions and was highly decorated for his bravery.
After the war he went to the University of Pennsylvania and shined as a football player. He entered the 1949 NFL Draft and was the first overall pick selected by the Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles won the pick as a lottery bonus for the draft, so the current NFL champions got to get the first pick of the draft instead of the worst team in the NFL at the time. The practice of using a lottery for the first overall pick started in 1947 and ended in 1958.
Bednarik was the last of the two-way players. In the early years of football, the teams were much smaller because everyone played every down. There was no separate offense, defense, or special teams. As the game changed and more players came in, he retained both of his starting positions.
Bednarik played a center on offense, then after the offense was done, he played linebacker on defense. Those two positions require brute strength, knowledge, and endurance. Chuck Bednarik had all of these things down to an art.
Chuck Bednarik was a unique player since as he grew older, he never really declined in his talent. Most players would lose a step or need a little more rest as they get older but, Bednarik would be fighting in the football trenches for the entire 60 minutes of the game.
Bednarik was one of, if not, the toughest football players of all time. I can't describe how hard it is to play on both offense and defense, without rest, while battling much younger guys that are rested and rejuvenated, and still dominate. I just don't know how he did it.
Another interesting thing about Bednarik is that the most memorable things he did on the field happened in 1960. His defining play happened against the Giants in a regular season game.
Star halfback Frank Gifford (now in the Hall of Fame) was going out to catch a pass, and after he got it Bednarik just slammed right into him on his blindside and Gifford's head snapped back. Gifford falls to the ground unconscious, and Bednarik just clinches his fist and says, "This f------ game is over!"
Then when the Giants quarterback, Charlie Connery, started hollering at him, Bednarik just turns around and says, "Yeah! Well I'm going to get you next week!"
The hit put Frank Gifford out of football for over 18 months because of the severity of the head injury he suffered. While the hit was totally clean, it just goes to show how tough Bednarik stayed even after playing on the field for so long without a real rest.
The 1960 season was not over for Bednarik yet though. The Eagles finished that year 10-2 and were going the championship game. They went up against Vince Lombardi and his famous Packers
Chuck Bednarik, 35 years old at the time, played both sides during the entire game. In the game he tackles Paul Hornung (also in the Hall of Fame) and knocks Hornung out of the game. Then after 58 of the 60 minutes, he is playing linebacker and the Packers are down 17-13, and he tackles Jim Taylor (another player in the Hall of Fame) while the clock expires to win the game.
It is said that Bednarik laid on top of Taylor for a few extra seconds while the clock went down so that the Packers couldn't run another play. The 1960 Championship game is widely recognized as Bednarik's defining game.
After playing 14 seasons of two-way football, Bednarik retired. He had 20 interceptions, one returned for a touchdown, eight Pro Bowl selections, five time All-Pro selections, and 21 fumble recoveries (I couldn't find out which ones were on offense, and which ones were on defense).
He was inducted to the Professional Football Hall of Fame in 1967, and missed only four games in his entire career. The Philadelphia Eagles retired his no. 60 jersey, and put him on their 75th Anniversary Team, along with the Eagles Honor Roll.
Chuck Bednarik was a player that played for the love of the game, but acted like a fighter on the field. He will be remembered as the last 60 minute man, but he wants to be remembered as, " I was a guy who came from poor people, made it big, got all the adulations and all the awards you can get, that any athlete got, and I never forgot my friends and my roots."
Originally a guy who just wanted to help his father in a steel mill to one of the most feared tacklers of all time.
Here's to you Chuck.