Chuck Bednarik, considered the greatest Eagles player ever, died this morning.
He was 89.The last of the NFL’s true two-way players, Bednarik led the Eagles to NFL championships in 1949 and 1960. He played a franchise-record 14 seasons from 1949-1962 culminating in a berth at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“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,” Eagles head coach Chip Kelly said in a statement. “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 is one that we strive to achieve each and every day.”
Bednarik’s performance in the 1960 NFL title game is immortalized in footage of him putting Green Bay Packers running back Jim Taylor on the ground and keeping him there until time ran out in a 17-13 Eagles victory. Bednarik, at age 35, played almost every minute of the game at center and linebacker.
There’s also the signature pose — fist cocked — standing over Frank Gifford in 1960 at Yankees stadium after his tackle KO’d the New York Giants receiver.
“So many of the timeless moments in Eagles history are associated with Chuck Bednarik,” Eagles president Don Smolenski said. “He left his mark on this team and will forever be a legend within this organization.”
Pete Retzlaff, the greatest Eagles tight end ever, argued that Bednarik, nicknamed “Concrete Charlie” because he worked in the concrete business in the offseason, was the best defensive player of his time.
“There was never a linebacker that played any better than Chuck … ever,” Retzlaff said in a piece last fall about Bednarik. “Include Sam Huff, Ray Nitschke, all the rest of those guys. They had much bigger names back then because they became more popular and they were mentioned more often. When Chuck played, I mean he could play defense all by himself … and well. Nobody could play this game at linebacker better than Chuck. And I haven’t seen it today, yet, anybody that’s any better than he is.”
Bednarik intercepted 20 passes in 169 games, returning one for a touchdown.
Merrill Reese, the voice of the Eagles, described Bednarik as an iconic figure.
“He played for championship teams separated by a decade,” Reese said. “He played two positions. He was a great linebacker, then when they needed him he was a center. He was the face of the franchise for a long time. He was part of one of the biggest plays in Eagles history, the famous hit on Frank Gifford. It was one of the most memorable plays ever. He was just an amazing football player.”
Bednarik, who wore No. 60, was born May 1, 1925, in Bethlehem, Pa. He was a two-time all-American at Penn after a World War II tour flying 30 missions as a B-24 waist gunner. Bednarik was awarded the Air Medal.
Bednarik was selected by the Eagles with the first overall choice in the 1949 NFL draft. Since 1995, the Maxwell Football Club annually gives out the “Chuck Bednarik Award” to college football’s best defensive player.
“He was a Hall of Famer, a champion and an all-time Eagle,” Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said. “Our thoughts are with his family and loved ones during this time.”
Bednarik is survived by Emma, his wife of 67 years, five daughters, Charlene Thomas, Donna Davis, Carol Safarowic, Pam McWilliams, and Jackie Chelius, 10 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Bednarik died following a brief illness at an assisted living facility in Richland, Pa.
Funeral services are pending.