Thursday, March 24, 2011
NFL and Philadelphia Eagles Legend Chuck Bednarik Hospitalized
Chuck Bednarik is currently admitted in a Bethlehem area hospital in Pennsylvania. The condition of the 85-year old Hall of Famer has not been disclosed.
Not only is he a link to the last Eagles team to win an NFL title, but he is also part of the last dominant Eagles teams.
Though the Eagles won the 1948 NFL Championship, famously known for being played in a driving blizzard, they had the first pick of the 1949 draft. They didn't have to look far, tabbing Bednarik out of Pennsylvania University.
While in college, he was named All-American three times. He won the 1948 Maxwell Award, which honors the best player in college football, and finished third in the voting for the Heisman Trophy while playing linebacker and center.
Bednarik did this after serving in the Air Force during World War II. He flew 30 missions over Germany and was highly decorated.
Not only has he been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, there is an award named after him that is given to the Best Collegiate Defensive Player annually.
When he joined the defending champion Eagles, Bednarik was surrounded by a wealth of talent coached by Hall of Famer Earl "Greasy" Neale. Neale tried to bring him along slowly because he had Pro Bowler Vic Lindskog at center and middle guard, but Lindskog got hurt after five games and Bednarik took over.
Philadelphia dominated the NFL that year. They had the top ranked offense and defense, scoring 230 more points than they allowed. Besides having Hall of Famers Steve Van Buren, Alex Wojciechowicz and Pete Pihos on the team, he had Pro Bowlers like Al Wistert, the man who invented stand up blocking, Bucko Kilroy and Tommy Thompson playing alongside him.
The Eagles repeated as champions that season with a 14-0 win over the Los Angeles Rams, making them the only team in the history of the NFL to pitch a shutout in consecutive title victories.
After winning, the Eagles had to rebuild an aging team in the 1950's. They spent the next decade struggling, never winning more than seven games. But "Concrete Charlie" was a steady force yearly, and went to the Pro Bowl in seven of the first eight seasons that decade.
He missed just one game over that time. Including two games he missed as a rookie, he missed just three of a possible 172 regular season games in his 14 seasons despite never leaving the field.
The NFL began to change in the 1950's. It was custom practice that a player be tough and in shape enough to play both ways the entire game. Soon there were players for just offense or defense during the decade.
Yet Bednarik symbolized the past by continuing to play both offense and defense. When the Eagles reached the championship game in 1960, he was the last to do so.
The season is best remembered by two tackles Bednarik made. The first was on a crossing route pass to New York Giants Hall of Fame halfback Frank Gifford. As Gifford reached out to catch the ball, he smashed into Bednarik at full speed. Gifford retired from the NFL for 18 months because of the hit.
The other tackle secured the championship. With the Eagles leading the Green Bay Packers 17-13, the Packers had one last gasp drive in them late in the fourth quarter. They drove deep in Eagles territory with time running out. Hall of Fame quarterback Bart Starr passed the ball to Hall of Fame fullback Jim Taylor.
Taylor caught the ball and was driven into the turf by Bednarik. He stayed on top of Taylor as time expired, sealing the victory. It is the last title the Eagles franchise has won since.
Though he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame himself until 1967, Bednarik has remained close to the Eagles fans and state of Pennsylvania for the most part. He has been outspoken, once calling modern players "pussyfoots" who "suck air after five plays" and "couldn't tackle my wife".
There is no Eagle greater than Chuck Bednarik. He ranks 19th all-time in Career Approximate Value (Weighted) by Pro Football Reference, the top score by an Eagle. Reggie White has a higher ranking, yet he played over half his pro career with other teams.
The NFL Network ranks him the 35th best player ever, and the Sporting News ranks him 54th. He is in the Eagles Honor Roll and the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame.
If you are a fan of football, now is the time to say a prayer for "Concrete Charlie."