Chuck Bednarik Biography
We are pleased to bring to your attention that a program has been developed to honor Chuck Bednarik, with a life-sized statue at Franklin Field. The greatest player in the history of Philadelphia football, Bednarik represented the city for 18 consecutive years, beginning with his freshman year at the University of Pennsylvania 1945.
Charles Philip Bednarik was born in Bethlehem, Pa., May 1, 1925. His parents were immigrants of Slovakia and the family experienced all of the pains of the Depression. Bednarik played football, baseball and basketball at Liberty High.
Bednarik’s first trip out of Bethlehem occurred in July, 1943, when he reported to Fort Indiantown Gap in central Pennsylvania as new member of the Army Air Force. He was trained to be a waist gunner on the B-24 Liberator and in August, 1944 he flew the first of 30 missions over Germany. Three of those flights crash landed and the crew never counted less than 100 flak holes in the fuselage at the conclusion of a mission. He had flown his required 30 missions prior to his 20th birthday.
For service to his country, Bednarik earned the Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters and the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Ribbon with five battle stars.
He returned to Bethlehem in September, 1945, expecting to begin work alongside his father at the Bethlehem Steel Plant, but his high school coach John Butler changed those plans.
If not for Coach Butler, today’s Bednarik statue program would not be underway.
On a visit to the Liberty campus following his discharge, Bednarik told Butler about the job he had lined up at the steel plant. The coach promptly told his ex-player to forget the job, he was going to take his GI Bill of Rights down to Philadelphia and play for George Munger at the University of Pennsylvania.
He was driven down to Philadelphia for a meeting with Munger, and the greatest football career in the history of the City was launched.
Bednarik walked onto the Penn campus midway into the 1945 season, just weeks after being discharged from the Army Air Corps. Though he had not played football for three years his impact was immediate.
Bednarik suited up and played his first week with the team. Two weeks later he was starting.
Beginning in 1946, started at center and linebacker for three seasons. Penn was a national football power in that era, routinely drawing crowds in excess of 70,000. For most of that time the Quakers were the second best team in the east behind the legendary Army squads of Glenn Davis and Doc Blanchard.
Bednarik was named first team All-American his final two seasons at Penn. In 1948 he won the Maxwell Award and finished third in the Heisman balloting behind Doak Walker of Southern Methodist and Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice of North Carolina.
At the conclusion of the ’48 season, Bednarik became the first pick in the NFL draft. Though the Philadelphia Eagles were the defending league champions, they earned the right to pick first when their ticket was picked from a hat through a process at the time that was known as “the bonus pick”. For several years in the 1940’s and ‘50’s, the initial pick was awarded to the winner of this lottery. The Eagles actual first pick was ninth. Without the benefit of the bonus pick the Eagles would have no shot at the Penn star and he would have gone to one of the teams who held and early pick such as the Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers or New York Giants.
As the first choice of the 1948 draft, Bednarik received a $3,000 bonus and salary of $7,000. He alternated starting at linebacker and center as a rookie, and the season punctuated with the Eagles again winning the 1949 league championship game, defeating the Los Angeles Rams 14-0.
The 1950’s did not go nearly as well for the Eagles as they lost more games than they won most seasons during that decade. Bednarik announced his retirement, effective and the conclusion of the 1959 season and was even given a Farewell Day at Franklin Field. The financial concerns associated with raising what was soon to become five daughters forced a change of plans, and thus Chuck showed up at training camp in 1960, for what was to become the defining season of his career and one that would indelibly brand the legend of Concrete Charlie.
After playing almost exclusively at center the past two seasons, Bednarik at age 35, would be required to start at both center and linebacker for many of the games. On November 20, of that year in a game against the New York Giants at Yankee Stadium, with first place on the line, Bednarik closed things out with the legendary tackle that many years later NFL Films would label as The Greatest Hit in NFL History.
With the Giants driving late in the fourth quarter for a potential game-tying touchdown, Frank Gifford turned up field after catching the ball on a crossing pattern. Before he could take another step, Bednarik met him shoulder to chest and separating the receiver from the ball. The Sports Illustrated picture of Bednarik celebrating over the prone Gifford has become one the iconic sports photos of all time. “Sorry Frank”.
The Eagles would go on to face the Green Bay Packers in the championship game at Franklin Field, where they handed Vince Lombardi the only postseason loss of his brilliant career. Playing center and linebacker, Bednarik was on the field for every snap of the ball and the game ended with him sitting atop Jim Taylor nine yards from the end zone as the final seconds ticked off the scoreboard clock affixed to Weightman Hall. Bednarik played 58 minutes, sitting out only the kickoffs. He finished the game with 12 tackles, a fumble recovery and knock Paul Hornung out of the game with a jarring third quarter tackle.
Bednarik retired following the 1962 season, concluding a 14 year career in which he missed only three games due to injury. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1967, his first year of eligibility.