For many of the more seasoned Philadelphia Eagles fans, Chuck Bednarik’s hit against Frank Gifford, of the New York Giants 45 years ago, is an indelible image of the team’s glory days. And for many fans — both elder and younger — Chuck Bednarik is a black and white photograph dating the time their beloved football team last won a championship.
On Nov. 20, 1960, the Eagles and the Giants battled for the Eastern Conference Championship at a packed Yankee Stadium. The famous — some say infamous — hit didn’t come until the last two minutes of the game at the Philadelphia 35-yd. line. The Giants had the ball on third and 10, and were marching down the field to close the Eagles’ 17-10 lead.
Gifford reached for a pass from George Shaw, snared it with a step and a pivot found himself crossing over the middle, only to be rocked by “Concrete Charlie.” The hit caused Gifford to fumble the ball, which was scooped up by Eagle Chuck Weber.
The rest, as they say, was history as the Eagles went on to win the game and, later, the World Championship.
“[It was like] a truck hitting a sports car,” Bednarik said in The Pro Football Chronicle. “He was going full speed and I was going full speed, and when I hit him, I knew one of us wasn’t going to get up.”
On March 8 and 9, Chuck Bednarik will be Construction Equipment Guide’s special guest at the Philadelphia Construction Expo at the Fort Washington Expo Center, available for autographs, conversation about his career and — potentially what every Philadelphia Eagles fan dreams of — discussions about how the Eagles finally exorcised their curse by winning the Super Bowl in Jacksonville, FL. Well, we can’t promise the latter, but if the Red Sox can win a World Series then the Eagles ought to be able to attain their elusive prize, too.
A Hometown Hero
Born and raised in Bethlehem, PA, Bednarik developed the foundation for his uninhibited style of play early in his youth. The son of a Slovak immigrant who worked at Bethlehem Steel, Bednarik grew up poor and learned to be tough.
During his senior year at Liberty High School, Bednarik was drafted into the U.S. Army Air Corps and flew 30 missions over Germany in one year as a waist gunner in a B-24.
Bednarik not only returned home safely, he returned stronger. At 6 ft. 3 in. and weighing more than 200 lbs., he possessed the size and strength to play pro football.
In 1949, Bednarik signed with the Philadelphia Eagles as a bonus first round draft choice for $10,000 with a $3,000 cash bonus. He played with Philadelphia for 14 years.
During his career, Bednarik was voted seven times All NFL; played in eight Pro Bowls; was voted MVP in the 1954 Pro Bowl game; played 58.5 minutes and made the game-saving tackle in the 1960 NFL title game; and was named NFL’s All-Time Center in 1969.
Bednarik also achieved recognition as the Last Iron Man or 60-Minute Man for playing on both offense and defense for the entire game.
Bednarik was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1967, five years after his retirement, the minimum required for inductees.
When Bednarik played, many professional football players, including himself, worked part-time jobs. After practice, players would take off their pads, shower, and go off to their other jobs.
“I worked for Warner Concrete for 30 years,” Bednarik said. “That was a big job for me. I was working during the season. After practice, I’d be selling concrete in the afternoon. We had 260 trucks and seven plants with our own sand and gravel departments. I’d go out to the job sites most of the time to see if our service was good, which it was.
“I found out about the job because I met somebody at a banquet downtown one time and he asked me if I’d like to sell concrete. I said sure … I didn’t know much about it, but once I started going out to job sites, I picked it up pretty quickly.
“Two of my biggest customers were McCloskey and Company and McShain, both general contractors; they were always going after the big jobs in Philly. In the ’50s and ’60s, construction was in its glory. What really gets me today is that nobody knows the difference between concrete and cement. Just the other day on national TV, there’s a story about a guy who rammed into a cement wall. Cement wall? For crying out loud, it was concrete and they don’t even know the difference. I don’t think that I would have liked to be known as ’Cement Charlie.’”
Still a Philly Sports Icon
With his ball-snapping and receiver rocking long behind him, as well as his days selling concrete, Bednarik keeps busy answering fan mail, spending time with his grandchildren and playing golf.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “I still get on an average, forty to fifty pieces of mail a month from all over. I mean all over — Hawaii, every state. Thank God for those little cards; I can’t believe people still find those things. I go to these shows, sign some autographs and people blow smoke up my ass. Unbelievable.” CEG