The greatest Eagle ever

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jan 31, 2005

(This article originally ran on February 1, 2005, a few days before Philadelphia faced New England in Super Bowl XXXIX. It's importance is only magnified a year later, following a season in which the biggest story out of Philly was the media-captured meltdown of Terrell Owens, a second-rate player and a second-rate man next to Chuck Bednarik, the greatest Eagle ever.)
They don't make 'em like Chuck Bednarik anymore. He's a true NFL legend, a true American hero and the greatest player ever to don the uniform of the Philadelphia Eagles. 

That's Bednarik, in the black and white photo, after he laid out N.Y. Giants cover boy Frank Gifford in a 1960 game, forced a fumble, and helped ensure a title-game appearance for Philly. The photo captures the moment after the hit as Bednarik stood over Gifford's prone, motionless body and emphatically declared, "This f**kin' game is over!"

The hit is one of the most memorable in NFL history. Gifford lost the ball, was knocked unconscious and missed the entire 1961 season as a result. As the kids might say today, "Gifford got jacked up!" Boy did he ever.

Bednarik played for the Eagles from 1949 to 1962. He was a center and linebacker and, most famously in 1960 and 1961, was the NFL's last two-way player (he played only defense in 1962, according to Eagles gamebooks). If the Cold, Hard Football Facts were inclined to opinionate or offer a window into our empty, emotionless souls, we would declare Bednarik the best player in the history of the NFL and a symbol of everything that's right with mud-and-spittle, old-school football and the Middle American ethics of work, duty and country. More importantly, Bednarik reminds us that football is still just a game and that bigger battles are fought by people much tougher than those who prowl, preen and howl on the fields of the NFL.

Bednarik is, at the very least, the greatest Eagle ever and the heroic leader of the last Philadelphia football team to win an NFL championship. Here's the Cold, Hard Football Facts annotated edition of the career of one of our all-time favorite football players, Chuck Bednarik.

• Bednarik was born in the heart of America's gridiron breadbasket, in Bethlehem, Penn., in 1925

• He was a two-time All America at Penn back when the school, now a member of the 1AA Ivy League, was a national power

• As a senior captain in 1948, he led Penn to its only undefeated season in a 78-year stretch from 1908 to 1986

• In 1948 Bednarik became the first offensive lineman to win the Maxwell Award as the nation's best college football player

• He finished third in the 1948 Heisman Trophy race and, in the entire history of the award, is one of just five offensive linemen to finish in the top three. Among the others are future Pro Football Hall of Famers Bob Bell of Minnesota and Dick Butkus of Illinois (both were defensive players in the NFL who played OL in college)

• Bednarik was the first pick in the NFL's 1949 draft

• Bednarik was an All-Pro center in 1950 and then became an All-Pro linebacker from 1951-56.

• He played in eight Pro Bowls and was MVP of the 1954 game

• Bednarik missed just three games in his 14-season career

• As the NFL's last two-way player in the 12-game 1960 season, Bednarik was on the field for some 600 of a possible 720 minutes. In the 1960 NFL title game, he played more than 58 minutes in a 17-13 victory over Green Bay

• Bednarik earned a $250 bonus for his two-way effort in 1960

• Bednarik was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1967, after the minimum five-year waiting period had expired

• In 1969 he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and was named center on the all-time team of the NFL's first half-century

• Each year, the Chuck Bednarik award goes to the best defensive player in college football. David Pollack of Georgia won the award in 2004

• Bednarik's hit on Gifford may have been his most famous tackle, but it was not his most important. In the final play of the 1960 season, and the final play by the NFL's last fulltime two-way player, Bednarik wrestled Green Bay's Hall of Fame running back Jim Taylor to the ground on the 9 yard line and prevented what would have been a game-winning touchdown for the Packers. It preserved Philly's 17-13 victory and its last NFL championship

• Bednarik's Eagles were the only team to beat Lombardi's Packers in 10 postseason games. In Super Bowl XXXIX, his descendants in Eagles green will attempt to become the only team to beat Belichick's Patriots in nine postseason games

• Oh yeah, one other thing about Bednarik: in his carefree youthful days before going to college and becoming arguably the best player in the history of football, Bednarik helped defeat the genocidal tyranny of Nazi Germany. Bednarik spent more than two years in the service and flew 30 missions over Europe as a waist gunner on a B-24 bomber during World War II.

Needless to say, playing 58 minutes of football and thumping Lombardi's Packers must have been a cozy walk in the park by comparison. But as we said, they don't make 'em like Bednarik anymore.

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