RIP Concrete Charlie

Passages taken from articles I read about Chuck Bednarik:

The only thing that seemed surprising about the news of Bednarik’s passing this weekend at age 89 was that he didn’t live to be 100. The man was just a survivor in ways that few of us can comprehend: 30 death-defying, shrapnel-shredded aerial bombing runs over Nazi Germany in World War II, followed by the equalvalent of 34 years of football (by today’s one-way standard) over his 17 seasons at Penn and for the Eagles, at the two most head-smashing positions in the sport.

When people say there will never be another Bednarik, they are absolutely right — but they often leave out a part of the equation. There will likely never be another era like Bednarik’s time. Take his colorful nickname, “Concrete Charlie.” Because of his immovable toughness? Yes, and no. The name actually started with the job that Bednarik held during the off-season and after practice, selling concrete. That’s what NFL players did to pay the bills back in the 1940s and ’50 — lugged kegs of beer for a distributor, or maybe sold Buicks or life insurance.

After World War II, pro football rose with the American middle class — in good part because pro football players were the middle class. They drank shots at the corner tavern and cut their hair cut at the barbershop in a chair right next to their biggest fans. The greats of the pro gridiron walked among the mere mortals, which only made people love them more.

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Chuck Bednarik was the pure essence of football. He played a violent game with a smoldering and undisguised lust for that very violence. He gloried in the swirling chaos, and even now, all those years later, the most famous picture in the history of professional football remains a grainy, ghostlike black and white photograph taken in Yankee Stadium on Nov. 20, 1960.

It shows Bednarik standing exultantly over the prone, unconscious form of Frank Gifford, the Giants’ elegant, pretty-boy receiver who had dared to run a route over the middle, there in those hunting grounds patrolled by the predatorial Concrete Charlie. He used a forearm on Gif, but he might as well have used a baseball bat.

Gifford was de-cleated. Literally. His shoes hung from the tips of his toes. He didn’t play the rest of that game or all of the following season. And almost until his death, Chuck Bednarik was signing copies of that photo, sent to him by fathers and grandfathers telling their offspring that, yes, there used to be a man who never came out of the game, really. Invariably, the autograph seekers would ask what he was saying over the prostrate Gifford, and Concrete Charlie would smile and reply:

“This [expletive] game is over!”
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Bednarik was the last NFL starter to play regularly on both offense and defense until Deion Sanders did so for Dallas in 1996. But Sanders’ achievement hardly impressed Bednarik.

“The positions I played, every play, I was making contact, not like that … Deion Sanders,” Bednarik said. “He couldn’t tackle my wife. He’s back there dancing instead of hitting.”

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