Tag Archives: linebackers

Chuck Bednarik in his own words

Stuff the Eagles legend (May 1, 1925-March 21, 2015) said:

● “Backing up the line, that’s where a fellow can get plenty of action. There’s always something to do — make a tackle, intercept a pass. Sure, it’s nice to carry the ball, but there’s no thrill like backing up the line.” (1948)

● “I have played 14 years, and I’m counting the games that are left this season. Four, three, two, one, and then I’m hanging up my shoes. I’ve had it. I know I’ve said this for several years, but I’ve never been more sincere in my life. I told my wife the other day, I’ve played one year too long as it is. The pay has been good, though. There are two ways I never wanted to go out. One was with an injury. The other was with a poor team. I hate to quit on such a poor season.” (1962)

● “Joe Namath is a hell of a ballplayer. But as a human being he’s a hell of a creep. If he thinks he can break rules . . . then who does he think he is? . . . I don’t think long hair and athletics mix. Take Joe Pepitone, who used to play for the Yankees. Boy, would I like to be the catcher on a close play at the plate with him coming down the third-base line.” (1970)

● “The NFL had 12 teams when I played. Brother, you separated the men from the boys. You either had it or you were gone. Today, with 40-man squads and 26 teams, it’s too thin. Take quarterbacks, for example. Each team has two quarterbacks. That’s 52 quarterbacks. I want anybody to pick me out 10 outstanding quarterbacks now and six really good ones. They’re not there. There just aren’t that many good ones.” (1971)

The Hit. Note ball to right.

The Hit: Bednarik lays out the Giants’ Frank Gifford. Note ball to right.

● “Every now and then people come up to me and say, ‘Oh, you’re the guy who put it to Frank Gifford.’ [Sportscaster] Howard Cosell keeps saying I blind-sided Gifford, but that isn’t true at all. He was running a down-and-in and, coming from my left linebacker position, I caught him head-on but cleanly. It was like a Mack truck hitting a Volkswagen. Frank had caught a pass, and when I tackled him the ball flew out of his hands and we recovered. I was so ecstatic over that that I jumped up and down in the air with my fist clenched. I didn’t know Frank was unconscious. Later, when his wife came to see him in the hospital, he said to her, ‘Honey, it was a clean tackle.’ We’re very good friends. He has even had me as a guest in his home. No sir, I was not a dirty player. Nobody ever accused me of that.” (1977)

● “Steve Van Buren of the Philadelphia Eagles was the best running back of his time, 1944-51. You can’t match yesterday’s apples with today’s oranges. But you can enjoy both.” (1984)

● “[The NFL champion 1960 Eagles] were the kind of team that you wondered how you kept winning. There were no superstars. I hate that, anyway — ‘superstars.’ To me, nobody is super except God.” (1986)

● “No question I could still go both ways [in today’s game], but I wouldn’t. I’d specialize, and I would last longer. I would be worth millions. It would be Lawrence Taylor’s salary plus 10 percent. And you know they try to compare me with linebackers like Dick Butkus, Willie Lanier and Sam Huff. There’s no comparison. They were mostly interior linebackers. I was a roving linebacker — protecting the middle and the sweeps. Plus, I centered the ball, I punted, I sometimes kicked off. My game called for so much more versatility.” (1992)

● “The positions I played [as a two-way player], every play, I was making contact [with an opponent], not like that . . . Deion Sanders. He couldn’t tackle my wife. He’s back there dancing out there instead of hitting.” (2005)

● “I’ll be 80 on May 1, and I know if they offered me $5 million, I could come back and snap the ball on punts and kicks. I know I could. I’d play one year and then retire.” (2005)

QB Norm Van Brocklin (11), Coach Buck Shaw and Bednarik (60) after winning the '60 title.

Quarterback Norm Van Brocklin (11), Coach Buck Shaw and Bednarik (60) after winning the ’60 title.

Happy Chuck Bednarik Day

Tucked between Veterans Day and Thanksgiving on my football calendar (which would be available in our gift shop if this website had a gift shop) is another notable occasion: Chuck Bednarik Day. It was on this date in 1960 that Bednarik, uh, waylaid Frank Gifford at Yankee Stadium — a Hall of Famer vs. Hall of Famer collision that put The Giffer out of the game for more than a year.

If it isn’t the biggest hit in pro football history, it’s certainly one of the two or three finalists. When Frank returned to the Giants in ’62, it was as a wide receiver, not a running back.

Let’s relive that moment, shall we?

It’s amazing, after watching the clip, that Bednarik was accused by some — though not the Giants — of cheap-shotting Gifford. It was a clean, if high, tackle. The reason Frank was so vulnerable, running so upright, was that he never saw Chuck coming from behind.

Bednarik also got grief for his celebratory jig — with the concussed Gifford lying lifelessly at his feet — but he always claimed it was a victory dance. The Eagles, after all, recovered Frank’s fumble and were on the verge of a 17-10 win. It was a huge play in their (last) championship season.

Here’s some other footage of the hit that gives us a little more of the aftermath. You’ll notice, at the 1:33 mark, that Bednarik spends a fraction of a second exulting — if you want to call it that — then goes to the scene of the recovery. At the end of the clip he looks back at Gifford, who still hasn’t moved.

I side with Bednarik on this one. Why? Well, check out his very similar victory dance after the clock ran out in the title game against the Packers five weeks later:

Seems Bednarik, unlike most players in his era, was a demonstrative guy. Ahead of his time, you might say. So he was both a throwback (going both ways in ’60) and a Man of the Future. Interesting contradiction.

Since this is Chuck Bednarik Day, by the way, do yourself a favor and read — or reread — John Schulian’s definitive take on him for Sports Illustrated. Sportswriting doesn’t get any better. It’s included in the terrific new anthology he edited, Football: Great Writing About the National Sport. A sample:

[Linebacker] was where Bednarik was always at his best. He could intercept a pass with a single meat hook and tackle with the cold-blooded efficiency of a sniper. ”Dick Butkus was the one who manhandled people,” says Tom Brookshier, the loquacious former Eagle cornerback. ”Chuck just snapped them down like rag dolls.”

It was a style that left Frank Gifford for dead, and New York seething, in 1960, and it made people everywhere forget that Concrete Charlie, for all his love of collisions, played the game in a way that went beyond the purely physical. ”He was probably the most instinctive football player I’ve ever seen,” says Maxie Baughan, a rookie linebacker with the Eagles in Bednarik’s whole-schmear season. Bednarik could see a guard inching one foot backward in preparation for a sweep or a tight end setting up just a little farther from the tackle than normal for a pass play. Most important, he could think along with the best coaches in the business.

And the coaches didn’t appreciate that, which may explain the rude goodbye that the Dallas Cowboys’ Tom Landry tried to give Bednarik in ’62. First the Cowboys ran a trap, pulling a guard and running a back through the hole. ”Chuck was standing right there,” Brookshier
says. ”Almost killed the guy.” Next the Cowboys ran a sweep behind that same pulling guard, only to have Bednarik catch the ballcarrier from behind. ”Almost beheaded the guy,” Brookshier says. Finally the Cowboys pulled the guard, faked the sweep and threw a screen pass. Bednarik turned it into a two-yard loss. ”He had such a sense for the game,” Brookshier says. ”You could do all that shifting and put all those men in motion, and Chuck still went right where the ball was.”

From the Eagles media guide in 1960, the season Bednarik and Gifford intersected.

From the Eagles media guide in 1960, the season Bednarik and Gifford intersected.