The Chuck Bednarik award in College Football is awarded each year to the best defensive player in the country. Recipients include Charles Woodson, Julius Peppers, and Aaron Donald. The award is a common discussion topic in the world of college football, but little attention is paid to the person it is named after. Chuck Bednarik had one of the most interesting and controversial careers in the NFL. And in the day of specialized position players, the most unbelievable college and professional football lives in the history of the sport.
Charles “Chuck” Bednarik, also know as Concrete Charlie was the son of the possibly the grittiest people of all time. Slovakian immigrants who worked at Bethlehem Steel. There’s no wonder that he turned out to be the person he is. After he graduated from high school, he became a waist gunner in a B-24 in WWII. Even if he didn’t play football this guy would have been honored because he went on to be awarded the Air Medal and a number of other honors in his time in the Air Force.
He returned from the war and went to Penn to play football. He became the number 1 overall pick in the NFL draft as a 233-lb center. He came in third in Heisman voting and won the Maxwell Award for the best all-around player in college football. The Maxwell is basically given to the Heisman winner every year, and this guy won it as an offensive lineman in the Ivy league.
When Smokin’ Charlie first went to camp with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1949, he not only became the starting center but the starting middle linebacker. He was even better at linebacker than he was at center. He once injured Frank Gifford (the famous Frank Gifford who was a Hall of Fame running back and Emmy award-winning sportscaster) so badly that he could not play again for over 18 months. He also helped to win the 1960 Super Bowl by grabbing Green Bay ball carrier Jim Taylor and holding him in place for 8 seconds to run time off of the clock, because in those days forward progress was not invented.
This was a guy who was playing Tom Thibodeau level minutes for the Eagles, starting on offense and defense for 14 years and missing 3 games. He was called Concrete Charlie because in the offseason he was a concrete salesman.
A concrete salesman
Being a concrete salesman is possibly the strangest job for a professional athlete to hold, and maybe the best possible thing Ol’ Chuck could have been. Imagine lining up against a guy who not only plays both sides of the ball for fun, but because he wants a little extra scratch to treat his old lady he sells concrete in his spare time. That’s a guy with nothing to lose, knowing him he probably built the stadium with his own two hands because he didn’t like the design of the concourse. He was almost certainly the guy who put the prison in the bottom of the Linc and personally put unruly fans in there.
In addition to him being a crazy person on the football field, he has continued to be president of the “hating all generations who come after you” fan club. He has been quoted as calling current players “pussyfoots” and that they “couldn’t tackle my wife Emma”. Just all time burns from Charlie. Even when people pointed out that more modern players like Deion Sanders and Troy Brown played both sides, he insisted that him playing interior positions was better than them playing receiver/defensive back.
Bednarik also had a feud with Jeff Lurie in the 90s because Lurie wouldn’t buy 100 copies of his book. Chuck held a grudge against Lurie until ’06 when they reconciled. Chuck was high up on the list of all-time haters, and also on the list of noted racists in Philly history.
He joins Frank Rizzo in the terrible Philly person column for comments he made about Eagles players. Charlie was quoted as calling possibly the best defensive player of all time Reggie White a “typical coon”. A terrible statement by a man who hated basically everyone who wasn’t Charles Bednarik or his immediate family. He then apologized for his statements about Mr. White and said that he had been confused at the time he made those comments. A simple misunderstanding that would be swept under the rug with talk about his role on the 1960 championship Eagles team, right? Wrong. He corrected himself, saying that it was not Reggie White who was a “typical coon”, but all-time great wide receiver Terrell Owens. Huh, what a terrible guy Concrete was.
I feel it is appropriate at this time to mention Bednarik had his number 60 retired by the Philadelphia Eagles. Also, the vast majority of the players who have won the Bednarik award are black, so a fitting end for Chuck’s legacy that the people who he viewed with such contempt have been regularly outperforming whites in College Football.
So, in the end, maybe Charles was a very good player who won a Super Bowl based off of the fact forward progress wasn’t invented yet, and he is viewed as the best center in NFL history. But, there are other facts that need to be discussed with him, like being a player hater and a noted racist.
He is also the proud owner of one of the most gnarled pairs of hands to have ever existed. He gives Ronnie Lott a run for his money with the way his tree-root-like fingers make multiple 90-degree turns.