Mourners paid tribute to one of the greatest players to ever suit up for the Philadelphia Eagles in Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker and center Chuck Bednarik, who passed away last Saturday at the age of 89 ...
BETHLEHEM, Pa. – Everybody had a story. Pete Retzlaff talked about the day Chuck Bednarik punched out Jesse Richardson at a Training Camp practice. Maxie Baughan remembered how tough Bednarik was and that "if you weren't ready, he'd knock your ass off." Leo Carlin recalled that he first met Bednarik just prior to the 1960 NFL Championship Game, starting a friendship that endured.
Ken Safarowic, Bednarik's son in law, told a story that Bednarik retired in 1959, was given a farewell by the Eagles, but then found out after that season that his wife, Emma, was pregnant with the couple's fifth daughter, Jackie.
"Chuck said, 'We've got another mouth to feed,' and he went back to work," Safarowic said. "That's how close it was to not having that special 1960 season."
Bednarik passed away on Saturday at the age of 89 and on Thursday the celebration of his life began with two public viewings at the Connell Funeral Home in Bethlehem. The family has a private mass on Friday.
Friends and fans streamed in and while some of them were famous – Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie and team president Don Smolenski paid their respects, along with former Eagles head coach Dick Vermeil, the family of former Eagles great Steve Van Buren, former Eagles offensive lineman and head coach Ed Khayat, former Princeton basketball coach Pete Carrill along with Retzlaff, Baughan, Carlin, Hall of Fame wide receiver Tommy McDonald and Eagles Hall of Famer Jim Gallagher – a large number of fans attended the service just because they love the Eagles and loved Bednarik.
Those who couldn't attend, including Eagles head coach Chip Kelly and former Eagles head coach and current Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, called the family upon hearing of Bednarik's death.
"He was my childhood hero," said Marty Sidorchuck, from Warrington, who was one of many fans who wore Bednarik's No. 60 jersey as they took their time remembering an all-time great. "I'm a little bit young to have seen him play, I was 3 years old when the Eagles won the '60 Championship, so I learned of him through my father and he became my hero. I was just telling my son today that Chuck was the player I wanted to be when I was on the field playing pee-wee football. This is why I'm here today.
"He was a ferocious player. He played on both sides of the ball. He was the toughest guy out there."
The two-room service included photos from the days when Bednarik served the United States in World War II and participated in 30 bombings, and beautifully illustrated his rise from a collegiate star at the University of Pennsylvania through his 14-year Hall of Fame career with the Eagles. A moving slide show provided a glimpse into Bednarik's soft side – the husband of Emma and the father of five daughters.
Gorgeous flowers from friends and admirers of Bednarik's football life dressed up the rooms. The flowers came from the Eagles, from the Brown family and the Cincinnati Bengals, from the New York Giants and from Frank and Kathie Lee Gifford, among many others. Gifford, of course, was the player who Bednarik decked in the famous picture from the 1960 season in which Bednarik is standing over a knocked-out Gifford.
Bednarik's NFL career spanned from 1949-62 and included eight Pro Bowl appearances. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1967.
"It wasn't the first time Chuck laid somebody out," Retzlaff chuckled. "He did it at times in practice. I remember when Chuck was leading us in jumping jacks and Jesse Richardson said, 'Awww, Chuck. We don't want to do these damn things.' Chuck walked over to him and, whap! Gave him a right hand. And then we went back to doing jumping jacks.
"Chuck was like that. All business. He wanted nothing but winning. He was a great teammate and a great player, the kind of guy you were glad to have on your side."
Said Carlin: "Everywhere he went, Chuck was larger than life. Gracious to the fans, very understanding where he stood as a player. Tough son of a gun. Played his heart out. He was the guy. He was loved by everybody and in the eyes of the fans, he did nothing wrong.
"I'm proud to say that he was my friend. We had a lot in common and many, many great moments together."
Baughan was a rookie on that 1960 team, starting 12 games next to Bednarik, and he understood very quickly that Bednarik set the tone for the defense and the entire team. The Eagles were tough, nasty and united.
"He was a mean son of a gun with a great big heart and everybody loved him," Baughan said. "He never minded knocking your block off and that attitude rubbed off on everybody."
Remembering Eagles legend Chuck "Concrete Charlie" Bednarik, one of the best players to ever play in the city of Philadelphia.
Lurie presented a special Eagles game ball to Emma Bednarik and then met reporters to talk about Concrete Charlie, the greatest player of his time and one of the all-time greats in the history of the NFL.
"It's why he's an icon, it's why he represents everything that the Eagles believe in and I think that our fan base expects of the team," Lurie said. "Toughness, never give up, play through pain, leadership and an incredible passion for the game. That's what you hope every player has, and Chuck is the epitome of that. It's a loss for not only the Philadelphia area, the Eagles, but for his family and for everyone who values those values."
Lurie said that the team would honor Bednarik in the season ahead, but that no definite plays have been discussed.
"We're going to certainly honor Chuck," Lurie said. "He's always going to be a big part of the Eagles family and a big part of everything that Philadelphia is all about.
"He's an incredible legend. I think people respect the way he played. That's part of falling in love with football."
It was fitting, said Safarowic, that Bednarik had so much public adoration from the Eagles and the fans in the past year, first at the team's Training Camp Alumni Day at Franklin Field and then during the regular season opener against Jacksonville at Lincoln Financial Field.
"Chuck loved every minute of it," Safarowic said. "He heard those cheers until the end."
- VIEW: Forever An Eagle: Our Tribute To Chuck Bednarik
- READ: Didinger: Bednarik Is The Greatest All-Time Eagle
- VIDEO: Remembering A Legend: Chuck Bednarik
- VIDEO: In His Own Words: Chuck Bednarik's Journey
- READ: The Hit Still Resonates After All These Years
- VIDEO: Merrill Reese On Chuck Bednarik
- VIDEO: Highlights From The 1960 NFL Championship
- PHOTOS: An In-Depth Look At Bednarik On And Off The Gridiron