Chuck Weber, a local boy who played a major role on the Eagles 1960 NFL Championship team, died on Sunday. He was 87.
Weber was born in Philadelphia and attended Abington High School. He was a two-sport standout at West Chester University, starring in wrestling as well as football. He always wanted to play for the Eagles but he was signed by the Cleveland Browns out of college then traded to the Chicago Cardinals.
The Eagles acquired his rights in 1959 and he was their middle linebacker for three seasons, including the 1960 season when they won the NFL title defeating Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers 17-13 at Franklin Field.
Weber often joked that he was the answer to a trivia question: Who was the middle linebacker on that Eagles championship team? Ask that question in any bar and the immediate response will be, "Chuck Bednarik."
That's how most people remember it but that's not how it happened.
Bednarik started that season playing center and Weber was the middle linebacker. One month into the season, outside linebacker Bob Pellegrini suffered a broken leg and coach Buck Shaw put Bednarik into Pellegrini's spot. That's when Bednarik started playing both ways but he was playing outside linebacker. Weber was in the middle.
"Most people don't remember it that way," Weber said, "but that's OK. That other Chuck you're talking about, he was pretty good."
Bednarik, the legendary Pro Football Hall of Famer, credited Weber for helping him through that season.
"I went in there cold, I didn't know all the assignments but Chuck talked me through it," Bednarik said. "Before every play, he'd tell me what to do. He didn't get enough credit. He was a good football player."
Weber played most of the 1960 season with broken ribs. The trainer Tom McCoy taped him up every Sunday and he never missed a game but he later admitted, "Every time I got hit, it felt like I was cut in half."
The pain didn't affect his performance. The 6-1, 230-pound Weber intercepted six passes that season. It still stands as the second-most interceptions by a non-defensive back in Eagles history. Only linebacker William Thomas, who had seven interceptions in 1995, had more.
For Weber, the highlight of the championship season was the Week 2 win over Dallas. The Eagles squeaked out a 27-25 victory over the Cowboys and Weber picked off three Eddie LeBaron passes.
In 1985, I visited Weber in El Cajon, California - he was the defensive coordinator of the San Diego Chargers - as I was researching a 25th-anniversary story about the '60 championship team for the Philadelphia Daily News. Weber mentioned the Dallas game and said he still had the game ball. There was only one problem.
"It blew up," he said.
"It blew up, exploded," he said. "I had it on the bookcase. One night my wife and I were watching TV and bam! We didn't know what happened. Here the football had blown apart. It left a brown spot on the wall and everything. I still don't know why it happened. I kept the ball, though. I'm not going to throw out a game ball from that season."
He went to the closet and brought out the football. As he put it on the coffee table, he smoothed it out gently, the way you would a crumpled piece of paper. One seam was split and the bladder was hanging out, but the printing was still legible: "To Chuck Weber, for an outstanding effort..."
The ball was signed by his teammates and defensive coordinator Jerry Williams. It was Weber's favorite keepsake of a long football career which included two decades as an NFL coach.
"We had a tough team, physically and mentally tough," Weber said of the 1960 NFL champions. "Alex Webster (Giants fullback) swore I hated him. He asked me about it one time. I said, 'No, Alex. I play that way against everybody.'
"You get a lot of hard-nosed guys, it makes everyone tougher. Look at our leaders, Bednarik and (quarterback Norm) Van Brocklin. You'll never find two tougher competitors. If you didn't have that bulldog in you, you didn't last long in that locker room."
The lasting image of that season was Bednarik's thunderous hit on the Giants' Frank Gifford forcing the fumble that secured a huge win at Yankee Stadium. Most people recall the classic photo of Bednarik standing over the unconscious Gifford. Few people notice Weber, No. 51, pouncing on the fumble that ended the game. He didn't mind being overshadowed.
"I'm just glad I didn't get in the way," Weber said. "When Chuck hit Frank, it sounded like an explosion. I'll never forget it."
Weber is survived by his four sons, Charlie, Wayne, Bruce and Scott; daughter Tracey, 13 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. A memorial service will be held on Sunday in Poway, California.
An award-winning writer and producer, Ray Didinger was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1995. He has also won six Emmy Awards for his work as a writer and producer at NFL Films. The five-time Pennsylvania Sportswriter of the Year is a writer and analyst for NBC Sports Philadelphia. Didinger will provide Eagles fans a unique historical perspective on the team throughout the year for PhiladelphiaEagles.com. You can read all of his Eagles History columns here.