As part of the celebration of the NFL's 100th season, the Eagles are asking fans to vote for one of four plays as the greatest moment in franchise history. The play with the most votes will be revealed during the club's Fantennial Weekend this upcoming season. This top play, as voted on by the fans, will then be entered into a league-wide vote to identify the NFL's Greatest Moment. The second nominee, Chuck Bednarik's tackle to win the 1960 NFL Championship.
The 1960 season came down to one play for the Philadelphia Eagles.
It was the championship game at Franklin Field and the Green Bay Packers, coached by Vince Lombardi, had driven to the Eagles' 22-yard line with just seconds left on the clock.
The Eagles led 17-13, so the Packers needed a touchdown. They had time for one play. Bill Campbell, the Eagles' radio voice, set the scene: "Sixty-seven thousand people standing ... standing ... for the final play of this great game."
Green Bay quarterback Bart Starr took the snap and scanned the field. The Eagles dropped into zone coverage to take away the deep pass. Starr still could have chucked the ball into the end zone and hoped for a miracle catch or perhaps a pass interference penalty.
Instead, Starr dumped the ball off to fullback Jim Taylor in the left flat. It looked like a give-up play. Taylor caught the ball around the 15-yard line with no chance to stop the clock. He would have to run through the entire Eagles defense. As a 14-year-old kid sitting in Section EE, I began to celebrate.
I thought the game was over.
Then Taylor started to run and things got scary. Maxie Baughan, then a rookie linebacker, had the first shot at Taylor and bounced off. Free safety Don Burroughs was in position to make the tackle, but he was called "The Blade" for a reason. He was 6-4 and a spindly 180 pounds. Taylor ran right through him. Columnist Red Smith wrote that Taylor resembled "an enraged beer truck" rumbling through the Eagles' defense.
I stopped celebrating. I saw Taylor cross the 10-yard line and for a moment I thought the Eagles might lose.
But then I saw a green jersey with the number 60 and I knew things would be OK.
Linebacker Chuck Bednarik was waiting for Taylor and met him head-on. Safety Bobby Jackson was there, too, and Jackson hit Taylor low while Bednarik hit him high. The 6-3, 235-pound Bednarik put the 5-10, 215-pound Taylor in a bear hug and wrestled him to the ground at the 8-yard line. He pinned Taylor to the turf while watching the final seconds tick off the clock.
"He was squirming around, cursing me, saying, 'Get off me you so-and-so,'" Bednarik said. "He wanted to hurry up and run another play. No way I was gonna let that happen. I held him down until I saw the hands on the clock hit zero. Then I looked down and said, 'You can get up now, you so-and-so. This (bleeping) game is over.'"
Bednarik jumped up, pumped his fists in the air and let out a victor's whoop.
Packers guard Jerry Kramer was standing nearby watching.
"I wanted to kill him," Kramer said in a 2011 interview. "I still call him Cement Head Charlie."
It was the final play of a remarkable season for an Eagles team that was underrated then and still is underrated today. This year when the NFL celebrates its 100th season, there will be many polls and surveys rating the great teams of all time. The Lombardi Packers will be high on every list. Ten players from that team are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, including Taylor, Starr, and Kramer.
The 1960 Eagles won't appear on many of those lists yet on that cold December day at Franklin Field, they were the better team. They had three future Hall of Famers – quarterback Norm Van Brocklin, wide receiver Tommy McDonald, and Bednarik – and that was enough. Van Brocklin was the game's MVP, McDonald caught a 35-yard touchdown pass, and Bednarik played 58 of the 60 minutes at center and linebacker.
"It was 20 years before it dawned on me what I did," Bednarik said in a 1994 interview. "I took it for granted. They told me to play so I played.
"But as I got older, I thought about it. I said, 'My God, do you know what the hell you did?' No one will ever do that again, certainly not at the professional level. You don't even see (two-way players) in college anymore.
"I was the end of an era," he said. "No NFL player could do it today. These guys play three or four plays and come off the field sucking air and they're making millions of dollars. It makes me sick."
Bednarik earned $15,000 in 1960 and his two-way heroics earned him a $2,500 raise the next year. He had a full-time job selling concrete in the offseason which is how he acquired the nickname "Concrete Charlie." He was a rookie on the 1949 championship team and he was a grizzled 35-year-old veteran when he helped the team to the title in 1960.
"I was in awe of Chuck, I think we all were," said Baughan. "We (the defense) would come on the field and Chuck would be there waiting. He'd say, 'Let's go, let's get it together.' If he was tired, he never let it show."
"I never got tired," Bednarik said. "It was late in the season so the weather was cool so I stayed pretty fresh. Besides, when you're winning, you don't feel the aches and pains. You feel like you can play all day."
That was the only postseason game Lombardi ever lost as a head coach. The Packers won the NFL Championship the next two years and six times in all, including wins in the first two Super Bowls. Friends claim Lombardi never stopped talking about the 1960 title game. He could not understand how he lost it.
"Man for man, (the Packers) were better than we were," Bednarik said. "Look at the record. They dominated the league for the next 10 years. But that day we beat 'em. It was the highlight of my career."
An award-winning writer and producer, Ray Didinger was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1995. His play about the late Tommy McDonald, Tommy and Me, is in its final weekend at the Fringe Arts Theatre. For more information, go to theatreexile.org and purchase tickets today.