In the auditorium of the NovaCare Complex are four larger-than-life reminders of the foundation of the Eagles organization, players upon whom the present is built: Steve Van Buren, Chuck Bednarik, Tommy McDonald and Reggie White look down on the 189 seats in the great room.
These are the players Eagles Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie chose to represent the history of the franchise when the NovaCare Complex was built. Van Buren was the best running back in the league in the 1940s as he led the Eagles to NFL Championships in 1948 and 1949. McDonald was the little guy who played big at wide receiver and helped the Eagles win the Championship in 1960. White, of course to anyone who watched and loved the Eagles in the 1980s and early 1990s was the best defensive player of his time, a dominating force on the field and a role model away from the game who left the Eagles before Lurie, who had just purchased the team from Norman Braman, had a chance to keep him. Lurie would have, no doubt, retained White and given him anything he wanted to stay in Philadelphia.
Bednarik's photo -- a 10-foot-high image on canvas -- is a portrait of a youthful Concrete Charlie, posing in a backpedal stance, that familiar No. 60 on his jersey, no helmet, energy coming from his rock-hard body and intensity burning from his eyes.
The last of the true, two-way players -- Deion Sanders was remarkable playing on both sides of the ball, but Bednarik played both linebacker and center *for entire games *in his career -- Bednarik's feats on the football field were the stuff of legend. His toughness separated him from the NFL pack, while his combination of great athletic ability and intelligence on the field made him an all-timer.
Remembering Eagles legend Chuck "Concrete Charlie" Bednarik, one of the best players to ever play in the city of Philadelphia.
Long after his playing days were done, though, Bednarik stayed ornery. He was a bugger, yes, and a fighter and a scrapper. He led a glorious life until passing on Saturday at the age of 89, and his death inspires though who have ever met him to recall the moments that resonate and will continue to do so in the years to come.
I had the good fortune of spending a fair amount of time with Mr. Bednarik, which is how I always referred to him. He had huge hands with fingers that splayed in multiple directions, and the grip was always firm and sure and confident.
Bednarik had his ups and downs with the Eagles and he was never one to back away from a tussle, but it was great to see the ice melt and have Bednarik feel so proud to visit the NovaCare Complex, to walk proudly to the center of the field during the Alumni Day celebrations at Training Camp, to hang out with head coach Chip Kelly and shoot the breeze. Bednarik loved it, and he was honored when he was asked for an autograph, which he graciously signed with great care.
Football was in Bednarik's blood until the day he passed away, and those he touched will never forget the impact.
"At one time he was an associate coach under Dick Vermeil and I tried to get all the knowledge I could from Chuck," former Eagles linebacker Bill Bergey said on Saturday upon learning of Bednarik's death. "He knew everything about the position, and one thing he told me always stuck with me: If you hit your opponent harder than he hits you, you will never be hurt. I didn't understand it at the time, but as I thought about it I understand what I meant.
"We have lost THE greatest Eagle of all time and I underline THE in that. More than finesse and swiftness, he was just a hard kid from the neighborhood and he wanted to win more than anybody else. That's what made him so great. When God made Chuck Bednarik, He threw away the mold."
Another icon of the game has departed, never to be forgotten. We pause in this fast-paced world to appreciate those who blazed the path and made all that we have now possible. Bednarik was one of those pioneers. He played 58 minutes in the 1960 NFL Championship Game and he made sure of the final outcome as he and safety Bobby Jackson tackled running back Jimmy Taylor at the 9-yard line as the seconds ticked off the clock.
"You can get up now, Jim," Bednarik said to Taylor. "This game is over."
We are waiting for another Bednarik, but he was a one-in-a-lifetime kind of player. He helped change the way the game was played in an era that transitioned from the leather helmet to the hard shell. In 14 seasons as an Eagle, Bednarik made the Pro Bowl eight times, played in 169 regular-season games, won two championships, made the team's Hall of Fame, was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, had his number retired and created a legacy that, frankly, is unlikely to be matched.
And as the Eagles players and coaches gather every day in the auditorium of the NovaCare Complex as Kelly delivers his morning message, Bednarik's image -- like that of Van Buren's and McDonald's and White's -- looms as a reminder that the forefathers of this great game made all of what the NFL is now possible. Bednarik is gone from this Earth but he will never be duplicated, replaced or forgotten as the greatest Eagle to ever play the game.
- 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