Most of the 68,000-plus fans who cram into Lincoln Financial Field on a given Sunday during the NFL season are too young to have any recollection of Chuck Bednarik's decorated playing career. They know, however, who he is, what he did, and what he meant to the Eagles.
Is that not the ultimate sign of greatness?
How many living athletes in this or any other city will be able to say that more than 50 years after their careers ended they were still remembered and revered? Here's a hint: You can cut off some fingers and still count the ones in Philadelphia. Bobby Clarke. Mike Schmidt. Bernie Parent. Steve Carlton. Julius Erving.
Bednarik belonged at the top of that list of Philadelphia living legends until Saturday, when the man so appropriately nicknamed "Concrete Charlie" died at the age of 89. The legend will live on. His larger-than-life image is one of four that stare down from the auditorium walls at the Eagles' NovaCare Complex practice facility. The others are fellow Hall of Famers Steve Van Buren, Tommy McDonald, and Reggie White.
Bednarik spent all 14 of his NFL seasons with the Eagles, which remains a franchise record. Only Clarke, Schmidt, and Carlton among the players listed above spent more time playing in Philadelphia, and they did not spend their careers crashing into people.
"The Eagles and our fans have lost a legend," team owner Jeffrey Lurie said. "Philadelphia fans grow up expecting toughness, all-out effort, and a workmanlike attitude from this team, and so much of that image has its roots in the way Chuck played the game."
To legions of Eagles fans in this football-crazed city, Bednarik is a legend of Babe Ruth proportions. You tell your kids what he did, and they have a difficult time believing you: He played 58 of 60 minutes in the '60 NFL championship game at 35 years old? C'mon, Dad, you're making that up.
The man scored only one touchdown in his NFL career. Bednarik did not hit home runs like Ruth. He hit human beings like no other player in the game. Hit them so hard, in fact, that they either remembered it forever or forgot about it immediately. Hit them from both sides of the football, too, as a center and a linebacker. He also hit the Nazis as a waist gunner in World War II. They did not keep statistics on his hits, but his living peers probably still have the bruises and scars as the pain and proof they occurred.
In a town that wants to be known for its toughness, Bednarik was the poster boy, a 6-foot-3, 233-pound rock with a face that looked as if it was made of leather and a jaw that could have been manufactured in one of the Bethlehem steel mills near his birthplace.
Bednarik was also this: a link between a time when football championships were won in Philadelphia and a time when the quest for another has become an obsession. Ask the average NFL fan the last time an Eagles team won the championship, and that person probably will tell you never.
Go on the Internet, in fact, and you'll find opposing fans - rival NFC East fans love to do it the most - mocking the Eagles for having zero Lombardi Trophies. Hardcore Eagles fans know that the game and the league existed before Vince Lombardi's Packers. They know that before those Packers reeled off five NFL titles in seven years, the Eagles beat them in 1960, with the signature moment coming on the final play, when Bednarik threw Jim Taylor to the ground at Franklin Field as the final seconds ticked off.
In its tribute to Bednarik on Saturday, the NFL Network described that win over the Packers as the only NFL title in franchise history. It was, in fact, the third and final one in Eagles history. Bednarik, a two-time all-American center at the University of Pennsylvania, was a rookie when the Eagles won their second title in 1949.
In an article published by the Morning Call in Allentown four years ago, Bednarik said he wanted the Eagles to win another championship in his lifetime, but if they did not, he'd look down and try to help them from heaven.
"Maybe I'll be able to trip someone up from the 9-yard line up there," he said.
That would be divine intervention from the most sacred player in franchise history.