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Bednarik tough to the end

Chuck Bednarik created an indelible memory at an Eagles event 5 years ago.

The Chuck Bednarik statue on the north concourse at Franklin Field in
Phila. on March 21, 2015. (Elizabeth Robertson/Staff Photographer)
The Chuck Bednarik statue on the north concourse at Franklin Field in Phila. on March 21, 2015. (Elizabeth Robertson/Staff Photographer)Read more

I WAS 4 YEARS OLD and living in Virginia when the Eagles won the 1960 NFL championship, so I don't have any great memories of watching Chuck Bednarik play, as a center or a linebacker. But I do have a favorite Bednarik moment.

It happened during the 50th anniversary celebration of that 1960 title. The team was hosting a dinner for the surviving vets, at the Linc. There was a red carpet outside, and players would emerge from cars to be greeted there by, among others, Swoop, the feathered mascot.

Bednarik, who passed away early Saturday morning, just shy of his 90th birthday, would have been 85 when this happened. "Concrete Charlie," white-haired and gaunt, stepped onto the carpet. At the other end, Swoop began flapping his wings.

Bednarik looked up, and true to character, he did not react with a big smile and a hug. Instead he flexed his knees and spread his arms. You could imagine Swoop was Jim Taylor and Chuck was the only thing standing between Swoop and the end zone. I remember most his huge, gnarled hands, the long, crooked fingers splayed, and the light in his eyes that said, "Yeah. Just bring that [bleep] over here."

Swoop very nearly laid an egg.

In an ESPN feature called "Last of the 60-Minute Men," Bednarik said: "A linebacker is like an animal. He's like a lion or a tiger, and he goes after prey. He wants to eat him, he wants to kick the [bleep] out of him. That's a linebacker."

As nearly every Eagles fan learns before adulthood, Bednarik was born in Bethlehem to Slovak immigrants. He flew 30 missions over Germany as a World War II waist gunner, then went to Penn when the war ended. He became a three-time All-American as a center and linebacker, and was the first overall pick in the 1949 draft. He won an NFL title as a rookie.

Eagles teammate Marion Campbell once called Bednarik "the most instinctive guy who ever stepped on a field." Campbell, a defensive end, said he'd asked Bednarik what he keys on. Bednarik replied, "The ball takes me to the play, that's my key."

Redskins coach George Allen called Bednarik "the best linebacker I ever saw."

You can debate the order to place them in, but nobody debates the fact that the three greatest Eagles, in the 82-year history of the franchise, are Bednarik, Steve Van Buren and Reggie White. Now all of them are gone, except to memory.