Chuck Bednarik was the last player in the NFL to play both offense and defense for the whole game throughout his career:
If you were born in 1959 (or later), you missed out on a lot of cool stuff. Here’s Exhibit A: You never got to see the great Hall of Famer Chuck Bednarik play football for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Instead, a young kid starting to watch the game in the mid-late 1960s felt only the shadow of a legend, looming over the game at a moment when the world was changing so quickly. In that era, NFL TV announcers spoke of Bednarik — who’d retired two seasons after leading the Eagles to their last-ever pro football championship in 1960 — in almost reverent tones. Much of the awe was inspired by Bednarik’s most remarkable accomplishment — playing the entire 60 minutes in a game, as both a center on offense and a bone-crushing linebacker on defense. He was pro football’s last two-way player.
Also, for all of us latecomers, there was The Picture — Bednarik, looking like an ambulatory slab of granite and exalting after he’d flattened the Giants’ Hollywood-handsome star receiver Frank Gifford (not realizing that Gifford was out cold, and about to spend the next year-and-a-half out of football) during a key game that propelled them toward that 1960 title.
Two years ago, I reported that, with little fanfare, Bednarik — along with two other now-deceased Eagles’ Hall of Fame legends Steve Van Buren and Pete Pihos — had joined the NFL’s Plan 88 to pay medical bills for ex-players dealing with dementia or related health issues. This weekend, Bednarik’s oldest daughter voiced anger at the Eagles for the team’s announcement that Bednarik died from “a brief illness.” “He died from dementia from football-related head injuries,” Charlene Thomas told the Express-News newspaper. “It was not brief.”
And, of course, CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) raises its head once again.