Chuck Bednarik 1

Chuck Bednarik showed the wear-and-tear from his Hall of Fame career during a 2009 visit to Lancaster.

Millersville's Streeter Stuart remembers Chuck Bednarik, remembers the man known as "Concrete Charlie" being a neighbor of his in Coopersburg in Upper Saucon Township.

"He would walk his German shepherd by our house in the evenings," said Stuart. "When my son Streeter (now a teacher and coach at Penn Manor High School) became a quarterback in high school, I asked Chuck one day if he would show him how to play quarterback.

"He invited us up to his house and ran around his backyard with a football, like a quarterback, giving Streeter advice."

He showed the younger Stuart how to play QB and showed the Stuarts a trophy of sorts from his playing days.

"Chuck showed us his famous right-hand pinky finger, which went out from his hand at almost a 90-degree angle," Stuart Sr. recalled. "He had broken it in a game and didn't get it fixed for fear that he would not be allowed to play."

Bednarik's famously twisted digits were the products of a life spent in football. Upon his recent death at age 89, no less an authority than Jim Brown told ESPN that Bednarik was "as great as they come, the most physical individual probably who ever played the game."

An enormous compliment, considering this is the same Jim Brown who in the 1950s and ’60s butted helmets with some of the hardest hitters in NFL history: Dick Butkus and Ray Nitschke, Deacon Jones and Ernie Stautner.

It was Bednarik who Brown, the greatest running back ever, considered the "pure gladiator."

When you heard Brown's comment, you thought of a photographic portrait of Bednarik taken in his playing days in Philadelphia. The Eagles linebacker/center — the last of the 60-minute men — is posed as a medieval warrior, complete with body armor. In his gloved right hand he holds a lance. Tucked under his left arm is a battle-scraped Eagles helmet.

The photo is fitting, because when you spoke with Bednarik you got a sense of what seemed to be a medieval code of honor. He was direct and forthright — Dick Vermeil said once it usually took about 20 seconds to find out what was on Bednarik's mind — and his answers were as straight and true as the path he took to ball-carriers.

It was a path that led to two of the game's most famous tackles — the paralyzing hit on the Giants’ Frank Gifford in an Eastern Division showdown in Yankee Stadium in November 1960, and one month later the bear-hug takedown of Packer tough guy Jim Taylor to clinch the NFL title.

It's the last time the Birds won the league championship and it's one reason why Bednarik, who played college football at Penn, is an immortal presence in Philadelphia. Like Bobby Clarke and the Broad Street Bullies who hoisted the Flyers' last Stanley Cup in 1975, Concrete Charlie personified the gritty spirit symbolic of the City of Brotherly Shove.

Stuart remembered that on the edge of Bednarik's front lawn there were a number of waist-high pillars at intervals with eagles on them, and recounted a time when a bulldozer was excavating in a vacant lot next to Bednarik's.

"He thought they were too close to his property and got into some kind of altercation with the bulldozer operator," said Stuart. "There were some legal problems for Bednarik because of that."

Born to a Czech father who worked the mills on the south side of Bethlehem because he couldn't read or write English, Chuck grew up in the Great Depression — grew up poor. When World War II came he was an 18-year old gunner on 30 missions over Germany. He got his right forearm tattooed — a flower in full bloom to reveal the word "Mother" — just in case he was shot down and his arm was all that was left to identify him.

When the war was won he enrolled at Penn, then joined the Eagles in 1949 and helped Steve Van Buren, Greasy Neale and Co. earn their second straight NFL title.

Stuart, who also played football at Penn, first met Bednarik when Penn and the Eagles had preseason practice in Hershey, "near the amusement park and the stadium, and where parking lots are now," he recalled.

"The Eagles practiced on one field and Penn practiced on another,” Stuart said. “ Sometimes Bednarik would come down to our field and help do some coaching. A few of us were practicing punting one day and when the coaches weren't looking Bednarik stepped in and boomed a punt. The coaches turned around and asked, 'Who kicked that one?'”

Stuart said one of the last times he saw Bednarik he was being interviewed on television in the Lehigh Valley.

"He said he had one last goal, which was 'to make it to heaven,'" said Stuart. "I hope he made it."

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