Chuck Bednarik, the Philadelphia Eagles’ Hall of Fame center and linebacker, one of the last N.F.L. players to commonly play on both offense and defense and a legendary football tough guy, died Saturday in Richland, Pa. He was 89.
The Eagles said he died at an assisted living center after a brief, unspecified illness.
They called him Concrete Charlie, and while Bednarik worked during his off-seasons as a salesman for a concrete company, the nickname perfectly captured his fearsome presence as a jarring blocker at center and a thunderous tackler at middle linebacker.
Playing for the Eagles from 1949 to 1962, Bednarik missed only three games, and two of those came at the outset of his rookie season.
Bednarik was famous for flattening the Giants’ star Frank Gifford in a 1960 game, then celebrating his ferocious hit — a gesture captured in an enduring photograph.
A two-time All-American at Penn, he played in eight Pro Bowls and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1967. The N.F.L. selected him as the center for its 50th anniversary team in 1969, and he was elected that year to the College Football Hall of Fame. The Chuck Bednarik Award is presented annually to college football’s best defensive player.
At age 35, Bednarik was in on every play, except for Eagles kickoffs, when Philadelphia defeated Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers, 17-13, in the 1960 N.F.L. championship game. Bednarik tackled the Packers’ fullback Jim Taylor just inside the Eagles’ 10-yard line as he headed for a game-winning touchdown in the final seconds, then sat on top of him to keep the Packers from running another play.
“You can get up now, Jim, this game is over,” Bednarik told Taylor as the Eagles captured their first league championship since his rookie season of 1949.
Gifford did not get up when Bednarik leveled him with a blindside tackle to his chest after he caught a pass from quarterback George Shaw in the closing minutes of a November 1960 game at Yankee Stadium with the Eagles and Giants battling for the Eastern Conference championship.
Gifford suffered a deep concussion when his head snapped back as he hit the turf and fumbled. Bednarik waved his arms and shook his fists as the Eagles recovered the ball, and they went on to a 17-10 victory.
The photo of Bednarik exulting alongside a prone Gifford became one of pro football’s most famous images. But Bednarik later maintained he was unaware that Gifford was seriously hurt, saying he was celebrating because “we knew he had the game won.” He sent a basket of fruit to Gifford at his hospital bed.
“I didn’t bear him any resentment and never have,” Gifford said in his 1994 memoir, “The Whole Ten Yards,” written with Harry Waters. “His tackle had been perfectly legal.”
Bednarik was 6 feet 3 and 235 pounds or so, impressive size for a linebacker of his era, his brawn matched by football savvy.
“Dick Butkus was the one who manhandled people,” the Eagles’ former defensive back Tom Brookshier told Sports Illustrated in 1993, recalling the Chicago Bears’ rugged middle linebacker. “Chuck just snapped them down like rag dolls.”
“He had such a sense for the game,” Brookshier said. “You could do all that shifting and put all those men in motion, and Chuck still went right where the ball was.”
Charles Philip Bednarik was born on May 1, 1925, in Bethlehem, Pa. His father, an immigrant from Czechoslovakia, was a laborer for Bethlehem Steel.
After playing high school football, Bednarik joined the Army Air Forces and flew 30 bombing missions over Europe in World War II as a gunner on a B-24 Liberator.
He began his career at Penn as a freshman late in the 1945 season and played all 60 minutes, intercepting two passes, in a 34-7 loss to unbeaten Army in November 1946. He was an All-American in 1947 and again in 1948, when he finished third in the balloting for the Heisman Trophy awarded to college football’s leading player.
The Eagles selected Bednarik as the first pick in the 1949 N.F.L. draft and he played on a championship team led by Steve Van Buren at halfback and Pete Pihos at end. Bednarik won a second championship in 1960 on a team that also featured Norm Van Brocklin at quarterback. Bednarik had been playing mostly at center by then, but when an outside linebacker was hurt, he went in on defense as well in the late-season games and then the title game with the Packers.
Bednarik was a longtime chairman of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission, which oversees boxing and wrestling in the state.
He is survived by his wife, Emma; their daughters Charlene Thomas, Donna Davis, Carol Safarowic, Pam McWilliams and Jackie Chelius; 10 grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.
Bednarik remained a favorite with Eagles fans long after his playing days, and the team retired his No. 60 in 1987. When the Eagles chose their 75th-anniversary team in September 2007, he was honored as the best center and middle linebacker in the team’s history in a ceremony at Lincoln Financial Field.
As he once recalled it, the moment transcended football even for one of its roughest-hewn figures.
“On that day,” he said, “I felt like Benjamin Franklin.”