Bednarik being honored in Bethlehem

Posted: October 04, 2013

AS ONE OF THE toughest players to ever put on an Eagles uniform, Hall of Famer Chuck Bednarik remembers the days of lining up on both sides of the field and playing without excuses.

Spending his entire Hall of Fame career in Philadelphia, from 1949 to 1962, Bednarik missed just three games in 14 seasons and was a key component to the Eagles' championship teams in 1949 and 1960. In today's game, it is rare to see a player line up on offense if they are a defensive player, and vice versa, a skill Bednarik said the game has lost.

Bednarik starred as a center and linebacker and played both positions down the stretch of the 1960 season, including the NFL championship game victory over Green Bay.

"We played the game in black and white; today it is in color, high-definition 3D," Bednarik said. "For all of the changes, skill has been lost. We had to know how to do everything. These guys today are better athletes but don't understand nuances of the game. Not too many guys today know how to tackle."

During his career, Bednarik was named to eight Pro Bowls, selected as an All-Pro 10 times, was a two-time NFL champion, named to the NFL's 75th anniversary all-time team and had his No. 60 retired by the Eagles.

Long before that, he was a B-24 waist gunner in the Air Force and flew dozens of combat missions over Germany during World War II.

This evening, Bednarik, a resident of nearby Coopersburg, will be honored in his native Bethlehem as a "Hometown Hall of Famer."

While Bednarik understands that the game has adapted and evolved since he last stepped on a field more than 50 years ago, the 88-year-old likes what he has seen from Chip Kelly. Even though Kelly focuses on a fast-paced offense, Bednarik believes he would have had no problem playing on both sides of the ball under him.

"I like Chip Kelly very much," Bednarik said. "We first met a few years ago at a Walter Camp dinner in Connecticut. He got the college coach of year award and I was honored as a distinguished American. He's invited me down a few times since taking over. I like his style and hell yeah, I could still play both ways for him."

Bednarik earned his reputation as a linebacker who supplied bone-jarring hits while also being known as a bulldozing center on the offensive line. Although Bednarik has dealt with health issues over the years, including a week stay in a Bethlehem hospital in March 2011, he does not recall ever suffering from a concussion during his professional career.

The NFL recently reached a $765 million settlement with former players who had filed a concussion lawsuit.

"We never thought much about head issues when we played. Even after I retired we never talked about it," Bednarik said. "You got dinged, you stayed in the game. We needed the paychecks; we didn't take time off unless you couldn't walk. I probably gave out more hits than I received and don't recall any concussions. I guess it's good that the NFL is addressing the issue now, but it's not something guys of my generation talked about."

Since his 2011 hospitalization, Bednarik said he has not had any serious health issues and currently feels "good."

And tonight in Bethlehem, he'll likely feel great.

"For all the honors I've received, this is one of the most special," he said. "Being honored in Bethlehem rounds things out for me. I was born there during the Depression, and if it weren't for Liberty High and my coach, John Butler, I never would have even played college football, let alone the NFL. I have nothing but great memories of Bethlehem and to know that a part of me will always be associated with the school and stadium is of great importance."

On Twitter: @JohnMurrow12

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