Thursday, November 24, 2005
Don't get Chuck Bednarik started on the modern-day NFL, which has become so specialized that it's one man's job just to snap the ball on kicks.
See, they didn't have tight ends coaches, third-down backs or designated "long snappers" when Bednarik played 58 minutes in the 1960 NFL Championship. That was the game he tackled Jim Taylor just short of the goal line as time expired, clinching the Philadelphia Eagles' 17-13 victory over the Green Bay Packers (the Eagles haven't won it all since).
Bednarik was the NFL's last true, full-time player.
"I'm 80 years old, and I could snap the ball on punts, extra points and field goals, for godsakes," he says. "I call this game 'pussycat football.' Good gracious. They're a bunch of overpaid, underplayed jerks."
Like I said, don't get him started. This was a phone interview, by the way. A couple of them. One conducted a few months back, one Wednesday afternoon.
Bednarik spoke from his home in Coopersburg, Pa., where he lives with his wife of 56 years, Emma, and tends to his two-acre plot of land.
"These linemen are so overweight," he said. "In my era, nobody played at 360-370 pounds. Can you picture these guys playing football the way it originated? They'd die. For Christ's sake. It stinks. Pussycat football.
"You can quote me on that."
If you're detecting a trace of bitterness, well, Bednarik doesn't deny it. He never made as much as $28,000 in a year during his NFL career and worked a side job selling concrete. Hence the nickname "Concrete Charlie."
He's no fan of big-time college football, either, but he'll stay up tonight way past his normal bedtime of about 8:30 p.m. in order to watch the Backyard Brawl.
Bednarik will root for West Virginia, because his third cousin, Adam Bednarik, plays quarterback there. Adam, a redshirt sophomore, was getting most of the snaps this until he was injured late against Louisville on Oct. 15.
Redshirt freshman Pat White led an incredible comeback that day and has been playing well ever since, but it's likely Adam will get into the game tonight.
Adam and Chuck don't know each other well but have visited a few times, once when Adam trekked to Coopersburg. Chuck gave him an autographed, framed copy of the famous photo depicting Chuck -- then a center/linebacker/ special teams ace -- standing over a fallen and broken Frank Gifford.
The message on the photo: "Good Luck to Adam Bednarik. Be careful."
Adam has lived up to the family name, playing through several injuries and practicing throughout 2004 with what he later learned was a completely torn rotator cuff.
And when he scrambles, rest assured, he'd just as soon drop dead as slide.
"I'm proud of him," Chuck says. "I pray for him."
Chuck believes a key to his longevity is a routine that includes church every morning at 8 a.m., followed by a glass of wine at 8:30. Tracking 10 grandchildren helps keep him spry, too. He and Emma have five daughters, no sons.
"There must be a reason why God did that," Bednarik said. "I would like to have had a son, but God knows, I might have been too tough on him."
Joe Starkey is a sports writer for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He can be reached at email@example.com