Monday, March 23, 2015

The reason we loved 'Concrete Charlie'

It was not a good weekend for Philadelphia sports.

And it has nothing to do with the fact that Villanova lost. Again.

It has everything to do with the fact that we lost an immortal.

Chuck Bednarik died.

I never actually saw Bednarik play. But I distinctly remember my father and my wife's father boast of his prowess.

I have another reason to like the man referred to as 'Concrete Charlie.'

That moniker was slapped on him in part because of the way he played. Bednarik was simply an unstoppable force, a guy who reveled in the sheer, at times brutal physical violence that occurs on a football field.

The picture of him standing over a prone Frank Gifford stands to this day as one of the iconic images of the National Football League. But there is another - perhaps more telling - reason behind Bednarik's nickname.

In the offseason, Bednarik worked for a local concrete company.

Perhaps more than anything else, that tells you all you need to know about professional sports, specifically the way the games have changed.

When Bednarik inked his first contract with the Eagles, the All-America out of Penn signed on the dotted line for a $3,000 signing bonus and $10,000 salary. He never made more than $27,000 in a season. Today some guys spend more than that on dinner.

That's the difference in sports today, and part of the reason Bednarik remained incredibly popular decades after his last appearance on a playing field.

He was one of us. Back then, most athletes were. Some guys worked in a factory, others drove a truck, still others were salesmen. Bednarik played football. He was just one of the guys.

Oh, and one other thing, not be taken lightly. Bednarik won. He was the heart of a team that handed the legendary Vince Lombardi his only loss in a championship game.

Bednarik had little use for today's athlete - and was not shy about telling you about it.

In his later days, he could be come as just a cantankerous old guy. He got involved in a couple of unnecessary disputes with the Eagles and in particular owner Jeff Lurie.

But Bednarik never changed. He loved the game. He loved the physlical aspect. He loved violence. He loved being one of us. And that's why we loved him.

Deion Sanders notwithstanding, there will never be another guy who played both ways, at center and linebacker, the way Bednarik did. There will never be another 'Concrete Charlie.'

Athletes today don't take second jobs in the off-season.

We might all be poorer for that.

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