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Chuck Bednarik, Philly's 'Concrete' Player, Dies At 89

Chuck Bednarik, a pro football Hall of Famer and one of the sport's last two-way players, has died. He was 89.

Bednarik was a football player of a different era. He was what was known at the time as a "60-minute man": He played linebacker on defense and center on offense, hardly stepping off of the field during his 14-year career for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Bednarik's other name was "Concrete Charlie," and he is perhaps remembered best for delivering one of the most severe hits in the sport's history. The aftermath was captured in an iconic black-and-white photo that shows both the glory of football and its unforgiving brutality.

A celebrating Bednarik has his right arm raised, as if pumping his fist. Beneath him on the cold, frozen turf lies an unconscious Frank Gifford, a star tailback for the New York Giants.

"I had about a 15-yard run and I was moving," Bednarik later recalled. "It was just a big collision, I ran right through him. I hit him so hard, the ball flew in the air. Lo and behold, behind me is the prostrate body of Frank. He's unconscious."

Gifford would later say in his 2008 memoir, The Glory Game, written with Peter Richmond, that it was the hard, frozen dirt that did the damage, not Bednarik's tackle.

The hit knocked Gifford out of football for 18 months.

Born in Bethlehem, Penn., Charles Philip Bednarik was the son of Czechoslovakian immigrants. He served a 30-mission tour of duty in World War II as a B-24 waist gunner, flying over Germany, an experience that he later said made going out on a football field easy.

Bednarik was an All-American center at the University of Pennsylvania before being drafted by the Eagles, where he came to be known for his toughness. Bednarik missed just three games in his 14-year career, winning two NFL championships. He later said it was the winning that made him durable.

"When you win games, you're on a cloud. You feel no bumps, you feel no bruises. Nothing. Your legs, fingers can be hanging, you don't feel because you're winning," he said.

Since 1995, the Chuck Bednarik Award has been given to college football's best defensive player.

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Nathan Rott is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where he focuses on environment issues and the American West.