From the 2019 season, American football teams in Slovakia will play for the trophy bearing the name of the NFL legend of Slovak descent – Charles “Chuck” Bednarik.
Born in Betlehem, PA, Bednarik played his entire pro career for the Philadelphia Eagles, where he gained reputation as tough and physical player. Bednarik was always proud of his Slovak roots and in his honor, the Slovak Association of American Football – SAAF – decided to name the championship trophy after him. To do so, the SAAF needed to reach out to his family. After several attempts they finally succeeded. The family was delighted with this honor.
Bednarik lived most of his life in Pennsylvania. He graduated from high school in his birthplace Betlehem, PA. In 1942, he enlisted to US Air Force and as a gunman in B-24, he flew 30 bombing missions over Germany. After returning home, he went to Pennsylvania College, where he gained his reputation as a 60 minute man playing for the Quakers. He was named All-American in three seasons, while finishing third in Heisman Trophy voting in 1948.
Entire career with the Eagles
Bednarik’s play on the field did of course drew interest from NFL teams. He was selected as no. 1 overall pick in 1949 by the Philadelphia Eagles. In his rookie season, he won the NFL title with the Eagles, beating Los Angeles Rams 14-0. During his 14 years with the Eagles, Bednarik gained his reputation as a tough and physical player. But his nickname “Concrete Charlie” came from him selling concrete during the offseason. However, many of his opponents would agree, that colliding with him could be compared to running into a concrete wall. His memorable tackle of Frank Gifford of the New York Giants was immortalized in iconic John G. Zimmerman’s photograph.
Nearing the end of his career, “Chuck” won another NFL title with the Eagles beating Vince Lombardi´s Packers 17-13. In the Packers final drive for the win, he tackled Jim Taylor and held him on the ground as the time expired preserving Eagles victory.
Slovak legend in the NFL
Despite being physical player who played on offense and defense, “Concrete Charlie” missed only three games in 14 seasons. Beside two NFL Championships with the Eagles, he won numerous individual accolades. He made the Pro Bowl eight times and was voted to the All-Pro team 10 times. He was the part of the NFL´s 75th anniversary team. His contributions were recognized also by the Eagles, who retired his no. 60 jersey. Two statues were raised in his honor, one in Betlehem and one in Philadelphia.
Connection with American football in Slovakia
The son of Slovak emigrants from the village of Siroke near Presov, Bednarik was always proud of his Slovak heritage. Charming Chuck always kept his sense of humor and he often peppered his conversations and even TV interviews with Slovak words and phrases. Members of the American football community in Slovakia wanted to honor the Slovak NFL legend and they decided to name national football championship trophy after Bednarik.
Before that, they wanted to ask his family for permission. Jan Polak, president of the Slovak Association of American Football:
“We thought about this several years ago, and more intensively after Mr. Bednarik´s passing in March 2015. Recently, our vice-president Juraj Sopkuliak was able to reach Mr. Safarowic, who is Chuck´s son-in-law. Through him, we were able to reach out to Mrs. Emma Bednarik, Chuck´s wife. She was pleased with our proposal and gave us her blessing for it in a letter. So we can confirm, that from 2018 season, the trophy for the Slovak American Football championship will be named after Charlie Bednarik. This is a great honor for American football community in Slovakia. Furthermore, we decided to retire no. 60 jersey from the Slovak national team.”
Letter from Mrs. Emma Bednarik to SAAF
We are honored to learn that the Slovak Association of American Football plans to name its championship trophy in the memory of my late husband, Chuck Bednarik. On behalf Chuck and the rest of my family, I give you my sincere blessing and approval for this recognition.
My husband was a first generation Slovak-American, whose parents emigrated from Siroke, and he always remained proud of his heritage. He maintained a great lifelong appreciation for the customs, language and music of his family´s homeland.
For of all the great honors that Chuck received during his lifetime, the naming of this award is one that he would take great pride in. I know he will smile down on Slovakia, and get kick out of watching these young men play for “his” trophy.
Thank you for this great honor. It holds great meaning of a proud Slovak-American and his family.
Photo: John G. Zimmerman, Morning Call, SAAF archive