When Chuck Bednarik knocked out Frank Gifford

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Chuck Bednarik stands over a laid out Frank Gifford. (File photo)

(This story was first published on Nov. 20, 1960.)

The nightmare is over for Chuck Bednarik. The New York Giants have given him his honor back, and the Eagles’ big all-around guy is grateful for their sportsmanship.

“But I don’t see how I can ever have any respect for Charley Conerly again,” Bednarik admitted.

Conerly started the nightmare after Bednarik caused the Giants’ Frank Gifford to fumble a completed pass Sunday on what Chuck described as “the hardest tackle I ever made.” It was in the closing minutes of the Eagles’ dramatic 17-10 upset victory and it shut off the Giants’ last chance to get back in the game. Although Bednarik insists he didn’t realize it at the time, Gifford was knocked unconscious on the play. Later, the New York halfback was carried to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, still unconscious. His injury was diagnosed as a concussion.

“As soon as I saw Frank fumble, I turned to follow the ball,” Chuck explained. “When I saw Charley Weber recover for us, I starting jumping up and down and yelling, ‘We got it! We got it! It’s our ballgame.’ I remember waving my fist as a victory signal. I always do that on a play that means the game.”

The next thing Bednarik knew, Conerly was standing on the sidelines, hands cupped to his mouth, shouting, “Bednarik, you lousy cheap-shot artist.” In the idiom of the NFL, a “cheap shot” artist is one who piles on, racks a ball carrier when he’s hung up or tries in other ways to inflict physical damage after the play.

“How could Conerly call me that?” Bednarik demanded. “I was the only man in on  the tackle and I bounced right off after the fumble to follow the ball. 

“At the time, I figured Conerly was just letting his disappointment run away with him,” Chuck added. “I didn’t realize till later that he’d be so vindictive.”

Later was when someone called Bednarik’s attention to Conerly’s weekly post-game column in a New York newspaper. The veteran Giants’ quarterback prefaced his technical analysis by stating he was “shocked by Chuck Bednarik’s antics after he hurt Frank Gifford in the final quarter.

“He stood on the field pointing at Giff and laughing,” Conerly wrote of Bednarik’s jubilation over the fumble recovery. “It was a disgraceful performance by a guy who’s supposed to be an old pro. In this game, you don’t injure a man seriously and then laugh at him. For my dough, Bednarik’s a poor endorsement for our league and the game of football.”

But apparently, Conerly’s was strictly a one-man vendetta. In the same newspaper, Gifford was quoted as telling his wife in the hospital room, “He didn’t mean it, Honey...He had to make the play...But it was clean.” Maxine Gifford felt justifiable pride in her husband’s sportsmanlike attitude. “He was wonderful,” she said. “Bednarik was his first thought. Frank instinctively knew Chuck would be charged with a premeditated bloodthirsty deed.”

Giants end Kyle Rote also demonstrated old pro class when he showed the game film at the Pro Football Quarterback’s Club in New York. The film clearly showed Bednarik throwing a legitimate shoulder tackle at Gifford after the pass completion. “It was just one of those unfortunate things that happen in the rough, tough game of football,” Rote commented.