On Friday, October 4th, Allstate Insurance Company and the Pro Football Hall of Fame honored former Philadelphia Eagles legend and Hall of Famer as a “Hometown Hall of FamerTM” at his former high school in Bethlehem, Penn. Bednarik, his family, friends, and the students of Liberty High all attended the ceremony.
Liberty High School Athletic Director Fred Harris kicked off the ceremony by informing the students what an honor it was to have this plaque presented to their school to recognize such an iconic person in Bethlehem’s history. You could have heard a pin drop as the students were glued to Bednarik’s highlight reel video, which included moments such as his infamous hit on Frank Gifford. Allstate agency owner Steve Zarnas had a very sentimental speech prepared, talking not only about how honored he was to be there and proud that Allstate supports such a great program, but also about how Bednarik was one of his childhood heroes. He also thanked Bednarik for his service in World War II, which was met with an overwhelming round of applause.
George Veras got the crowd going as usual, sharing facts about Bednarik and putting into perspective how big of a deal it is for the students to have this plaque at their school. “This plaque is meant to inspire you to go after your dreams and become a Hall of Famer in any field you choose,” he told them. “The bust in canton takes care of recognizing his playing accomplishments, and this plaque takes care of recognizing the community who helped get him there.”
Although Bednarik himself was not able to speak at the ceremony, he had longtime friend Bill Werpohoski and legendary Princeton basketball coach and former teammate Pete Carrill do the honors of presenting the plaque. Each of the men had words of wisdom to share with the students, along with a few cherished memories of Bednarik. Werpohoski said that the one of the things he loves about Bednarik is that even after all of his success, he never forgot where he came from. Carrill remembers Bednarik as an incredible multisport athlete, and also a great person all around, who has left his mark not only on Bethlehem and the state of Pennsylvania, but also on the country. The Liberty High football team rushed the stage in excitement after the plaque was unveiled, all trying to shake hands with Bednarik and get a picture with him. It was clearly a special day for Bednarik and his strong community support system.
A two-time All-American center from the University of Pennsylvania, Bednarik was selected by the Eagles as the first overall draft pick in the 1949 NFL Draft. In 1950, Bednarik received All-NFL recognition as a center. Although he frequently played both offense and defense right up through the 1956 season, it was as a bone-jarring linebacker that he drew the most attention. He was named All-NFL as a linebacker 1951 through 1957 and again in 1960.
His athletic abilities and inspirational play was particularly evident in 1960 when injuries forced the Eagles to ask their 12-year veteran to again play both sides of the line. The then 35-year-old was sensational. He finished the campaign with a 58-minute performance, capped by a game-saving tackle in the Eagles' NFL championship victory over Green Bay. With just seconds remaining, the Packers' Jim Taylor appeared to be heading for a winning touchdown until the last Eagle in his path, Bednarik, bear-hugged him to the ground as time ran out.
Bednarik was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1967.
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