John Zimmerman’s Bednarik-Gifford Photo
The MMQB presents NFL 95, a special project—unveiled every Wednesday from May through July—detailing 95 artifacts that tell the story of the NFL, as the league prepares to enter its 95th season. See the entire series here.
Concern over player safety has become an integral part of the game in recent years, but the sheer brutality of football has undoubtedly fueled its popularity. One of the most famous hits, delivered and received by two future Hall of Famers, occurred on Nov. 20, 1960, at Yankee Stadium. It resonated at the time because the game was broadcast live on national TV; and it resonates today because of the photograph snapped by Sports Illustrated photographer John Zimmerman, which has become one of pro football’s iconic images.
With the Eagles leading the Giants 17-10 late in the game, New York quarterback George Shaw connected with flanker Frank Gifford on a slant. Gifford was leveled by Eagles linebacker Chuck Bednarik with a forearm to the chest. Knocked unconscious, Gifford was rushed to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital and wouldn’t play again for 18 months; the six-time All-Pro was diagnosed with a deep brain concussion at the time, but he learned decades later that what he actually suffered was a spinal concussion. The hit paved the way for Philadelphia to win the East conference: Gifford fumbled on the play, the Eagles recovered to seal the victory, and they won the rematch against the Gifford-less Giants the following week on the way to 1960 NFL title, the franchise’s last.
Bednarik caught grief from Giants players and fans for apparently celebrating over Gifford, the scene captured in Zimmerman’s photo. But Bednarik has always maintained that he was merely celebrating the recovered fumble and didn’t even see Gifford lying at his feet until afterward.
Zimmerman continued to shoot for SI, as well as many other major publications, through his retirement in 1991. He is credited with 107 SI covers, included five for the swimsuit issue, and his photograph of the Bednarik-Gifford hit hangs outside the office of Time Inc. Sports Group Editor Paul Fichtenbaum.
— Greg A. Bedard