Bednarik and other Munger Men honor their coach

By Les Kinsolving

PHILADELPHIA – George Munger, head football coach of the University of Pennsylvania from 1938-1953, coached Penn longer than any other (including Coach John Heisman of the famed trophy).

He won the second largest number of games (84). He coached more All-Americans (14). He produced teams that kept filling Franklin Field with the nation’s highest college football attendance.

Twenty of his players went on to pro-football. But in 1953, the University of Pennsylvania fired Munger. For they were determined to de-emphasize football at this southernmost member of the (then) new Ivy League.

Recently, on Saturday, Oct. 19, the University authorities relented enough to permit Munger’s devoted players (“The Munger Men”) and friends to erect a statue of him at the end of Franklin Field – for which they contributed and raised $250,000.

Penn was playing Columbia that afternoon, and it looked as if 80 percent of the stadium was empty.

But that morning, one of the ballrooms of The Inn at Penn was full of dedicated Munger Men and Munger family. There was even one of the “Munger Meatballs” (scrubs; mobile blocking dummies) who regarded it a privilege (however painful) to have been allowed by this great and kindly coach to suit up with superstars – with six All-Americans on one field.

That one Munger Meatball was me.

Our gathering was visited by the Penn band, as well as Al Bagnoli, the George A. Munger head coach at Penn. Athletic Director Steve Bilsky spoke appreciatively at the statue’s unveiling.

But in the game’s program, “Franklin Field Illustrated,” the only mention of the Munger Memorial ceremony was on page 60, the next to last page.

Another publication of the University of Pennsylvania communications office, the fall edition of Penn Spirit, edited by Carla Shultzberger, had no mention at all of Munger, possibly because it was thought more important to have articles on women’s volleyball, field hockey and even a summer job on Wall Street.

At the Munger Men breakfast, I sat at the same table as an American football legend named Chuck Bednarik. I asked an attractive and affable Mrs. Bednarik:

“Is it true that your husband – when the New York Giants really roughed up one of his fellow Philadelphia Eagles – nearly killed Frank Gifford?”

“Yes,” she replied, “But it was a clean hit!”

“The Clutch,” as we remember Bednarik, a 60-minute player at both center and linebacker, seemed to prefer – in lieu of tackling enemy ball carriers – to pick them up in the air in his huge and powerful hands, and then hurl them into the turf.

I asked him: “Who was the toughest you ever played against?”

“Jim Brown of Cleveland.”

Brown was the same superstar who during the College All-Stars vs. Browns, in Chicago’s Soldier Field, was tackled very hard six times by another Penn All-American named Bernie Lemonick (who led the campaign for the Munger Memorial Statue).

Bernie, off the field, is one of the nicest and most congenial people I have known. On the field, and in action, he was an absolute savage. So was George Savitsky, four-year consensus All-American.

I was 180 pounds when, during the last four plays of one scrimmage, I was sent in to line up against Savitsky – 260 pounds and fast.

Remembering Gen. Patton’s great maxim: “The only way to get out of the enemy’s artillery range is to GO THROUGH IT!” So I hit Savitsky as hard as I have ever hit anything else in my life.

He did not move. Not one centimeter. Instead, when I picked myself up and lined up against him for the next play he looked at me – and smiled!

On that next play, I learned what it is like to be run over by the Pennsylvania Railroad.

At the Munger Men breakfast which Savitsky was unable to attend, there sat Bednarik across the table wearing his blazer with a breast pocket sewn medallion: NFL ALUMNI – HALL OF FAME.

He still looked trim, if gray-haired.

He told us of 24 bombing missions over Germany in World War II, from which he returned and asked his high school coach in Bethlehem, Pa:

“I’ve got the G.I. Bill of Rights. Where should I go to college?”

“To the University of Pennsylvania.”

To which he asked: “Where’s that?”

But he passed Penn’s entrance exam and he recalled: “We were a team of student athletes.”

In 1947, Penn was ranked No. 3 in the nation until they tied Earl Blaik’s also undefeated army. Then the Quakers were dropped to No. 7.

On Oct. 19, the 4-1 Quakers beat Columbia 44-10. But in State College, Pa., Coach Joe Paterno’s Nittany Lions vanquished Northwestern even more convincingly – before a crowd of 108,000.

As we stood at the Munger Statue unveiling ceremony, every one of us could look at the vast number of empty seats and remember. We could even hear in our nostalgic imaginations, the great roars that once welcomed the great teams of a great coach named George Munger.