Once Upon a Time in Bethlehem, PA

by John Delach

Concrete Charlie Bednarik passed away in March at 89. The son of Slovenian immigrants and a native of Bethlehem, PA, he was as hard-nosed, rugged and durable as any football player who has played in the NFL. For most of his 14 – year career season that began in 1949, he played both ways: center on offense and middle guard / linebacker on defense until the end of the 1960 season. He was the last “sixty-minute man” in the league and the essence of Philadelphia Eagles football.


Bednarik is remembered most for the blind-side hit he delivered to an unsuspecting Frank Gifford that knocked the New York Giants premier running back into the middle of the following week and out of football for the 1961 season. Bethlehem, PA was Concrete Charlie and Charlie was Mister Bethlehem.


The city also had a steel mill owned and operated by the company bearing its name. Now gone, the firm was once enormous, America’s second largest steel producer with national operations that included shipyards in Quincy, Mass, New York City, Philadelphia and Baltimore. These yards had their own fleets of workboats enough to warrant decent size insurance policies. For years, Bethlehem’s insurance manager, a chap named Geoffrey Jones, remained loyal to a Manhattan-based competitor of mine, Johnson & Higgins. But in reality, Geoffrey was a star struck Anglophile who loved his twice-yearly visits to London where he met with J&H’s English partner firm, Willis Faber. The object of his admiration was his Lloyds’ broker, Neil Gaines.


All went well until insurance broking mergers upset Mr. Jones’ world. When Willis merged with a New York firm, Caroon & Black, J&H cut ties with them and established their own London office. Geoffrey was livid and, in his fury, put his program out to bid. Requests for proposals were sent to major brokers including my firm’s Philadelphia office. Realizing their lack of marine expertise, I was asked to participate in drafting our bid and making the oral presentation.


When the dates were being set for the presentations in Bethlehem, I asked my counterpart in Philadelphia, Tom Chasser, “Who are we taking to the presentation and who will our competitors be?”


Tom replied, “Just you and me. Willis is sending Neil Gaines and some woman from their New York office; I think she goes by Ms. M.G. Wilson. J&H is sending two Brits from London, Roger Tyndall and Nigel Rahn.”


“You gotta be kidding me, Tom, I asked incredulously?”


“Why, what’s wrong John?”


“Tom,” I replied, “Here’s what’s going to happen when we go out to Bethlehem. Jones is going to look us over and this is what he’s going to say to you, ‘Mr. Chasser, what I can’t understand is that J&H has brought me two chaps from London, Mr. Tyndall and Mr. Rahn and Willis brought over Mr. Gaines. But all you bring to me is this fellow, Delach from New York. Am I missing something?’


“And Tom, I plan to answer this question and do you know what I am going to say to him?”


Tom shook his head, no.


“I am going to look Jones right in the eye and say to him loud and clear, “How about them Eagles!”


It so happened, our own Brit, William Hayes was visiting our office. Hayes was a liability insurance man who knew nothing about marine; I drafted him to be our spokesman. Driving out on I-78 across New Jersey in my GMC truck, I briefed Hayes, “William, you will front the presentation and Tom and I will handle the details.


Geoffrey fell in love with William so much so that when we had a post-presentation lunch in an old inn, I thought I’d have to arrange a hotel room for the two of them.


We won the bid, got the business and through the absurdity of it all, I have had a fondness for Bethlehem, PA and Concrete Charlie.


RIP Mr. Bednarik, RIP Bethlehem Steel.