Celebrity Sightings and Anecdotes

Nat ‘King’ Cole and Eva Gabor 

When Philadelphia Eagles’ linebacker Chuck Bednarik clothes-lined Frank Gifford in 1960, I was in the company of noted singer Nat ‘King’ Cole, seated by chance right next to him in the upper level of Yankee Stadium.

Nat was one of the premier entertainers of his day. It was ironic that I was sitting in “The House That Ruth Built” next to the man most credited with supplying Capitol Records with the money used to build their circular corporate headquarters in Los Angeles dubbed “The House That Nat Built.”

Waiting for the game to start, who should come hurriedly walking up the crowded steps holding the handrail but Eva Gabor. Nat, seated to my right about six seats in from the stairs, was looking down at the field when I turned to him and said, “Nat, look, Eva Gabor!” Nat yelled, “Eva, dahling!” She waved and shouted over the din, “Call me!” Nat cupped his ear as if to say, “I can’t hear you!” I told Nat she had said to call her. Nat gave Eva a thumbs up as she toddled to her seat above us.

That was pretty cool. Communicator to the stars!

Nat and I chatted throughout the game and shared the fear that Gifford could have been killed in that vicious collision with Bednarik.

The Giants lost and the Eagles went on to beat Green Bay in the NFL title game. It was after that championship game that Vince Lombardi gathered the Packers in the locker room and told them that if they stayed together and fought with him, they’d never lose another championship game.

And they never did, winning five titles through the 1960s, including the first two Super Bowls, becoming the first NFL dynasty.

The photo of Bednarik standing over an unconscious Gifford on the late afternoon dusty surface of Yankee Stadium is considered amongst the most iconic sports photos of all time, taken in a different era when concussions were an accepted part of the game.

On August 9, 2015, Gifford died from natural causes at his Connecticut home one week before his 85th birthday.

In November 2015, Gifford’s family revealed that he had suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). The family said, “After losing our beloved husband and father, Frank Gifford, we as a family made the difficult decision to have his brain studied in hopes of contributing to the advancement of medical research concerning the link between football and traumatic brain injury … We decided to disclose our loved one’s condition to honor Frank’s legacy of promoting player safety dating back to his involvement in the formation of the NFL Players Association in the 1950s.”

Bednarik died on March 21, 2015. He was 89. Although the Eagles released a statement saying he died after a “brief illness,” Bednarik’s daughter, Charlene Thomas, disputed that claim. She said he had Alzheimer’s, had been suffering from dementia for years, and that football-related injuries played a role in his decline.

The names of Bednarik and Gifford will be forever intertwined in football history.

16 responses to “Celebrity Sightings and Anecdotes

  1. Robert Chambers

    Hey Coach, thank you for taking us on a trip down your memory lane and segueing into player safety.

  2. Are you sure that isn’t Zsa Zsa?

  3. No, Paul, it was and is Eva. Nor is it Magda or Mama Jolie. Beauties all.

  4. Thanks. Robert. Much more on player safety down the road.

  5. Barbara slloum

    Love all your stories!

  6. Hey Coach I was at that game also and I remember vividly the moment and asking my father who I was at the game with how serious the collision was.
    As my memory serves me well the game was stopped for what seemed at the time an eternity and a silent aura seemed to be present in the Stadium. Also the home crowd seemed to be very hostile towards Bednarick and the Eagles after that. Drew Dunleavy

  7. Exactly my memory, too, Drew. A lot of people thought Gifford was dead so immovable was he. It was a key late season game with the Eagles. Gifford had to sit out the next year and came back as a flanker for a couple of more years.

  8. Linda Carricato

    Good story Coach! Miss seeing you and Peg. Linda Carricato

  9. Just fact checking, Coach, they all looked alike to me……

  10. Thanks, Linda. We’ll get together soon. Happy Easter to you and Dan.

  11. I had to check twice, too, Paul.

  12. funny, thanks for the response and always enjoy your efforts.

  13. Coach-a Jimmy, Coach-a Jimmy, men have named you.

  14. Chris, great job on Bauttista bat flip!