The Philadelphia Eagles today announce with deep sadness the death of Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Steve Van Buren. He passed away from pneumonia at the age of 91 in Lancaster, PA. He is survived by three daughters and a large loving family.
"On the field and off, as a player, a leader and a man, Steve Van Buren embodied the finest characteristics of our city and our sport," said Eagles chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie. "He was a friend and an inspiration to generations of fans, and the model of what an Eagle should be."
When Van Buren arrived in Philadelphia in 1944 as a first-round draft pick from LSU, the team had never finished above fourth place in its history. In short order, the running back was the key factor in leading the Eagles to three straight division titles and back-to-back NFL championships in 1948 and 1949.
Nicknamed "Wham-Bam" for his quick and punishing running style, he captured the NFL rushing title four times. He finished his career with 5,860 rushing yards and 77 TDs. A five-time all-pro, he was selected to the NFL's 75th Anniversary Team in 1994, and was the first Eagles player elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
He remained in the Philadelphia area after his retirement, living a quiet, low-key lifestyle despite continuing to hold a number of all-time team records. Van Buren lived long enough to see several of his records eclipsed in the 2011 season by running back
"Watch those old films and you know that Steve Van Buren was something special," said head coach Andy Reid. "He was special in person, too, humble about his own accomplishments and encouraging to others. His memory will be with Eagles fans for as long as this team takes the field."
"Steve Van Buren is one of the all-time Eagles," said Eagles president Don Smolenski. "He made his mark on the field, in the city of Philadelphia, and in the record books of the NFL. We honor the passing of one of our great ones."
Van Buren was a dominant figure during the NFL’s formative years, when he helped transform the Eagles into a first-rate power. No NFL team before or since ever posted consecutive shutouts in championship play. The Eagles won back-to-back NFL Championships in 1948 and 1949, first shutting out the Chicago Cardinals, 7-0, and then blanking the Los Angeles Rams, 14-0.
Under legendary head coach Greasy Neale, Philadelphia finished the 1948 regular season with a 9-2-1 record and took on the Cardinals in the championship game with a foot of snow covering Shibe Park. Van Buren scored the game’s only touchdown on a 5-yard TD run, while the defense limited the Cards to just 6 total first downs.
The Eagles continued their dominance in 1949 with an 11-1 record in the regular season and a victory over the Rams in the championship game on a rain-soaked Los Angeles Coliseum field. Van Buren again led the Eagles as he rumbled for 196 yards on 31 carries. In those two seasons, the Eagles outscored their opposition 761-290. They were lovingly called "the duffel-bag dynasty." Many players were young men who had served their country in World War II and returned home trying again to settle into a regular life.
Van Buren finished his career in 1951 as the NFL’s all-time rushing leader and currently ranks 3rd on the Eagles all-time list with 5,860 yards. He is the only Eagle EVER to finish a season as the NFL’s leading rusher, a feat he accomplished four times (1945, 1947-49). His 205-yard rushing performance vs. Pittsburgh in 1949 is still an Eagles single-game record, while his 77 career touchdowns rank 2nd on the team’s all-time list. He also holds the club record for most consecutive games with a rushing touchdown with eight in 1947.