Steve Van Buren, Mr. Eagle

Steve Van Buren, arguably still the greatest Philadelphia Eagle of them all, passed away on August 24, 2012.  While his death stirred little news outside of Philadelphia and possibly Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he attended college at LSU, his impact on the annals of NFL history is immeasurable.

In his sophomore NFL season,
Van Buren scored 110 points
on 18 TDs (15 rushing,
2 receiving, 1 kick return),
astronomical numbers for his day
Born in Honduras, he played for the Eagles from 1944 through 1951, only eight seasons, but in those eight seasons he had 5,860 rushing yards, which was an NFL record that lasted until Jim Brown came along.  He also led the NFL in rushing four times; 1945, 1947, 1948 and 1949.  He, Brown (twice) and Emmitt Smith are the only rushers to lead the league three consecutive seasons.  He was a consensus All-Pro five times, and the first Eagle ever inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, entering in 1965,  in only the third class of enshrinees in the Hall's history.  In 1994, he was selected to the NFL's 75th Anniversary Team.

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It is the years of 1947, 1948 and 1949 the we will focus on here.  For in those three seasons, the Eagles truly hit their golden era.  The Eagles made the NFL Championship Game in 1947 by winning a tiebreaker game at Pittsburgh (the Steelers only playoff game in 39 years) for the Eastern Division crown.  The Birds then lost a back and forth thriller against the Cardinals at Comiskey Park in Chicago, 28-21.  Although Van Buren did get a touchdown in the game, on a one yard plunge, he was held in check by the Cardinals defense, racking up only 26 yards on 18 carries.

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In the 1948 Championship Game at Shibe Park in Philadelphia, commonly known nowadays as the Blizzard Bowl, Van Buren scored the lone touchdown in the game, late in the fourth quarter, a five yard romp off right tackle.  The Eagles won their first NFL title, 7-0.  In spite of the nearly white-out conditions, Steve was a workhouse, plowing for 98 yards on 26 attempts.  Van Buren almost missed the game. Thinking the game would not be played due to the weather, he remained home until Eagles coach Earle "Greasy" Neale called him and told him the game was still on. He had to catch 3 trolleys and walk 6 blocks in order to make the game on time.

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Early in his sixth season, on a Monday Night in Detroit (on a game that was broadcast -- at least by 1949 standards -- on ABC over 20 years before Monday Night Football began) Van Buren broke Clark Hinkle's NFL career rushing record of 3860 yards, rushing for 135 yards on 33 attempts with two touchdowns against the Lions.  

Later in the season, on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, he had one of his best games of his career, rushing for 205 yards against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Led by Van Buren the Eagles coasted to an 11-1 record and won the Eastern Division to reach their third consecutive NFL Championship Game where they would face the Los Angeles Rams. This would be the first championship game ever played on the west coast, and the Eagles won their second straight title, defeating the Rams 14-0 at the Coliseum.  The game was played in a steady flow of rain.  Though he didn't score, and though the field was quite treacherous, Van Buren was certainly the player of the game, racking up an astounding 196 yards on 31 rushes, including a long one for 49 yards.

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In the two Eagles championship games that were played in, to be kind, miserable conditions -- Van Buren racked up an incredible 294 yards on the ground.  He was definitely a "clutch" player to be sure!

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Steve's number 15 has been long retired by the Eagles.  While at the time of this writing it is uncertain how the Eagles will memorialize SVB on their uniforms, I would certainly hope it would be with the jersey patch as opposed to a 1" decal on the helmet.  The Gridiron Uniform Database remembers Steve Van Buren, still the highest flying Eagle of them all.

(Information courtesy of and

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