Philadelphia Eagles Legendary Running Back Steve Van Buren Dies at Age 91

By Bryn Swartz

The Philadelphia Eagles announced that legendary running back Steve Van Buren has passed away at the age of 91.

Van Buren was the Eagles’ first Hall of Fame player, yet for whatever reason, he has been forgotten when people talk about players from the great Eagles teams of the past.

Fans instead have chosen to remember the outspoken Chuck Bednarik, a man who was perhaps the most versatile player in franchise history, but wasn’t as valuable to his team as Van Buren.

In eight seasons, Van Buren led the National Football League in carries, rushing yards, and rushing touchdowns four times each. He topped the league in yards per carry for five straight seasons.

Van Buren was also a magnificent return man. He averaged 13.9 yards per punt return, scoring two touchdowns, and he averaged 26.7 yards per kick return, scoring three touchdowns. They say he could run the 100-yard dash in 9.4 seconds.

Pro-Football-Reference doesn’t even list his defensive position, but he did accumulate nine interceptions throughout his career, including five in his rookie season.

His most impressive performance came in the 1948 NFL championship game against the Chicago Cardinals. Van Buren rushed for 196 yards and the only touchdown of the game on 31 carries. The incredible irony of the situation is that Van Buren almost missed the game. He thought that the game wasn’t going to be played because of a heavy blizzard. So he didn’t even bother getting out of bed until head coach Greasy Neale called him and told him that the game was still on. Van Buren had to catch three trolleys and walk a total of 12 blocks to get to the stadium in time for the game.

He also led the Eagles to a victory in the 1949 championship game, as well as an appearance in the 1947 title game.

That’s two titles and three appearances in three seasons. Depending on your definition, the Eagles had a dynasty during Van Buren’s peak. His peak was short and sweet, like most running backs.

He was the first great running back the NFL ever saw, and you could argue that he was the best player in the league. Since Van Buren retired, I’m not sure if the Eagles have ever had the best player in the league, and if they did, it was never for multiple seasons.

Over the last six decades, Van Buren has infrequently been mentioned in the discussion of the greatest running back of all-time. You’ll hear that honor go to Jim Brown, with Barry Sanders, Walter Payton, and Emmitt Smith trailing closely behind, and I would agree with that.

But Van Buren was the Sammy Baugh of running backs. He was probably one of the ten best in history.

“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,” Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said in a statement. “He was a friend and an inspiration to generations of fans, and the model of what an Eagle should be.”

“Watch those old films and you know that Steve Van Buren was something special,” Eagles head coach Andy Reid said in a statement. “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.”

The Eagles have not yet announced their intent to honor Van Buren at any point in the 2012 season but I predict the team has a Van Buren decal on their jerseys for all games this year.

This article was written by Bryn Swartz, the top writer for the Philadelphia Eagles and a featured NFL columnist on Rant Sports. Bryn has written more than 1000 articles in less than two years as a member of Rant Sports. His blog, Eagles Central, was named the 2010 Ballhyped Sports Blog of the Year. To read a portfolio of Bryn’s best work, click here.

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