The man who led the Philadelphia Eagles to consecutive NFL championships in 1948 and 1949 has succumbed to pneumonia. Hall of Fame running Steve Van Buren passed away in Lancaster, Pennsylvania at the age of 91, the team announced.
The former LSU star, who was nicknamed “Wham-Bam” for his quick and punishing running style, was the Eagles’ first-round draft pick in 1944. He paced the NFL in rushing four times, finishing his eight-year career with 5,860 yards rushing and 77 touchdowns.
The five-time All-Pro 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.
Injuries curtailed the 6-foot-1, 200-pounder’s career when he suffered a leg injury in training camp prior to the 1952 season. Van Buren retired as the NFL’s leading career rusher, prompting the Eagles to later retire his No. 15 jersey.
“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 Jeffrey Lurie, the Eagles’ chairman and CEO, in a statement released by the team. “He was a friend and an inspiration to generations of fans, and the model of what an Eagle should be.”
Van Buren set the Eagles’ single-game rushing record with 205 yards against Pittsburgh in 1949 and still ranks second in team annals with his 77 touchdowns. He also holds the club record for the most consecutive games with a rushing touchdown with eight in 1947.
“Watch those old films and you know that Steve Van Buren was something special,” Eagles 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.”
One of Van Buren’s most memorable plays came during the 1948 NFL championship game that was played in a driving snow storm in Philadelphia. He accounted for the game’s only score in the fourth quarter when he raced into the end zone from five yards out to lead the Eagles past the Chicago Cardinals, 7-0, and to the franchise’s first title.
Van Buren totaled 196 yards nearly a year to the day later as Philadelphia downed the Rams, 14-0, to become the first and only team to shut out opponents in consecutive championship games.
Van Buren is survived by three daughters.