Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Philadelphia, Philadelphia County
Hall of Fame running back Steve Van Buren played for the Eagles from 1944 to 1951.
Awards: Football Hall of Fame
Steve Van Buren was born on December 28, 1920, in La Ceiba, Honduras. After his parents' deaths, he lived with his grandparents in New Orleans, Louisiana. Following high school, he was awarded an athletic scholarship for football to Louisiana State University. He was then drafted as a first round pick by the Philadelphia Eagles. He spent his career as an Eagle, established multiple records, and received numerous awards for his achievements. During a scrimmage he suffered a broken leg, forcing him to retire. Steve Van Buren settled in the suburbs outside of Philadelphia working several jobs. He passed away in 2012 from pneumonia.
Steve Van Buren was born on December 28, 1920, in La Ceiba, Honduras, and he grew up in Tela, Honduras. At the age of ten, his parents died. Following his parents' deaths, he was sent to live with his grandparents in New Orleans, Louisiana. As a sophomore at Easton High School in New Orleans, he was not heavy enough to play football. However, as a senior Van Buren led the team, recording 110 points and 16 touchdowns in a single season. Because of his impressive senior season, he received an athletic scholarship to the Louisiana State University.
As a fast, powerful halfback, Steve Van Buren was 6' 1", weighed 200 pounds, and he ran the 100 yard dash in 9.8 seconds. Due to his senior year record, which included an impressive 832 yards rushing and showed that he led the nation in points and touchdowns, he was a first-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1944 National Football League (NFL) Draft. He spent his entire professional football career as an Eagle from 1944 to 1951. During Van Buren's first season as a halfback, he ran for 444 yards in nine games, also leading the league in returning punts as a rookie. The next season, Van Buren led the NFL in rushing. Later he accumulated three rushing crowns.
The highlight of Van Buren's career was on December 26, 1948, while he played during a blizzard in the NFL Championship game against the Chicago Cardinals. During this game, Van Buren scored the only touchdown, making the score 7-0, which caused the Eagles to win a first league title. A year later, the Eagles won their second title against the Cleveland Rams. In 1949, Van Buren set the record for rushing yards with 196 yards.
Prior to the 1952 season, during a scrimmage in Hershey, Pennsylvania, Van Buren broke his leg, forcing him into early retirement. Van Buren retired as a record holder for rushing yards (5,860), points (464), and rushing touchdowns (69). As the Pro Football Hall of Fame stated, Van Buren also scored three times on returning kickoffs, three times on receptions, and twice on punt returns for a total of 77 touchdowns. He was also the first running back to gain 1,000 yards in a season twice. Many feel that Van Buren could have rushed for 1,000 yards in a third season. Unfortunately for his statistics, he sat out for a game to prepare for an upcoming Championship game and was left with a regular season total of 945 yards.
Van Buren won many honors and awards for his achievements, including the Triple Crown in 1945, one of the hardest awards to win, which he received for his records in rushing, scoring, and kickoff returns. Through the first six seasons of his career, he was elected to the first team All-NFL team. Van Buren was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the Class of 1965. Van Buren was elected a member of the National Football League 1940s All-Decade Team. He was later added to the Eagles Honor Roll, which was established in 1987. In 1994, Van Buren was elected to the National Football League 75th Anniversary All-Time Team. In 1999, Van Buren was ranked number 77 of 100 on The Sporting News list of the "100 Greatest Football Players of All Time". Steve Van Buren's number 15 is one of only seven numbers that are retired in the Philadelphia Eagles franchise history.
Because of Van Buren's speed and agility on the field, he received many nicknames, for example, Wham Bam, Supersonic Steve, and Blockbuster. Van Buren was arguably one of the Philadelphia Eagles' greatest football players of all time. Although he was loud on the field, he was quiet and shy off the field. Many of his coaches and teammates referred to him as a humble man, crediting his success to his team. After retirement, Van Buren lived in the suburbs of Philadelphia, working various jobs and betting on races. Steve Van Buren died from pneumonia on August 23, 2012, in a Lancaster, Pennsylvania, nursing home. Upon his passing, tributes came from both the Eagles team and Van Buren's friends. Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said that "[o]n 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. He was a friend and an inspiration to generations of fans, and the model of what an Eagle should be." Then-coach Andy Reid added: "Watch those old films and you know that Steve Van Buren was something special." Perhaps the most fitting recollection of Van Buren came from longtime Eagles employee Jim Gallagher who said of the running back who helped bring two of the Eagles' three NFL championships to Philadelphia: "The only person who didn't know that Steve was a legend was Steve."