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Eagles great Steve Van Buren dead at 91

Steve Van Buren, one of the greatest Eagles in franchise history, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and a member of the 1948 and 1949 NFL championship teams, died Thursday evening at the age of 91, the team announced.

Steve Van Buren, 91, one of the greatest Eagles in franchise history, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and the fearless running back on the Birds' 1948 and 1949 NFL championship teams, died Thursday evening, the team announced.

Mr. Van Buren died of pneumonia in Lancaster, according to the Eagles.

"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."

Mr. Van Buren was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, in 1965. He was the first Eagles player elected to the Hall. In 1994, he was selected to the NFL's 75th-anniversary team. He won four rushing titles and was a five-time all-pro.

Nicknamed "Wham-Bam" for his quick and punishing running style, according to an Eagles release, Mr. Van Buren finished his career with 5,860 rushing yards and 77 touchdowns.

"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."

The Eagles selected Mr. Van Buren out of Louisiana State in the first round of the 1944 draft. He helped turned the franchise into a perennial winner. The Eagles won three straight division titles and back-to-back NFL titles in 1948 and 1949 - the only time a team posted consecutive shutouts in championship play - with Mr. Van Buren in the backfield.

The Eagles beat the Chicago Cardinals, 7-0, at snow-covered Shibe Park for their first crown in 1948 and then blanked the Los Angeles Rams, 14-0, at the Coliseum in 1949.

A foot of snow blanketed Philadelphia the morning of the 1948 title game. Mr. Van Buren woke up, saw the snow, and went back to bed. But he woke up about an hour later and decided he should head to the stadium. So he took a bus, then a trolley, and finally the Broad Street Subway to Lehigh Avenue.

"I couldn't believe it when I got there and saw they were going to play," Mr. Van Buren said years later, according to the Eagles Encyclopedia. "It was snowing so hard you couldn't see."

Mr. Van Buren scored the game's only touchdown on a 5-yard run.

The following year, Mr. Van Buren again led the Eagles as he rumbled for 196 yards on 31 carries in the title-game victory over the Rams.

Mr. Van Buren finished his eight-year career in 1951 as the NFL's all-time rushing leader. He ranks third on the Eagles' all-time list with 5,860 yards and is the only Eagle to finish a season as the NFL's leading rusher. He did it four times (1945, 1947-49).

He still holds a number of Eagles records, including rushing yards in a game (205 against Pittsburgh in 1949) and consecutive games with a rushing touchdown (eight in 1947). Current Eagles running back LeSean McCoy eclipsed Mr. Van Buren's mark for touchdowns in a season (18 in 1945) with 20 in 2011.

Inquirer columnist Bill Lyon wrote this in December 2011 about Mr. Van Buren:

"Seldom has an athlete carried himself with such genuine humility and without a whiff of ego.

"Said Jim Gallagher, who spent 46 years working for the Eagles and is the man you go to when you have a question: 'The only person who didn't know that Steve was a legend was Steve.' "

Mr. Van Buren remained in the Philadelphia area after his retirement. He is survived by three daughters, 16 grandchildren, and 16 great-grandchildren.

Gary Miles contributed to this article.