PHILADELPHIA -- Steve Van Buren, the square-jawed Hall of Fame running back who led the Philadelphia Eagles to NFL titles in 1948 and 1949, has died. He was 91.
The Eagles said Van Buren died Thursday in Lancaster, Pa., of pneumonia.
The former LSU star, nicknamed "Wham-Bam" for his quick and punishing running style, joined the Eagles in 1944 as a first-round pick. He led the NFL in rushing four times and finished his eight-year career with 5,860 yards rushing and 77 TDs.
The five-time All-Pro player 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.
"I've seen them all – Jim Thorpe, Red Grange, Bronko Nagurski," Greasy Neale, Van Buren's coach with the Eagles, told the Philadelphia Daily News in 1957, "but he's the greatest."
The 6-foot-1, 200-pound back sustained a leg injury in training camp before the 1952 season and retired as the NFL's career rushing leader. The Eagles later retired his No. 15.
"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. "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 is second in team history with his 77 touchdowns. He also holds the club record for 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. "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 his most memorable plays came in the 1948 NFL championship game, played in a driving snowstorm at Shibe Park. He scored the only touchdown of the game on a 5-yard run in the fourth quarter and the Eagles beat the Chicago Cardinals 7-0 for the franchise's first title.
Nearly a year to the day later, this time in mud and torrential rain in Los Angeles, Van Buren ran for 196 yards and the Eagles beat the Rams 14-0 to become the first – and only – team to shut out opponents in consecutive championships.
Van Buren was born in La Ceiba, Honduras. His parents died when he was 10, and he moved to New Orleans to live with his grandparents. He failed to make his high school football team as a sophomore, but played well enough as a senior to earn a scholarship at LSU.
With the Tigers, Van Buren was used primarily as a blocking back until his senior season, when he led the nation in scoring with 98 points and rushed for 847 yards.
Van Buren is survived by three daughters.