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Building Legends by Remembering Legends

Steve Van Buren

Sport: Football

Induction Year: 1961

Steve Van BurenSteve Van Buren played end at Warren Easton High and alternated between and blocking back at LSU until his senior year – when Bernie Moore switched him to tailback because of a manpower shortage created by World War II.

“He probably was the greatest running back in Southeastern Conference history,” Moore recalled, “and I used him as a blocking back until his last year. The folks in Baton Rouge never let me forget that.”

Before Van Buren's senior season, the highlight of his LSU career was a 62-yard gain against Tulane in 1941 on a screen pass from Leo Bird. (LSU won the game, 19-0).

When he finally had an opportunity to carry the football in 1943, Van Buren wasted no time in showing his stuff. He scored four touchdowns as the Tigers opened the season with a 34-27 upset victory over Georgia , getting the last one with 35 seconds remaining in the game.

He went on to lead the nation in scoring with 98 points and ranked second in rushing with 847 yards, setting school records that stood until the 1970s,

One year later, he was selected All-Pro as a rookie with the Philadelphia Eagles – an honor that would be repeated four more times. In four of his first six years in an eight-year National Football League career, Van Buren led the NFL in rushing. In his second NFL season, he had a rare triple crown in rushing, scoring and kickoff returns.

He was born in La Ceiba, Honduras , the son of a fruit inspector. When his parents died a few years later, Van Buren was sent to New Orleans to live with his grandparents. He dropped out of Warren Easton as a 126-pound sophomore who was too small to make the football squad and spent two years working in an iron foundry. Then he returned to Warren Easton and played end for Coach Johnny Brechtel's Eagles.

Van Buren wasn't the most recruited prospect on that squad. He wasn't even the most recruited prospect at the end position. The other end, Lou Thomas, attracted the attention of college coaches and went to Tulane.

If Ike Carriere, a former LSU player and scout, hadn't offered a ride to Van Buren after the Warren Easton -Holy Cross game, he probably wouldn't have received a scholarship. He Carriere he was the fastest player on the squad and had classroom scores above 90, and a phone call to Brechtel confirmed those statements.

Long-time LSU trainer Marty Broussard said Van Buren “worked as long and hard as any athlete I've ever known” when he learned he would be playing tailback in his senior year – following Bird, a three-year starter, and Alvin Dark, whose career was interrupted by World War II.

Playing five of their first six games in Baton Rouge , the 1943 Tigers' only loss in that span was to Texas A&M by 28-13. They were matched again in the Orange Bowl, despite the fact that LSU was soundly whipped by both Georgia Tech and Tulane in its last two regular-season games.

Moore admitted he was surprised by the bowl invitation. “All we wanted to do was keep football alive,” he said.

Texas A&M coach Homer Norton didn't' take LSU lightly. “The hardest thing in football is to beat the same team twice,” he said.

Moore called Van Buren a “genius with an inferiority complex,” an said the Tigers could be dangerous in the Orange Bowl if Van Buren – who had been injured late in the season – was in top form.

A Miami writer asked Mickey McCann of the Baton Rouge State-Times, “How's the ball club?”

The “Moving Van” played fine in the Orange Bowl, running for a touchdown on the Tigers' second series and passing to Burt Goode for another TD. Then he ran 62 yards for a third quarter touchdown. He had 24 carries and ran for 160 of the Tigers' 181 yards as LSU chalked up the first bowl victory in the school's history, 19-14.

Van Buren didn't win All-American honors, but the Philadelphia Eagles drafted him in the first round – the fifth player selected overall.

He led the Philadelphia Eagles to NFL title games three years in a row, and two of those teams won championships. He was the first NFL player to break the 1,000 yard rushing barrier twice, and had tow of only four 1,000-yard seasons in NFL history when he retired after the 1951 season. At one time,, he held six NFL rushing and scoring records.

On the day of the 1948 championship game, Philadelphia was struck by a fierce blizzard. Commissioner Bert Bell left the decision to play the game up to the players, and they voted to play. But they first had to help the ground crew remove the snow and peel the tarpaulin off the frozen field.

Van Buren scored the only touchdown and had 98 yards rushing, tow more than the Cardinals' team total.

Weather also was a major factor in the 1949 title game. That time, a torrential rain turned the playing field into a sea of mud. Van Buren gained 196 yards in 31 carries, setting records for an NFL championship game in a 14-0 victory.

“Maybe Red Grange was better than Van Buren,” said Eagles coach Greasy Neale. “Maybe Bronko Nagurski was. But I'll bet nobody ever ran better than Van Buren did in this mud.”

When the Eagles observed their silver anniversary in 1957, Van Buren was honored as the greatest player in the club's history.

Although he played halfback for the Eagles, Van Buren was a power runner whose bruising style was more like a halfback. He had a career total of 77 touchdowns and also played on defense, intercepting nine passes.

Before Van Buren joined the team, the Eagles had never finished higher than fourth. They were second in each of his firs three seasons and then won three consecutive divisional titles.

He had a total of 5,860 yards rushing in eight NFL seasons, all with the Eagles. That was an especially remarkable feat considering the fact that NFL teams played only 10 to 12 games a year during his career. Van Buren was inducted into the pro football Hall of Fame in 1965.

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