Steve Van Buren had an unlikely start to his NFL career, not to mention life in general.
He was born in Central America, the son of a fruit inspector in Laceiba, Honduras. By the age of three he was orphaned and sent packing to New Orleans to be raised by his grandparents.
Displaced and confused he sought refuge in sport but was told he was too small for his true love….football. By his sophomore year in high school Van Buren had grown to a measly 125 pounds and failed to listen when his football coach advised him to stop playing football right then and there.
Perhaps it was an instinctual will to survive despite those around him that kept Van Buren going. He did play football for his high school and played it well. He played so well that he earned a scholarship to Louisiana State University.
Again at LSU discouragement tried to infiltrate Van Buren’s soul. After riding the bench for two years and being used mostly as a blocking back, Van Buren finally got his chance as a junior and became the Tigers starting running back.
Two years later the Philadelphia Eagles would call. The Eagles would pick Steve Van Buren with the fifth overall draft pick in the 1944 NFL draft. The Eagles had been abysmal since their inception in 1933 never posting a winning record. Van Buren would change that.
For the typical rookie, Van Buren’s first season in the NFL could be discouraging. An appendectomy halted Van Buren to just six starts, however he led the league in average yards per carry with 5.6 and was still named All-Pro.
By his sophomore campaign Van Buren was off to the races. He led the NFL in rushing yards with 892 yards and touchdowns with 15. He was named First-Team All-Pro and jump started the Eagles to their best record in franchise history at 7-3.
After an injury plagued 1946 season, Van Buren went on an historical run from 1947-1949 by leading the league in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns three straight years.
Van Buren concluded his NFL career with the Philadelphia Eagles with back-to-back NFL Championship seasons in 1948 and 1949. He retired with 4 rushing titles, 2 NFL Championships and a 5 First Team All Pro’s. He was later named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1940’s and as member of the NFL’s 75th Anniversary Team.
Van Buren lived to a ripe old age of 91, just one of 12 Pro Football Hall of Famers to reach their 90th year. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1965. Said fellow teammate and Hall of Famer Chuck Bednarik, “Steve Van Buren was the best football player I ever saw.”