McCoy's record day a reminder of Van Buren

Steve Van Buren, with the ball, plunges in for the Eagles' only TD vs. Chicago in the 1948 title game.
Steve Van Buren, with the ball, plunges in for the Eagles' only TD vs. Chicago in the 1948 title game. (AP file photo)
Posted: December 10, 2013

Two years ago, as LeSean McCoy was closing in on the Eagles' single-season touchdown record, the team had arranged a meeting between him and Steve Van Buren.

It would have been a natural photo-op, a chance for the franchise's two greatest running backs to link past and present for posterity. A date was set, but the meeting never came off. Van Buren's health had begun to deteriorate, and he was hospitalized on Dec. 18, 2011 - his son-in-law Nathan Pipitone at the bedside - when McCoy scored his 19th touchdown that season to eclipse him.

"He had asked me what they said, and I told him [McCoy] broke the record, and he said, 'Good,' " Pipitone said in a phone interview Sunday. "It was just the kind of guy he was."

Van Buren died at 91 in August 2012, and 16 months later, Pipitone spent Sunday afternoon at his Lancaster home, watching the snow fall from the sky like needles, watching McCoy knock Van Buren from the Eagles' record books again.

Pipitone's television was tuned to the Eagles' unforgettable, 34-20 victory over the Detroit Lions, to the sight of McCoy's dashing and ducking for 217 yards and two game-tying touchdowns. Through eight inches of snow at Lincoln Financial Field, McCoy surpassed the franchise's single-game rushing mark of 205, which Van Buren had set on Nov. 27, 1949 - a mere 64 years ago. McCoy has 1,305 yards this season, so it will be startling if he doesn't soon establish the Eagles' single-season yardage record, too. Wilbert Montgomery, with 1,512 yards in 1979, holds that one, but it's Van Buren to whom McCoy is most closely aligned.

A member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, twice an NFL champion, Van Buren led the league in rushing four times in a five-year span from 1945 to 1949, establishing himself as the premier back in the sport for that period, and McCoy is held in similar esteem now. He was something to behold Sunday, breaking free for a 40-yard touchdown and a 57-yard score within the first two minutes of the fourth quarter, shaking and shimmying and breaking tackles in ways that didn't seem possible given the poor footing on the frozen, white-coated Linc.

"That's the best running back in the league right there," Eagles center Jason Kelce said. "It was impressive to say the least. If I had tried one of those, I think I would have done the splits around the 50-yard line."

In one sense, Sunday did offer something new from McCoy: a willingness to take the shortest route to open space. He can be his own worst enemy sometimes, faking and juking before a defender has threatened to tackle him, making it at once breathtaking and frustrating to watch him, if that's possible. There was little to none of that Sunday.

"People really don't know," he said. "They just see the moves that I make. But I actually like to run between the tackles. . . . You can see your holes, and today, the guys up front gave me so much room to work."

Afterward, someone reminded McCoy that Van Buren had delivered a remarkable performance amid a blizzard in the 1948 NFL championship game, rushing for 98 yards and the only touchdown in the Eagles' 7-0 victory over the Chicago Cardinals. It might have been a worthy topic for them to talk about, had they ever met.

"I wish we could have," McCoy said in a hallway outside the Eagles' locker room. "That would have been cool. The good thing is, I watched a lot of tape of him."

Out in Lancaster, Nathan Pipitone and his wife, Lynare - Van Buren's daughter - didn't learn that McCoy had broken the record until after the game had ended.

"I don't think he would have cared," Pipitone said of Van Buren. "He was not interested in records. My wife says he would have been glad the Eagles won."

They'd watched the entire game, he said, until another Eagles running back, Chris Polk, ripped off a 38-yard run for the game's final touchdown with three minutes left in regulation. With that, Pipitone turned the television off. He'd seen LeSean McCoy fashion another piece of history in a setting no one will forget, another reminder of how great Steve Van Buren was and how great McCoy might yet be, and he went out to shovel snow.


Shady Makes Eagles History

LeSean McCoy rushed for more yards in a game than any Eagles player in franchise history. Here are the five best franchise rushing performances:

LeSean McCoy   Dec. 8, 2013   Lions   217   

Steve Van Buren   Nov. 27, 1949   Steelers   205   

Duce Staley   Sept. 3, 2000   Cowboys   201   

Wilbert Montgomery   Nov. 4, 1979   Browns   197   

Steve Van Buren   Dec. 18, 1949   Rams   196   


msielski@phillynews.com

@MikeSielski

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