LeSean puts Van Buren back in the spotlight


LeSean puts Van Buren back in the spotlight

One of the best things about LeSean McCoys marvelous 2011 season in addition to keeping the Eagles playoff hopes alive is the way it brought Steve Van Buren back to the NFL stage.

In recent weeks, every time McCoys statistics appeared on the TV screen, it was noted that he was closing in on club records set by Van Buren. Older fans may have heard the name before, but most people probably had no recollection of the great halfback who was the first Eagle voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame (1965).

But thanks to McCoy, Steve Van Buren is back in the news and that is a very nice thing. He deserves to be remembered, especially now as he approaches his 91st birthday (Dec. 28). He is not only one of the greatest players in Eagles history, but he is also one of its finest gentlemen.

On Sunday, McCoy surpassed Van Burens records for touchdowns in a season (18) and rushing touchdowns in a season (15), both set in 1945. Knowing Van Buren, Im sure he was watching on TV and cheering as McCoy crossed the goal line three times against the New York Jets. He is that kind of guy.

In 1978, when Wilbert Montgomery broke Van Burens club record for rushing yards in a season, Van Buren was babysitting his grandchildren. He watched the game on TV and I called to get his reaction. He was genuinely thrilled for Montgomery, saying: This kid is going to take the Eagles to the Super Bowl. (Which, of course, he did).

The Eagles invited Van Buren to the next home game and afterwards, he went to the locker room to meet Montgomery. He edged his way through the crowd of reporters around Montgomerys locker and shyly extended his hand.

Im Steve Van Buren, he said, and Id like to say congratulations and tell you that youre a great, great football player.

Montgomery seemed at a loss for words as he shook Van Burens hand, saying: You were a great player, too.

Yes, he was. His No. 15 is retired for a reason.

Van Buren played for the Eagles from 1944 through 51 and was the star halfback for a team that won three consecutive conference titles and back-to-back NFL championships in 1948 and 49. He led the NFL in rushing four times. No Eagles running back has won the rushing title since, although McCoy has a chance trailing Maurice Jones-Drew by 60 yards going into the final two games.

Van Buren twice went over the 1,000 yard mark in an era of 12-game regular seasons and seven-man lines when such a feat was unheard of. He was 6-1 and 210 pounds yet he was the fastest player on the team at 40 yards. His combination of power and speed made him a player ahead of his time.

The true measure of his greatness is the fact that 60 years after his retirement, Van Buren still holds numerous club records. McCoy has broken a few and may break others, but Van Buren still holds the record for most rushing yards in a game (205), most career rushing touchdowns (69), most consecutive games with a rushing touchdown (eight), highest career kickoff return average (26.7) and highest punt return average for a season (15.3).

But, really, all you need to know about Van Buren is this: the Eagles were a joke of a team before he arrived, they were lucky to win more than two games a season, but when they added him, they became the best team in football.

We used to say Steve was our paycheck, said Frank (Bucko) Kilroy, an All-Pro guard with the Eagles. He could do everything. He was the best blocking back in the league. He could catch the ball. He could return punts and kickoffs. And there was no one better running with the ball. Steve was the prototype (back) that every team has been looking for ever since.

Van Buren was born in Spanish Honduras, the son of a fruit inspector. He was orphaned at the age of 10 and went to live with his grandparents in New Orleans. He went to LSU on a football scholarship, earned All-America honors and broke the Southeastern Conference rushing record.

The Eagles made Van Buren their first selection in the 1944 college draft. He signed for 4,000 It seemed like all the money in the world at the time, he said and became the first pro football superstar in the citys history.

His teammates held Van Buren in awe as much for his character as his talent. He was the most unassuming member of the team without the slightest hint of ego. He would receive gift certificates for free clothes and free dinners and he would hand them to his teammates saying: Here, I dont need this. Photographers would come to practice to get shots of Van Buren, but he would call his teammates over to join him in the picture. He did not want to be treated like a star even though he was one.

Van Burens modesty was reflected in the way he lived after his retirement. If you went to his modest apartment in Northeast Philadelphia, you never would have known he ever played football. The only photos on display were photos of his grandchildren. There were no trophies, no game balls, no football portraits. Most of them, he simply gave away. His MVP trophy for the 1948 season, for example.

A friend came over one day and saw it, Van Buren said. I said, You like it? Here, take it. I never cared about that stuff, just like I never cared about records. The only thing that mattered to me was winning. If we won, I figured I did my job.

Basically, Im a shy person. I almost didnt go to my Hall of Fame induction. My family made me go. I dont like a lot of attention. I never did. This might sound odd, but I never thought I was that good. I thought I was a guy who worked hard and hated to lose, but I never said, Boy, Im great. I wasnt raised that way.

Van Buren is the kind of guy who took public transportation to and from the 1948 NFL championship game, riding the Broad Street Subway to North Philadelphia to score the winning touchdown in a 7-0 Eagles victory over the Chicago Cardinals. The next year, he rushed for 196 yards to lead the Eagles to a 14-0 win in the title game against the Los Angeles Rams.

Maybe one day LeSean McCoy will get a chance to play in a championship game for the Eagles and maybe he will come up as big as Steve Van Buren did. If he does, no one will be happier than Van Buren himself.
E-mail Ray Didinger at viewfromthehall@comcast.net

MLB Notes: Mets' manager Terry Collins worried David Wright might be headed for DL


MLB Notes: Mets' manager Terry Collins worried David Wright might be headed for DL

NEW YORK -- Mets manager Terry Collins is worried David Wright may wind up on the disabled list because of a neck injury.

New York's captain and third baseman was out of the starting lineup for the third straight day Monday because of his neck. He was given anti-inflammatory medicine over the weekend.

Now 33, Wright was on the disabled list from April 15 to Aug. 24 last year when he strained his right hamstring and then developed spinal stenosis. He has a lengthy physical therapy routine he must go through before each game.

Wright homered in three straight games last week before getting hurt. He is batting .226 with seven homers, 14 RBIs and 55 strikeouts in 137 at-bats.

White Sox: Shuck called up with Jackson injured
NEW YORK -- With Austin Jackson bothered by turf toe, the Chicago White Sox recalled outfielder J.B. Shuck from Charlotte and optioned right-hander Tommy Kahnle to the Triple-A farm team.

Jackson left Sunday's game in the eighth inning because of his left foot.

White Sox manager Robin Ventura said before Monday's series opener against the New York Mets that he doesn't think Jackson's injury at this point merits a move to the disabled list. He adds that the team does not "necessarily want to lose him for two weeks right away."

Shuck was batting fifth and playing center field Monday. He was 0 for 9 with the White Sox before he was sent down April 18 when Chicago needed to add a pitcher. He is hitting .299 at Charlotte with two homers and 17 RBIs.

Kahnle is 0-1 with a 2.70 ERA in four games over three stints with Chicago this season.

NBA draft profile: Kentucky G Jamal Murray


NBA draft profile: Kentucky G Jamal Murray

Jamal Murray

Position: Guard

Height: 6-5

Weight: 210

School: Kentucky

It's tough for a Kentucky star freshman to fly under the radar, but that's exactly what Murray did last season. While Ben Simmons, Brandon Ingram, Buddy Hield and Denzel Valentine dominated the spotlight, Murray was quietly as good as anyone in the country for the second half of the season.

In Kentucky's final 14 games, Murray averaged just under 24 points and shot better than 46 percent from three-point range. For the season, he averaged an even 20 points and connected on 41 percent of his three-point attempts. He also chipped in an impressive 5.2 rebounds. 

Kentucky lost some games early and fell toward the bottom of the Top 25 rankings. But Murray continued to produce and played his best basketball down the stretch, lifting the Wildcats to 27 wins and SEC regular season and tournament titles. 

As good as he was during his only college season, Murray projects to be an even better pro. He's the best guard prospect in the 2016 NBA Draft. 

Shooting the ball. He has the best shooting stroke of any prospect in this year's draft. Murray's form on his jump shot is textbook with the results to match. He's able to get his shot off quickly and has range well beyond the NBA three-point line. Murray's outside shot is his greatest asset. Shooters are always in high demand and have never been more valuable in the NBA. The defending champion Warriors offer all the proof you need of that.

However Murray isn't a one-dimensional player. He can get to the basket off the dribble and is a terrific finisher around the basket. He also developed a polished mid-range game during his time at Kentucky. Murray also plays hard — a characteristic that NBA executives monitor closely. He rarely takes a possession off and competes hard on the glass for a perimeter player, as evidenced by his five rebounds per game last season.

Murray doesn't have a defined position on the NBA level. He's not a true point guard and isn't quite big enough to be considered a prototypical shooting guard. While NBA talent evaluators are concerned by this, I don't necessarily view it as a weakness. Murray projects as a combo guard, capable of playing point guard but also comfortable away from the ball. He's similar to the Trail Blazers' C.J. McCollum in that regard.

Murray isn't an elite-level athlete and by no means is he a great defender. He'll struggle to stay in front of the more dynamic perimeter players in the NBA. But he has a very good work ethic and should be able to improve defensively.

How he'd fit with the Sixers
Extremely well. The 76ers need shooters. That need will only become exaggerated if and when they draft Ben Simmons with the No. 1 pick. With Simmons, Dario Saric, Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor and Joel Embiid, the Sixers have a significantly frontcourt-heavy nucleus. They need quality guards to balance out their lineup.

The much-discussed hypothetical trade that would send Okafor to the Celtics for the No. 3 pick makes a ton of sense for the 76ers. They could clear out space in their frontcourt rotation as well as acquire Murray with that third pick. Murray would flourish playing alongside Simmons, knocking down the open jump shots that Simmons creates.    

NBA comparison
I see a mix of Bradley Beal and Eric Gordon in Murray's game. Beal and Gordon have similar builds to Murray and both entered the NBA as exceptional shooters. All three are natural scorers who have no problem getting their own shot on the NBA level.

Draft projection
Murray will be a high-end lottery pick. He could go as high as the No. 3 to the Celtics and shouldn't fall any lower than No. 6 to the Pelicans.  

Western Conference Finals: Warriors-Thunder ready for Game 7

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Western Conference Finals: Warriors-Thunder ready for Game 7

OAKLAND, Calif. -- After a record 73 wins and a memorable Game 6 comeback on the road, the Golden State Warriors' goal of getting back to the NBA Finals and defending their title comes down to Game 7 at home against the powerful Oklahoma City Thunder.

All along, the Warriors have said the numerous team milestones and personal accomplishments they set during this special season won't matter a bit unless they repeat as champions.

They need one more victory to become the 10th team to rally from a 3-1 postseason deficit.

"I've learned that our players are tough, they're mentally tough," Coach of the Year Steve Kerr said Sunday, when his team took a day off from film and practice. "I don't know if I really learned that. I already knew that. But they've firmly confirmed that. It's been a great comeback. Now we still have to play. We still have another game."

Kerr just wanted his Warriors to grab back some momentum from Kevin Durant and the Thunder. Now, they have it, all right, heading into the decisive game of the Western Conference finals Monday night after winning two straight.

When his team won Game 5 on Thursday night, MVP Stephen Curry hollered "We ain't going home!" -- and Golden State wants no part of the Thunder having the last say in the Warriors' summer plans.

"We got a big one last night to stay alive, and now we've got some momentum. But it can work in reverse," Kerr said. "One game changes everything, and we've got to come out and play our game and play well to finish the series out."

Golden State hardly considers this a gimmee just because the team is playing at deafening Oracle Arena, where the Warriors have lost just three times this season. They have had their problems against Durant, Russell Westbrook and the towering Thunder.

Oklahoma City is fueled by trying to reach its first NBA Finals since losing to LeBron James and the Miami Heat in 2012. James and Cleveland are waiting on Monday's winner.

"It's going to be a hard game. If we thought tonight was hard, Game 7's going to be even tougher," Curry said. "Everybody on both sides of the ball is going to leave it all out on the floor. It's win or go home. So we can't expect just because we're at home that we can just show up and win."

As has been the case all playoffs with Curry ailing, Golden State got a huge performance from Klay Thompson. He made a playoff-record 11 3-pointers and scored 41 points in a 108-101 win at Oklahoma City on Saturday night, and will need an encore Monday.

"Lot of people probably counted us out," Thompson said.

Kerr said last week that his group might be different than the all the other teams that have tried to come back from 3-1 down: because the Warriors won it all last year.

The Thunder certainly would have preferred to close out the series at home over traveling back across the country to the Bay Area for the deciding game.

Yet they never expected it to be easy against the 2015 champs.

"This is what you dream about, getting this opportunity. We've got to take advantage of it," Durant said Sunday. "Go up into their building, and it's going to be great atmosphere. ... No matter where you play, you've still got to play. That's how we look at it."

That's partly because first-year Thunder coach Billy Donovan has talked to his team about the mentality it takes to win in a hostile venue like raucous, sold-out Oracle Arena, and Oklahoma City came in and did it in Game 1.

"We lost Game 6, and it was a tough, hard-fought game," Donovan said. "We're disappointed about not having a different outcome. But we haven't lost the series, and we have an opportunity again. I think just being around these guys, they're a resilient group."

Curry and the Warriors expect another entertaining, great game.

From an ankle injury that sidelined him in the first round against Houston to a sprained right knee and puffy elbow, Curry has dealt with his share of pain this postseason. He has to push that aside for what he hopes is one more game this series and then a second straight trip to the Finals and another championship.

"I actually kind of like it, because you understand the moment of the playoffs and just kind of gets you going," he said. "I'll be ready to go and give it everything I've got for Game 7."