Eagles History Lesson: Top Five Running Backs of All Time


Despite acquiring two starting-caliber running backs in Ryan Mathews and DeMarco Murray in free agency, the Philadelphia Eagles‘ running game has opened the season in dire straits. While the duo did show some improvement against the Saints last Sunday, one solid performance against a bottom-rung defense does not a potent rushing attack make. In an effort to provide beleaguered Eagles fans with a temporary oasis, let’s wax nostalgic, shall we? In no particular order, here are the top five reminders of the best years of the Birds’ ground game.

Steve Van Buren (1944-1951)

Unless you were alive when Truman was president, van Buren’s track record is most likely a mystery to you. In a brief eight-year career, van Buren cemented himself as one of the greats of the pre-Super Bowl era. He may now rank as the Birds’ fourth all-time leading rusher, but SVB led the league in rushing four times and was a key cog in consecutive NFL championship-winning teams in ’48 and ’49. When van Buren called it a career after the 1951 season, the five-time All-Pro walked away from the game as its all-time rushing leader with 5,860 yards to his name. His efforts earned him a bust in Canton in 1965 as well as the retirement of his number 15 in Eagles lore. As if that wasn’t enough, his 69 rushing touchdowns are still a team record. The runner-up is the next entry in this edition of “Remember When”.

Wilbert Montgomery (1977-1984)

When Dick Vermeil left the NCAA to coach the Eagles in 1976, he inherited a team without a first-round draft pick for the next three years. In other words, Vermeil and co. needed to find some late-round diamonds if they wanted to make the Birds a contender. Wilbert Montgomery was one of them. A sixth-rounder out of Abilene Christian, Montgomery spent eight years in the Illadelph, during which he obliterated just about every team rushing record, most importantly the all-time yardage crown which previously belonged to van Buren. Aside from his exploits on the stat sheet, Montgomery was part of an Eagles team that reversed a years-long trend of repeated losing. Although his team rushing record was recently broken by another member of this list, the Greenville, Mississippi native still holds an esteemed place in the annals of Eagles history.

LeSean McCoy (2009-2014)

Despite the messy aftermath of his forced exile from Philadelphia, the man also known as “Shady” is, at least as far as statistics dictate, the greatest running back the franchise has ever known. When a declining Brian Westbrook was sidelined with several concussions during the ’09 season, McCoy stepped in and didn’t drop the ball until Chip Kelly sent him packing to Buffalo this summer. Whether you think his style fit Kelly’s scheme or not, watching “Shady” switch gears and change direction on a dime was a sight to behold. His jitterbug style earned him three trips to Hawaii and an NFL rushing title in 2013. Shortly before he was sent to western New York, McCoy managed to dethrone Montgomery as the Birds’ all-time rushing leader. Hopefully, he’s taken solace in DeMarco Murray’s recent game film.

Brian Westbrook (2002-2009)

When a team’s receiving corps is largely comprised of glorified special teamers, the running back is often burdened with filling the resulting void on offense. The Chargers had LaDainian Tomlinson, the Ravens had Ray Rice. The Birds had Westbrook. Aside from a couple of tumultuous, drama-filled seasons with Terrell Owens in the fold, number 36 was the Eagles’ attack for the better part of his career. Playing with vanilla wideouts like Reggie Brown an Todd Pinkston and a gifted, but unreliable tight end in LJ Smith, Westbrook became the Birds’ top running and receiving threat. A modern-day Keith Byars, his versatility and workmanship earned him two Pro Bowl selections in ’04 and ’07. Unfortunately, Westbrook’s burden got the best of him. Consecutive concussions during the ’09 season brought an underwhelming end to his time in Philly.

Correll Buckhalter (2001-2008)

Buckhalter has to be one of the unluckiest players of his generation. Although gifted enough to start on most squads, the Nebraska alumnus lost three whole seasons to a torn left ACL and two torn right patellar tendons. But despite playing behind first Duce Staley and then Brian Westbrook with glass knees, Buckhalter still carved out a respectable career for himself. A coach’s dream, Buck could could give the Birds’ bell-cows a rest and keep the offense sailing smoothly. A career second fiddle, he made his limited reps count…when healthy. While his number 28 may remain forever mortal, he’s the kind of player die-hard Eagles fans will never forget.

Next: Walter Thurmond is the safety the Eagles have needed

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