Pivotal Pro Football Plays
pivotal NFL postseason moment: A decision by a coach or an action by a player that changes the momentum of a playoff game.
1948: Van Buren Scores in the Snow
NFL Championship Game: Chicago Cardinals @ Philadelphia Eagles
The fortunes of the Philadelphia Eagles began to change when they took RB Steve Van Buren in the first round of the 1944 draft.
Born in Honduras, he came to New Orleans as a boy. Rejected for his high school football team because he weighed only 127, Steve dropped out of school before his junior year to build himself up. A year later, weighing 168, he made the squad. With all-preppers filling the backfield, Steve played end. His end-around runs caught the eye an LSU scout.
After a year on the freshman team, Steve started at end on the Tiger varsity in 1941 before being moved to blocking back a few games into the season. In 1943, Coach Bernie Moore found himself without a veteran tailback because of losses to the armed services. So he installed Van Buren, who had been rejected by the military because of vision problems. Steve gained 832y rushing and scored the most points in the nation, 98, to lead LSU to their first Orange Bowl appearance. On New Year's Day 1944, Van Buren ran for two touchdowns and passed for another as the Tigers upset Texas A&M 19-14.
Van Buren led the NFL in 1945 in both rushing (832y) and touchdowns (15). Two years later, he gained 1,008y on 217 rushes with 13 touchdowns - all tops in the league. The Eagles won the East Division for the first time but lost to the Chicago Cardinals in the 1947 title game in which the West champions held Steve to just 26y on 18 carries.
When the same two teams that met again in the 1948 title clash, the big story was the weather. In the early years of television, viewers often saw "snow" (static) in the picture. When they tuned into this game, the snow they saw was real because a storm rolled through The City of Brotherly Love early on Sunday, December 19. Snow started falling at 7AM and continued all day. The wet accumulation disrupted ground transportation, strand­ing many ticket holders in their neighborhoods. But a surprising number of diehards walked long distances to reach Shibe Park.
Steve Van Buren, who led the league in rushing again in 1948, almost missed the game. He awoke that morning, saw the heavy snow and went back to sleep, assuming the game would be postponed. An hour passed and Van Buren decided he should go, just in case. He could not move his car so he took public transit from his home in Drexel Hill to Shibe Park in North Philadelphia, trudging the last seven blocks through knee deep snow.
Philadelphia coach Earl "Greasy" Neale wanted to postpone the game, recalling the icy footing in the Windy City the previous year. He left his team in the locker room to confer with Cardinals' coach Conzelman and commissioner Bert Bell. Contemplating the sellout crowd and the ABC telecast, the first ever for a championship game, Bell ordered the teams to play.
Eagles help remove tarp before 1948 NFL Championship Game.
Eagles help remove the tarp.
Unlike Comiskey Park the year before, the Shibe Park field was covered. However, so much snow had fallen - an estimated 4" - that the grounds crew enlisted the two teams' muscle to drag the tarpaulin off. The kickoff was delayed thirty minutes.
Arthur Daley of the New York Times described the conditions like this: "The gladiators slipped and slithered and skidded. They couldn't cut or turn. They couldn't pass. They couldn't kick, every soggy punt dropping down as though it had been hit by a mashie with plenty of backspin on it."

"Snow Bowl" action; Eagles in white jersies
To no one's surprise, the first half ended 0-0. The closest either team came to scoring was a 65y pass and run from Eagles QB Tommy Thompson to E Jack Ferrante to the end zone that was negated by an offside penalty.
The game continued scoreless until the Eagles got a break late in the third period when Chicago QB Ray Mallouf fumbled the snap as he pulled away from center, and the ball fell loose in the backfield behind the offensive linemen. DT Bucko Kilroy threw his 243lb bulk at the ball and covered it as he slid through the snow on the 17.
Bosh Pritchard took a first down handoff from Thompson after the quarterback faked a pitchout to Van Buren and slashed for 6y on the last play of the period. On second down from the 11, FB Joe Muha hurdled over the center of the line for 3y to the eight. On a sneak, QB Thompson put his head down and drove for a first down on the five. "Give it to Steve!" the crowd chanted. Sure enough, on the next snap, Van Buren took the handoff from his left halfback position and followed Muha through a big hole at right tackle created by Kilroy kicking out the left end. No one touched Steve until he was crashing into the end zone. Under the conditions, the extra point wasn't automatic, but Cliff Patton booted it through.
Steve Van Buren scores the only TD in the 1948 NFL Championship Game.
Steve Van Buren scores the game's only TD.
The Cardinals didn't come close to scoring the rest of the way. The 7-0 score remains - and will probably forever remain - the lowest scoring NFL championship game in history