January 2, 1978
If one digs through issues of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED from the late 1970s, one will find myriad images of Mark van Eeghen, a 225-pound fullback for the Oakland Raiders. In several, he's covered by a goopy lather of mud. In others, he's recklessly barreling through a thicket of linemen. Van Eeghen likes this image-the rugged overachiever from a small school standing up to the Goliaths and even teaching them a thing or two—yet he concedes he never expected to make the leap from Colgate to Oakland. "I recall being in my first training camp with the Raiders, trying to figure out what I was doing there," says van Eeghen, a third-round draft choice in '74. "I remember, in college, being a little ticked off at having to play against Bucknell while Michigan-Ohio State was going on. But that didn't mean I thought I belonged with the pros."
Surprise—he did. In 10 NFL seasons, eight of them with Oakland, van Eeghen rushed for 6,651 yards and 37 touchdowns and earned two Super Bowl rings. More memorable than his numbers was his style. He insisted on going through, not around, defensive linemen. He was of the head-down, go-forward genre typified by Bronko Nagurski and Jim Taylor—"although maybe I would've gone around more people if I'd had more speed," van Eeghen says.
Regardless, he got by. One of his best games was in September 1978 against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Though he grew up in Cranston, R.I., van Eeghen was a huge Green Bay fan as a kid. On that Sunday afternoon he pounded out 151 yards in the Raiders' 28-3 victory. "I was supposed to be paying attention in the huddle," he says, "but I kept looking over at Bart Starr, who was coaching the Packers. I just couldn't believe we were on the same field."
In 1982 Oakland drafted Marcus Allen and, not long after, released van Eeghen, then their alltime leading rusher. Van Eeghen played two seasons with the New England Patriots before retiring in '84. He has worked in commercial insurance since and currently is a district manager for The Andover Companies. He and his wife of 24 years, Nancy, live in Cranston. They have three daughters, all of whom attend college.
Recently, for the first time since his final NFL game, van Eeghen, 46, began longing for football again. "I called into a radio show in Oakland, and they played old tapes from my career," he says. "Listening to the games and moments, it really took me out of reality for a while. I hung up the phone, and I've been missing it since." Are we talking comeback? "Well, I've been thinking," van Eeghen says with a laugh. "No."