There is no more polarizing name in the history of the NFL than that of OJ Simpson. Once upon a time he was the greatest halfback in the history of professional football. A former Heisman Trophy winner from USC who was drafted #1 by the AFL’s Buffalo Bills in 1969. He restored respectability to a once great franchise.
Yet he is known now more for the events that transpired June 12, 1994 and the subsequent trial of the century. Simpson’s was a tragic fall and one we’ll get into later. Right now we want to focus on his previous life as the most electrifying running back the NFL had ever seen.
One interesting note is he finished his career with 11,236 yards rushing, or 1,076 yards short of then all time rushing champion Jim Brown. Head coach John Rauch, who had been fired by Al Davis in Oakland, wanted to prove his genius and played OJ at wingback. So for his first three years he played in a position he was primarily misused until Rauch was replaced by incoming Bills coach Lou Saban.
Finally freed to play tailback as he had at USC, Simpson grabbed the imagination of NFL fans everywhere. He broke breath taking runs. His impromptu style brought shoulder fakes and make ’em miss moves that the casual fan could identify with. To watch him battle against defenses that feared the big play element he brought to bare was a thing of beauty. He was the prototype to the bigger half back at 220lbs that had the speed to break the big play.
Although he burst into the nation’s consciousness with 1,251 yards in 1972, it was his legendary 1973 season that he became an all time classic. His 2,003 yard season was marveled at, lionized, and written about ad nauseum for eclipsing a number no one thought possible. He did this in a 14 game season and raised the bar in an era where great backs got the ball 30 times a game.
Simpson was a superstar of the highest magnitude as he led the NFL in rushing 4 times in a 5 year span. It was his 1975 season that propelled Simpson to the Pro Football Hall of Fame as he broke numerous records including the most TDs in a season with 23. As for rushing for 2,000 yards?? He didn’t do that but he did gain 2,243 yards from scrimmage… Take a look
For the most part, Simpson’s work was condensed in the 5 years from 1972-1976. In these 5 years he rushed for 7,699 of his 11,236 yards or 68.5% of his overall total. He put in work against some great defenses too. He had several 100 yard performances against Miami’s “No Name Defense.”
Against the Steel Curtain in 1975, by the way #9 on our list of Greatest Ever Defenses, Simpson crushed ’em for 227 yards in Three Rivers Stadium no less. This was great considering he was within 24 yards of the all time single game rushing record. By the way he held that record also with a 250 yard rushing performance against the Patriots in 1973. Then he broke that record with a 273 yard performance against Detroit Thanksgiving 1976.
By this time the wear and tear began to erode his skill and ability to cut and change direction. Multiple knee surgeries followed an injury plagued 1977 where “The Juice” played in only 7 regular season games. He was dealt to his hometown San Francisco 49ers where he finished out his career. As the 1979 season came to it’s conclusion, it was time for OJ to say goodbye to the game.
NFL Films named Simpson pro football’s hero of the decade. Think about that a second. Not Roger Staubach…not Terry Bradshaw… OJ was their choice and it was a logical one. His feats scaled the record books and he had gone where no other runner had gone before. He only played in one playoff game during his career, yet Pete Rozelle made sure he had primetime games to showcase his talents.
OJ Simpson….one of the best runners and greatest players in NFL history.
Epilogue: Once the events that took place on June 12, 1994, with the murder of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson, it threw every Bills fan in a weird place. To see his descent into this tragic figure ripped our hearts out. It happened right after the Bills had lost our 4th straight Super Bowl in which he was a part of each NBC telecast.
Regardless what you think of him now, I wanted to put up an article featuring what he once was. He left an impression on me as a young fan and why I’m still a Buffalo Bill fan to this day. I can remember going to Rich Stadium, named after the late Ralph Wilson now, and asking where his name was on the ring of fame. That was Sept. 22, 1996 when Buffalo was hosting the Dallas Cowboys, so the emotions were still raw. Especially among the season ticket holders where I sat.
So here it is, 18 years to the day later and as The Chancellor of Football thinking back to that day. Which had a mixed set of emotions as it always does now when OJ’s name is brought up. I remember when the late Tim Russert of Meet The Press fame, spoke of seeing his bust at the Pro Football Hall of Fame the first time after the double murders. His expression was much the same as I would suspect with every other Bills fan.
Many people remember it as the murder and court case of the 20th century. No one outside of Bills fans think of it as the fall of a franchise’s greatest player. We live with that more than the 4 Super Bowl losses in the 1990s. Don’t forget…they happened at the same time.
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