O.J. Simpson is one of the greatest running backs in NFL history. Drafted number one by the Buffalo Bills in 1969, the 6’2″ 215 lb. Heisman Trophy winner from USC was billed as the next great running back. In his first three years in the league, Simpson wasn’t living up to the lofty expectations of a top draft pick. The most yards he gained in a season was 742 in 1971. Then in 1972 with a coaching change he finally broke out. Simpson cracked the 1,000 yard mark (1,251) and showed flashes of greatness that everyone was waiting for. However, no one expected what he did in 1973.
O.J. Simpson Opens 1973 Season
Nicknamed ‘The Juice‘, O.J. Simpson got off to a hot start in 1973. In Week 1, Simpson gashed the New England Patriots for a career-high 250 yards on 29 carries with 2 TDs (he would set a new career high and a new NFL record with 273 yards rushing in 1976). It was the first of 11 games he ran for over 100 yards that season, one of several records the Juice set that year. The next four games also were games where Simpson went over 100 yards:
- Week 2 @ San Diego Chargers: 22 carries, 103 yards, 1TD
- Week 3 vs New York Jets: 24 carries, 123 yards
- Week 4 vs Philadelphia Eagles: 27 carries, 171 yards, 1 TD
- Week 5 vs Baltimore Colts: 22 carries, 166 yards, 2 TDs
The Juice Runs For 2,000 Yards
Entering Week 10, Simpson had rushed for 1,203 yards. At this point, there was an outside chance he could set a new single season rushing record by breaking legendary running back Jim Brown’s mark of 1,863 yards. In the last five games of the season, he would need 660 yards to tie the record (132 per game). And since he was averaging 134 yards a game so far, all he needed to do was stay on pace.
Keeping up with averages is tough in the NFL, and although Simpson’s next two games against the Miami Dolphins (20 rushes, 120 yards) and Baltimore Colts (15 rushes, 124 yards) were good, they put him behind in his march towards history. After a 137 yard rushing performance against the Atlanta Falcons, Juice sat at 1,584 yards with two games to go. He was still in striking distance, needing 140 per game against the Patriots and New York Jets to break the record. Certainly 2,000 yards seemed out of reach as he needed over 400 yards to end the season.
Just like Week 1, the Juice ran wild. He shredded the Patriots again, rushing for 219 yards and 1 TD on 22 carries. That monster game all but put Brown’s record in his sights. He needed only 61 yards in the last game to become the single season rushing record holder. But now with 1803 yards, another monster game from the Juice and he could become the first to ever crack the 2,000 yard mark.
On a chilly, snowy December Sunday afternoon at Shea Stadium the Juice, as well as the entire Buffalo Bills offense, understood the assignment. With history at stake, they pounded the Jets all game. Simpson was not going to be denied in the last game of the season. Late in the first quarter, the Juice took a handoff to the left side for six yards. That small run was all he needed to break the record that has stood for ten years. With that out the way, he and the team looked towards 2,000.
In the middle of the fourth quarter and the game well in hand, the Bills lined up deep in Jets territory. O.J. Simpson took a sweep to the left for seven yards. That carry gave him 2,003 yards. He was the first running back to join the 2,000 yard club which now has seven additional members (Eric Dickerson, Barry Sanders, Terrell Davis, Jamal Lewis, Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson and Derrick Henry).
The Bills won 34-14 and finished with a 9-5 record but missed the playoffs. It was a winning season for the team but it was a historic one for the Juice.
O.J. Simpson 1973 Season Stats
Here are some of the stats from Simpson’s sensational season: