1972 Buffalo Bills – Turning on the Juice
Back in 1962, he had brought in an every down smash mouth back in Cookie Gilchrist and played a power running game. He drafted the pieces to form a great line to pave the way, selecting the likes of Al Bemiller, Billy Shaw, and Stew Barber. In OJ Simpson he had everything that Cookie Gilchrist was and more- electric speed, moves no one has seen before, and power. After 3 seasons of misuse and abuse, Simpson was ready to pack it in and retire. It was up to Saban to save this talent and reshape his career. To accomplish this task, he needed to rebuild his offensive line, and construct a defense along the lines of his 1964-65 AFL championship teams.
Saban’s return started with the overall #1 choice. Walt Patulski from Notre Dame was the selection. However, it was more than made up with Saban’s second selection- Future Collegiate Hall Of Fame inductee G Reggie McKenzie. McKenzie was a large, strong , athletic Guard who had the speed and power to perfectly compliment Simpson’s running style. Saban would design one of the signature plays that OJ would use to shred defenses. The power sweep, with McKenzie pulling and clearing blocks, would pave the way for record setting performances by Simpson.
Both of the Bill’s leading receivers from the previous season were gone by the beginning of the year. Haven Moses was dealt to the Denver Broncos and Marlin Briscoe was traded to Miami. Second year WRs JD Hill and Bobby Chandler were promoted to starters. On Defense, Bobby James and Tony Greene were promoted on offense. Jim Braxton was inserted as the starting FB.
Lou Saban’s plan was simple,OJ Simpson running right, OJ Simpson running left, and for a change of pace, OJ Simpson running up the middle. He was a prized thouroughbred and Saban was willing to ride him.The head coach doubled the carries to the former 1968 Heisman Trophy winner. This solved a lot of issues. It kept the ball safe and out of the hands of erratic QB Dennis Shaw. It kept his awful defense off the field. It also brought back the crowds- the Bills now had a gate attraction and it turned Simpson into one of the most exciting players in the league.
An opening week 41-24 loss to the NY Jets resulted in the loss of two more staring linemen. Both Jim Reilly and Bruce Jarvis were lost for the year, but it did not deter Saban. In week #2, Buffalo defeated San Francisco, 27-20, at War Memorial for first regular season victory over an NFC opponent since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. The season was highlighted with a sweep of the New England Patriots. Saban’s crew began to gel down the stretch finishing the year going 2-2-1. The lone tie was a 21-21 standoff against the Detroit Lions. It would be the last game ever to be played at the corner of Jefferson and Best St. in the old Rockpile, War Memorial Stadium. The Bills would finish the year 4-9-1 and 4th in the AFC East division.
Simpson and Braxton combined for over 1,700 yards and 12 TDs. Simpson’s 291 carries and 1,251 yards were both NFL highs and team records. His 6 TDs were also tops on the team. Both Hill and Chandler had break out seasons receiving. Hill led the team with receptions (52), yards (754), adding 5 TDs, with Chandler posting 33 receptions for 528 yards. On defense, LB Ken Lee led the team in interceptions with 6, followed by rookie CB Maurice Tyler and Alvin Wyatt with 4 each. Tony Greene pitched in 3.
For his efforts, Simpson earned the AFC player of the year and was sent to the Pro Bowl. JD Hill and CB Robert James would accompany Simpson. While James was not known for his interceptions- he rarely had any- teams would not give him the opportunity to- he was quickly earning a reputation of being one of the premire shut down corners in the game.