1973 Buffalo Bills – The Birth of the Electric Company
Saban’s only losing season as the Buffalo Bill’s head coach in 1972 can be pointed to two weak spots- a poor defensive front 7 and an offensive line that could not stay healthy. Saban went to work to remedy both of those situations.
In the 1973 NFL draft, the Bills selected Paul Seymour of Michigan with their first round pick. Like Paul Costa a decade before, Saban converted him into a mammoth 260 lb TE giving Simpson a 6th offensive lineman. For the second consecutive season, Saban struck gold by selecting future Hall of Fame Guard Joe DeLamielleure. Round 3 produced QB Joe Ferguson from Arkansas. The team also found LB John Skorupan in Rd 6 and LB Merv Krakau in the 14th.
To beef up the defensive line, Saban traded for Miami’s top draft choice in ‘72, Mike Kadish. Kadish was on the team’s taxi squad as a rookie and witnessed the only undefeated season in NFL history. The following preseason, a strong performance by Kadish during a nationally televised game caught Bills coach Lou Saban’s attention. And after a telephone call from Saban to Dolphin coach Don Shula, offensive lineman Irv Goode was heading south and Kadish was shuffling off to Buffalo. DT Al Cowlings was sent to San Francisco in a trade that brought DE Earl Edwards to the Bills. The versatile OL Mike Montler was added from the Patriots. Saying goodbye to Buffalo after 10 spectacular seasons was LB Mike Stratton. Stratton moved on to the San Diego Chargers for a final season before retiring.
Bills 31, Patriots 13
Buffalo’s new look immediately paid dividends. Rookie Joe Ferguson beat out Dennis Shaw as the starting QB. His job was a simple one- hand the ball off. Saban built Simpson one of the best offensive lines of the decade. With converted Tackle Paul Seymore playing TE, Donnie Green at Right Tackle, Reggie McKenzie at Right Guard, Bruce Jarvis at Center(replaced later by Mike Montler), Joe DeLamielleure at Left Guard, and Dave Foley at Left Tackle, OJ Simpson had the blockers he waited 3 seasons to get. Simpson dubbed them “The Electric Company” for their ability to “turn on the Juice”. The Bills opened the season with a 31-13 pounding of the New England Patriots. Simpson exploded for an NFL record 250 yards and 2 TDs.
Simpson made everyone forget the woeful 0-6 preseason with a record shattering performance. After the Bills fell behind early on a Sam Cunningham 6 yard TD run, Simpson and the Bills methodically carved up the Patriots defense. It took OJ only one play, an 80 yard Simpson signature sweep that he took the distance. The Bills offense stalled in the second quarter, as Ferguson was knocked out with an Injury.
Leading 10-6 to start the 3rd quarter, Simpson went to work again on ripping up the New England defense. A 22 yard run set up a Larry Watkins 4 yard TD run. The Patriots answered with an 80 yard drive of their own to close the gap to 17-13, but the Bills rushing machine could not be stopped. Simpson put the Bills up 24-13 on the first play of the 4th quarter with his second spectacular scoring run on the day, from 22 yards out. Larry Watkins also finished his career best day with his second TD to make it a final, 31-13.
Simpson broke the NFL record with 250 yards rushing on 29 carries for the day. Lost in the performance was Larry Watkins adding 105 and 2 TDs of his own. Buffalo set a team records with 360 yards on the ground on 51 attempts. Guard Reggie McKenzie, who boldly predicted a 2,000 yard season 2 weeks previous, was quoted “Did I lie? I’m telling you, Juice is the greatest!”
Chargers 34, Bills 7
The Buffalo Bills were flying high after Simpson’s demolition of the Patriot’s defense in week 1. Travelling out west to San Diego, they were ambushed by some very familiar faces.
Just 3 weeks ago, Saban dealt 11 year veteran LB Mike Stratton, backbone of Saban’s prized championship Buffalo Bills defense, to San Diego for a draft pick. The cagey veteran exacted his revenge on the young Bills offense. Daring the Bills to beat them via the air, the Chargers stacked the line against the Juice. Stratton knew the Bills offense like the back of his hand. And he made sure he schooled his new team mates. Buffalo’s offense got off to a very slow start.
San Diego drew first blood on a 72 yard punt return by Ron Smith midway through the first quarter.. On the ensuing drive, Saban rolled the dice by taking off the board a sure 3 points when the Chargers roughed Bills Kicker John Leypoldt. Saban rolled a seven, with Simpson’s 3rd TD on the year, a 6 yard scamper. It would be the only points Buffalo would tally.
Saban yanked the nicked up Ferguson in the second quarter for Dennis Shaw. Trailing 14-7, Simpson and Shaw moved the Bills deep into San Diego territory. Shaw tried to force a pass to TE Paul Seymour at the Charger 7, which was picked off by Stratton. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
The legendary Johnny Unitas, acquired from the Baltimore colts, piloted the Chargers to 2 TDs in the 3rd quarter. After a second Stratton interception, Ferguson was placed back into the game, but to no avail. San Diego won going away, 34-7. While Simpson had a decent game on the ground (22 carries for 103 yards), the Bills were playing to much catch up football to make him an effective weapon in the second half. The Bills fell to 1-1. Simpson’s year to date total was an NFL high 353 yards.
Bills 9, Jets 7
The Buffalo Bills opened their new stadium in style. A sell out crowd of 77,425 were on hand in front of a national TV audience as the Buffalo took on the New York Jets. The New York offense found themselves at a severe disadvantage however, as the Jets would be without their superstar Quarterback Joe Namath, who was not dressed while nursing a knee injury.
Embarrassed the previous week by the Chargers passing attack, Saban started 3 new defensive backs- Ken Stone, Donnie Walker, and converted WR Dwight Harrison. With Buffalo starting a rookie in Joe Ferguson, and the Jets relying on backup Al Woodall to start at QB, both sides played a conservative, close to the vest game. With the league’s leading rusher in Simpson, it was a game that Saban had the perfect game plan.
After the Jets first drive stalled deep in their own territory, Buffalo received a break on special teams when a short punt gave the Bills an excellent drive start near midfield. The Bills gave the Jets a steady dose of running plays, with Simpson breaking off a 15 yard gain. Leypoldt provided an early 3 points to give the Bills the lead.
Simpson and FB Larry Watkins were effective moving the chains against the Jets all day, but costly mistakes killed 3 potential scoring drives. OJ fumbled in the 2nd quarter, a holding call on Donnie Green cost the Bills in the 3rd, and a Joe Ferguson interception thwarted the Bills from expanding on their lead early in the 4th.
Meanwhile, the Buffalo defense stuffed the Jets at every opportunity. Bills DE Earl Edwards shook off stomach ailments before the game and was in the Jets backfield all day long He registered 3 sacks against Woodall and hurried him countless other times.
For the first time all season, Joe Ferguson began to win the trust and respect from the veterans in the huddle. With a slim 3-0 lead with 10 minutes remaining, the Bills managed to convert an Emerson Boozer fumble into a second Leypoldt FG. Walt Patulski blocked a Jets punt with under 3 minutes remaining, setting up the final Leypoldt FG. The sellout crowd was denied a shutout, however on the game’s final play. Woodall hit Jerome Barkum with a 34 yard TD strike with 2 seconds left to close out the scoring, a 9-7 Buffalo victory. Simpson managed 123 yards on 24 carries for the game, extending his season total to 476 after 3 games. Larry Watkins chipped in 78 yards on 13 carries. The Bills improved to 2-1, tied with the Miami Dolphins for the division lead.
Bills 27, Eagles 26
The first place Buffalo Bills were beginning to gel as a team. The Offensive line, averaging a mere 24 years of age, had come of age early in the season. OJ Simpson not only was leading the NFL in yards, but he was galloping way ahead in the race for the rushing title. OJ had 3 consecutive 100 yard plus games to start the season, and continued his hot streak with another electric performance against the winless Philadelphia Eagles.
In front of 74,000 at home, Simpson found himself in a rushing duel with a pair of Eagle RBs, Tom Sullivan and Norm Bulaich, who would both exceed the century mark and combine for 259 yards on the day.
After Tom Dempsey gave the Eagles a 6-3 first quarter lead, Bills return man Wallace Francis broke the game open returning the ensuing kickoff 101 yards for the score. Buffalo held the Eagles, and after a punt Simpson went to work.. OJ ripped off 47 yards on back to back runs to set up a 1 yard QB sneak by Joe Ferguson. Philadelphia fought back with a Norm Bulaich 7 yard TD reception midway through the second quarter. Ferguson and Simpson combined adept running with a 2 minute offense to drive Buffalo 80 yards at the end of the half. The drive was capped by a 3 yard Simpson TD run, his 4th on the season to give the Bills a 24-16 lead.
The stubborn Eagles managed to hold Simpson in check over the next 20 minutes of the second half as they reeled off 13 points on 3 scoring drives. Trailing 26-24 late, Simpson managed 5 carries for 22 yards putting the Bills on the Eagle 40 with under 4 minutes remaining. OJ’s 27th and final carry of the game gave him 171 yards on the day, but it was inches short of the first down. Saban chose to forgo a 4th and inches and sent Jim Leypoldt out to try a 47 yarder. Leypoldt connected, and the Bills defense was put in charge of the one point lead.
The Eagles were far from finished. Over the final 3:51, they drove to the Buffalo 26 yard line. Dempsey, the NFL record holder for the longest FG in league history, was sent out on the field to win the game with a not-so-difficult 26 yard attempt. At the final gun, Dempsety shanked the kick, sealing the Eagles fate.
The victory moved the Bills to 3-1, neck and neck with the Dolphins for the division lead. Simpson’s 172 yard effort gave him an astonishing 647 yards in only 4 games. Guard Reggie McKenzie’s bold prediction of a 2,000 yard season was beginning to look possible.
Bills 31, Colts 13
Buffalo barely escaped the winless Eagles the week previous. The Bills would not take their match up with the Colts as lightly. After surrendering a 3-0 lead to Baltimore on the Colt’s first drive, Joe Ferguson would register his first passing TD of the season when he connected with RB Larry Watkins on a 10 yard completion. The Colts defense keyed heavily on OJ Simpson early and often, daring the young Ferguson to beat them through the air. It almost succeeded. Simpson was held to a mere 22 yards in the first 30 minutes, while the Colts drew Ferguson into a drive killing interception mid way into the 2nd quarter. Both squads did manage to exchange FGs with under 2 minutes in the half. Leypoldt’s 52 yard kick tied the club record for distance.
It was a completely different story in the second half. Bills DE Walt Patulski blocked a Baltimore punt giving them excellent field position at the Colt 40. The Offensive line began beating the Colts defense at the line of scrimmage giving OJ room to run. Simpson capped the drive off with a 3 yard jaunt to the end zone. Colts linebacker Ted Hendricks summed it up: “The biggest difference was the offensive line. Buffalo has never done to us what they did today. OJ is still the same old OJ, but now he has help”
On the very next series trailing 17-6, Colt QB Bert Jones forced an errant pass that was picked off by Dwight Harrison., who in turn made a lateral to Ken Stone, who had a huge 39 yard return. More runs by Simpson put the ball on the 1. Ferguson called his own number for the score 34 seconds into the 4th, putting the Bills up 24-6. The Bills defense stuffed Bert Jones again forcing a punt. On the ensuing play, OJ Simpson broke the game wide open with a 78 yard highlight reel run to the house. OJ’s second TD of the game and his 6th on the year sealed the Colt’s fate. A meaningless TD late in the game provided the final score of 31-13 Bills. Colts coach Howard Schnellenberger: “In addition to all the other things that make him a great athlete, OJ seems able to see everything all over the field…….When it’s time to make a decision, he never makes a mistake.”
Simpson finished the game with his 5th 100+ yard effort in as many games. His 166 yards on 22 carries gave him 813 on the year, which translated into a gaudy 162 yard per game average. Talk began around town of threatening Jim Brown’s record of 1,863 yards set a decade earlier. Simpson was on a pace to finish with 2,276 yards. But the 4-1 Bills were in the midst a soft part of their schedule. A pair of tough games against the defending Super Bowl champion Dolphins remained, including a trip to Miami next week.
Simpson after the game- “We are a ball control team. The pressure is not to get 100, or even 150 yards every game. The pressure is in making first downs and winning.”
Dolphins 27, Bills 6
Including the playoffs, Miami had won 24 of their previous 26 games, and owned a 6 game win streak against the Bills dating back to 1970. Their no-name defense stifled the one dimensional Bills. Holding OJ to a mere 55 yards on 15 carries, the Dolphins blanked Buffalo 27-6 to take sole possession of first place in the AFC East, a position they would not relinquish for the rest of the season.
This game was the litmus test that the Bills needed to see if their 4-1 record and their share of the division lead was for real. Miami was the defending Super Bowl Champions, 4-1 on the season and a team that was 19-1 in their past 20 regular season games. The Dolphins showed the young Buffalo Bills that they were no match for their veteran club.
Things started well for the Bills, when DE Walt Patulski recovered a Bob Griese fumble on the third play of the game. The Miami Dolphin defense refused to bend, holding Simpson and company to 3 plays and out. K John Leypoldt’s chip shot 11 yard field goal put Buffalo up 3-0 just 3 minutes into the game.
On the ensuing kick, Buffalo had their chance to seize momentum and pull off the upset. Jim Kiick fumbled the return and LB Fred Forsberg recovered for Buffalo at the Miami 35. Again the Dolphin’s “No Name” defense rose to the occasion, stuffing the run and forcing Rookie QB Joe Ferguson into a 3rd and long. Ferguson’s pass was picked off, killing the drive and swinging momentum in Miami’s favor. Failing to do anything with 2 early Miami gifts put a stake through the heart of Buffalo’s chances. The Bills would not gain a first down on offense the entire first half. Miami Coach Don Shula commented: “If the Bills had gone in for the touchdown on that first fumble, there’s no telling what might have happened for a young club like that. Our defense made the big plays for us.”
Buffalo returned the favor on special teams, when WR JD Hill fumbled a punt return, giving Miami the ball deep in Bill’s territory. Saban’ defense held the Dolphins to a field goal, but it gave the home team the momentum it needed. The Bills were forced to punt on their next two possessions. Miami drove the field for two Jim Mandich TD receptions. Miami added a third TD at the end of the half to make it 24-3, when a Jake Scott punt return deep into Buffalo territory set up a Mercury Morris 4 yard run to the endzone.
Miami owned both sides of the ball. Buffalo was held to 75 total yards rushing, with Simpson gaining only 55. The Bills received a mild scare when OJ was knocked out of the game in the 4th quarter with a mild ankle sprain, but it wasn’t serious. The 55 yards ended OJ’s streak of 7 consecutive games with 100 yards going back to 1972. Buffalo QBs Ferguson and Shaw were sacked a total of 9 times on the afternoon, resulting in 6 completions between the two for a net of 1 single yard. Miami had 310 total yards in offense and completely dominated all aspects of the game.
If there was a consolation in the 27-6 final score, it would be the Bills would have 8 days instead of the usual 7 to prepare for their next opponent. For the Bills would make their first appearance ever on Monday Night Football.
Bills 23, Chiefs 14
Heading into a Monday Night contest against the Kansas City Chiefs, rumblings were heard in the media about OJ making a serious run at Jim Brown’s 11 year old NFL record of 1,863 yards. With a national audience, O.J. Simpson made his Monday Night debut gaining 157 yards on a team-record 39 attempts in the Bills’ 23-14 win. After 7 games, he became only the second back in NFL history to eclipse 1,000 yards since Jim Brown did it in 1958.
The Buffalo Bills and OJ Simpson grabbed the national spotlight when they made their first –ever appearance on Monday Night Football. Simpson and the Bills made the debut a memorable and record breaking one. With the lights, cameras, and action, the sold out Rich Stadium crowd threw it’s wildest party yet.
The Bills defense wasted no time in giving Simpson his first opportunity. Coach Lou Saban elected to kick off and take the wind after winning the coin flip, and his decision would pay off the entire game. Chiefs QB legend Len Dawson was harassed by the Buffalo defense early and often. On the Chief’s opening drive, Bills LB Jim Cheyunski recovered a Dawson fumble giving the Bills a gift drive start at the 15 yard line. A couple of plays later, Simpson punched in his first score from 1 yard out and just 2:33 into the contest, the Bills had a quick 7-0 lead.
Dawson’s woes continued on the second drive. Cheyunski again made the play, picking off the Kansas City signal caller and returning the interception to the Chiefs’ 4 yard line. On the next play, Simpson galloped into the endzone. Bobby Chandler made the extra point interesting, as his botched hold on the place kick forced him to scoop up the ball and run it into the endzone for the conversion. Just 3:37 into the game everything was breaking in Buffalo’s favor for a 14-0 advantage. With 2 scores against the strong winds, the Bills were rolling.
Kansas City fought back in the second quarter, driving 43 yards following a Joe Ferguson fumble. With veteran QB Len Dawson benched, backup Pete Bethard directed a drive capped by a Warren Hayes 1 yard plunge to narrow the gap to 14-7.
Into the 3rd quarter, Saban’s choice to take the wind paid dividends. Jim Leypoldt nailed 3 field goals to push the lead to 23-7. With that advantage,, the Bills continued to hammer the KC Chiefs with massive doses of the Juice. Howard Cosell stated “OJ Simpson is the most powerful offensive force in football today” and it showed. Simpson broke Harry Newman’s rushing record of 38 carries in a game (Set in 1934 with the Giants) with 39 attempts for 157 yards. The Bills shattered their own team record of attempts with 65. Pete Bethard added a meaningless score in the 4th, but the Bills would prevail and move to 5-2 on the season with a 23-14 final.
Not only did OJ break the NFL record for attempts, but he also became only the second back in league history to eclipse 1,000 yards in only 7 games. His 1,025 yards beat out Jim Brown’s previous mark of 1,011. All eyes turned to the record books and Jim Brown’s 10 year old record of 1,863 yards. Many had loftier visions, to do what no one had done before, 2,000 yards. It was a goal that predicted by Guard Reggie McKenzie in the preseason, and a target the Bills and their offense set to accomplish.
Saints 13, Bills 0
Coming of a successful debut on Monday Night Football, the Buffalo Bills were riding high. The hype surrounding OJ Simpson’s pursuit of 2000 yards in a season grabbed the nation’s attention. Next on the Bills agenda was a date with the lowly New Orleans Saints in the “Big Easy”. The game was anything but easy, as the Bills were headed for an ambush. Things got off to a rough start before the team ever got to Tulane Stadium. The charter plane carrying the team lost all hydraulics shortly after taking off from Buffalo and was forced to make an emergency landing in Cleveland. The situation was grim as the plane’s landing gear had to be lowered by hand by the crew. All passengers on board were even instructed assume the crash position upon landing.
Since joining the NFL in 1967, the New Orleans Saints were the laughingstock of the league. After getting pummeled in their opening 3 games of the season, it looked like just another long season. Coach John North managed to turn things around in October, winning 3 of 4 contests and putting his club just 2 games out of the division lead. North had devised the perfect game plan to tackle the league’s most dangerous weapon. They studied game films of Simpson devouring the Patriots for 250 yards, and Simpson’s Monday night magic from the week before. They even practiced unique tackling methods, of getting him high and holding him up until help from other defenders arrived. North even created special defenses- mixing it up with a 4 linebacker set (the 4-3 was the defensive standard of the day) and then a 7-line front. The 7 line front was the most effective, as Buffalo’s talented but young offensive line could not adjust.
The Saints game plan worked to perfection. They ran off 77 plays to Buffalo’s 51, playing a ball control offense to keep Simpson on the Sideline. Manning led 3 first half scoring drives, 2 ended in Bill McClard FGs and a third ending in a 9 yard TD pass to Bob Newland, who beat Bills DB Dwight Harrison on the play. Buffalo’s offense stalled. Local college hero Joe Ferguson played poorly in front of his home state’s fans in his first return to Louisiana as a pro. The last chance for Buffalo to get into the game was squandered with 10 minutes remaining. Buffalo managed to close to the Saints 11 yard line only to have Simpson denied on a 4th and 1.
The Saints would register their first shutout in team history with the 13-0 win, and elevate their record to 4-4, the first time they would reach .500 for a season in team history. Simpson would be held to a mere 79 yards on 20 carries, putting him behind the pace for 2000 in a season. His total on the year to date 1,104, but more importantly, it put Buffalo 2 games behind Miami fir the division lead and only ½ game ahead of Cleveland for the Wild Card.
Bengals 16, Bills 13
Buffalo’s midseason slump continued, when coaching legend Paul Brown brought his Cincinnati Bengals to town. It was a pivotal battle in the midseason playoff race. While both teams were fading fast for their respective division titles, the two clubs were serious contenders for the lone Wild Card entry into the AFC playoffs. The loser of this important battle would be on the outside of the post season race looking in.
To shake things up on offense, Larry Watkins was replaced in the backfield with FB Jim Braxton. Braxton was more a complete backfield mate for the Juice and complimented OJ’s style with great blocking, an ability to receive out of the backfield, and more than a competent runner in his own right. Saban hoped that the reunion of Simpson and Braxton was the tonic that cured the Bill’s recent rushing ills. But the missing ingredient the Bills sorely lacked was a competent passing attack. Dead last in the NFL, the Bills had a single game passing for over 100 yards, and rookie Joe Ferguson and struggling veteran Dennis Shaw continued their quarterbacking woes against the Bengals. Early in the game, Ferguson jammed his thumb and was replaced by the ineffective Shaw. The two would combine for a net of 30 yards on the cold, windy Rich Stadium afternoon.
Coach Paul Brown followed in the footsteps of other Buffalo opponents by throwing everything he had at Simpson. Trailing 13-3, Buffalo managed to stage a rally. John Leypoldt’s FG with 8 seconds left in the half drew Buffalo within a touchdown. CB Dwight Harrison’s second interception of the game gave Buffalo the ball on Cincy’s first possession of the second half, and the Bills wasted no time in capitalizing. A patented Simpson sweep netted a highlight reel 32 yard TD gallop that tied the score at 13-13 2:35 into the 3rd quarter.
On the ensuing possession, the Buffalo defense stiffened and quickly got the Bills the ball back in excellent field position. But as the Bills pressed deep into Bengal territory for the 3rd consecutive drive, Dennis Shaw’s interception proved to be a momentum killer for the Bills. They would not threaten Cincinnati for the remainder of the game.
While both sides struggled offensively, the Bills gift wrapped the win for the Bengals with a series of late game blunders. A holding call pinned the Bills deep in their own end late in the game, and it was exacerbated by a horrible 30 yard shank punt by the Bills’ Spike Jones. The Bengals took over at the Buffalo 44 with 2:34 left. DE Earl Edwards jumped offside, giving Cincy an easy 1st down. Killing the clock and battling for easy FG field position, the Bengal’s Hurst Muhlmann won it with his 3rd FG of the game as time expired.
For the 3rd time in 4 weeks Simpson was held to under 100 with a 99 yard effort on 20 carries. Buffalo fell to 5-4 and in serious jeopardy of missing out on the Wild Card. The hype around Simpson’s assault on the record books also subsided. His 1,203 yards still led the NFL by far, but Jim Brown’s record as well as 2,000 yards in a season looked impossible to catch. Only 5 games remaining and the 9-1 Miami Dolphins were the next opponent on the horizon.
Dolphins 17, Bills 0
Buffalo entered their second game of the season with the Dolphins on a losing skid. Winners of only one of their last four games the Bills were in a desperate situation to stay alive for the post season. In their way were the mighty 9-1 Miami Dolphins, winners of 29 of their last 31 games (including playoffs). Not only that, but they entered Buffalo with a streak of 45 games in holding running backs to under 100 yards.
Miami opened the game with the running ball control machine of an offense that made them Super Bowl champions. Shula’s team marched 80 yards following the opening kick for the game’s first score. Larry Csonka capped off a nearly 9 minute drive with a 1 yard TD plunge.
Joe Ferguson rallied the Bills. Mixing up runs with both Simpson and FB Jim Braxton, he managed to catch the Dolphin defense off balance. Connecting with WR JD Hill on a 42 yard completion, he drove the Bills to the Miami 16. John Leypoldt shanked the 23 yard FG attempt and the Bills came away empty handed. On the very next play from scrimmage, Miami RB Mercury Morris exploded for a 42 yard run into Bills territory, setting the stage for a Garo Yepremian FG and a 10-0 advantage.
Simpson and Braxton again shouldered the load, as the Bills would drive the length of the field again on Miami. With a first and goal at the 4, Buffalo’s offense tried 4 running plays. Miami LB Mike Kolen made 3 consecutive stops, the last denying Braxton on 4th and goal from the one.
Kolen’s heroics were not over. After the Bills managed to make another offensive foray into Dolphin territory, the Bills self destructed again. Ferguson’s screen pass to Simpson deflected of OJ’s hands and right to Kolen who rambled 25 yards downfield to the Buffalo 40. Dolphin QB Bob Griese connected twice, the last reception a 17 yard score to WR Paul Warfield giving the Dolphins a 17-0 lead with 1:16 left in the half. Despite one more 67 yard Bills drive in the 4th quarter, the Bills were again denied a score and the shutout held. The Bills fell to .500 on the season with a 5-5 record, their third loss in a row and 4th in the last 5.
Against one of the league’s most dominating defenses, the Buffalo offense found their running game. Both Simpson (20 atts-120 yds) and Braxton (17-119) combined for 239 yards. Simpson eclipsed his own team record (1,251 yards) from the previous season in the first half, and finished the game with 1,323 after 10 games. At his current pace he would threaten the single season rushing record of Jim Brown, but 2000 yards seemed out of reach with 4 games remaining.
Bills 24, Colts 17
Week 11 saw an offensive turn around for the Buffalo Bills. After a 1-4 skid in which the Bills offense was held to 1 TD in their 4 losses, Saban added FB Jim Braxton to the mix against Miami with some success. Braxton was a bruising blocker, as well as being a duel rushing and receiving threat. Saban began dividing up the rushing load more evenly between Simpson and Braxton, and both flourished.
The proof came against the Colts before 52,000 at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. Buffalo dominated the first half against the Colts outgaining them 240-46 in the yardage department. By the half, the Bills were holding a slim 10-7 lead, despite moving the ball at will. Baltimore’s only score came on a 101 yard Cotton Speyer return of a kickoff following a Leypoldt field goal. The half closed on a spectacular 57 yard Simpson highlight reel run, as the Colts were now forced to deal with two backfield threats.
In the second half, the Colts defense stiffened. Both teams were held scoreless until 8:49 remained in the game. Tom Mitchell hauled in an 11 yard TD pass from Colt QB Marty Domres for a 14-10 lead. Just two minutes later, the Colts added a field goal to extend their lead to 17-10 with only 6:38 remaining.
Buffalo continued to struggle late into the game when a bizarre play on a punt breathed new life into the team. A high snap deep in Colt territory sailed over punter David Lee’s head striking the goalposts and bouncing back into the field. Lee managed to corral the loose ball and get the punt away, but the shanked kick rolled out of bounds giving the Bills great field position at the Colt 37. The Bills needed only one play to tie the score, as Joe Ferguson hit a streaking Bob Chandler for the tying TD with only 1:34 remaining.
Buffalo’s defense took their turn. From their own 24 on 3rd and 10, Bills DE Walt Patulski deflected Domres’ pass intended for Glenn Doughty right into the waiting arms of Bills CB Dwight Harrison. Harrison returned the gift 31 yards for the winning score. Buffalo would improve to 6-5 on the season, keeping a dim wild card berth for the playoffs alive.
Saban’s strategy of splitting the carries in the backfield reaped benefits for OJ, as he garnered 124 yards on a mere 15 carries and one score. His assault on Jim Brown’s single season record was still on, as he now amassed 1,447 yards- leaving him 416 yards behind with 3 games remaining. Jim Braxton managed 83 yards on 18 attempts. Another milestone was reached as Joe Ferguson broke the 200 yard plateau with 201 yards. On Defense, Walt Patulski was awarded the NFL Defensive Player of the Week with his effort- 3 pass deflections, 1 sack, and 7 tackles.
Bills 17, Falcons 6
Buffalo headed south to meet one of the NFL’s hottest teams, the surprising 8-3 Atlanta Falcons, riding a 7 game winning streak. Cocky Falcons coach Norm Van Brocklin threw down the gauntlet earlier in the week, calling Simpson “Selfish” , and bragging about how Atlanta’s talented defensive line would intimidate Buffalo’s young offensive line. But the Bills would have none of it, and they steam rolled the Falcons to the tune of 239 rushing yards.
Jim Braxton rushed for his first score of the year on a 1 yard plunge to open the scoring. The touchdown was set up for the Bills by Atlanta’s return man Ray Brown muffing a 52 yard Spike Jones punt. Buffalo recovered the ball on the Falcon 27. Future Buffalo Bills kicker Nick Mike-Mayer pulled the Falcons within striking distance with a pair of second quarter field goals. The second FG was set up by gift wrapped interception of a screen pass by DE Claude Humphrey. Humphrey rambled with the return down to the Buffalo 14. John Leypoldt put Buffalo ahead 10-6 on the last play of the half. Joe Ferguson hit JD Hill on a 34 yard completion, and another first down completion to Bobby Chandler put Buffalo on the 13 with 5 seconds remaining.
Defense and Buffalo ball control took over. Atlanta QB Bob “General” Lee was sacked 4 times and frustrated all day. Buffalo even turned the Falcons back twice on 4th and inches conversions on the afternoon. Jim Braxton notched his second TD with another 1 yard plunge in the 3rd, giving the Bills their 7th win on the season, 17-6. Braxton’s play over the past 3 weeks drew praise and comparisons from his teammate – OJ Simpson- “Braxton’s a lot like Larry Csonka of Miami. Look what he has done for Mercury Morris. With Jim pounding inside, it helps me going outside. I can do more things”
Braxton finished with 80 yards on 23 carries and 2 TDs. Simpson led all rushers with 24 carries and 137 yards. With two games left on the docket, Simpson now stood at 1,584 yards on the season, 279 yards behind Jim Brown.
Bills 37, Patriots 13
On December 7th, two days before their home game against the Patriots, Buffalo Bills vice president of public relations Bud Thalman came up with a new moniker for the heart of the Bills rushing game, the offensive line. He came up with “The Electric Company”- because Thalman said “They turn on the Juice”. At first, the linemen hated the idea, because it was also the name of a popular children’s show. But slowly it began to grow on them, as these relatively unknown and unheralded names of Joe DeLamielleure, Dave Foley, Mike Montler, Reggie McKenzie, Donnie Green, and Paul Seymour cleared the way to the record books. Not only was Simpson on the verge of a single season record, so were the entire Bill team. The Dolphins set the record the year previous with 2,962 yards as a team. The Bills were closing in on that one as well.
But if the Bills were going to break any records, they were going to have to defeat both the Patriots, and the snowy Buffalo elements. New England drew first Blood with a FG 5:11 into the game, but return man Wallace Francis exploded for 90 yards on the ensuing kick to give Buffalo the earl momentum. Simpson picked up against the Patriots defense where he left off in the opener, where he had set the NFL single game rushing record at 250 yards 12 weeks prior. In the second quarter with the elements getting worse, Saban chose to forgo a field goal on 4th and a yard and instead gave it to Braxton to convert the first. It helped set up Simpson’s first score on the day, a 6 yard run at 5:02 of the second quarter. Buffalo and New England exchanged field goals before the half giving the Bills a 17-6 advantage.
Simpson and the ‘Electric Company” manhandled the Patriots in the second half, with the Juice ripping off an average of 10 yards a run. Joe Ferguson set a Buffalo Bills record with only 7 attempts passing, but his only 2 completions were for scores. Simpson ripped off a 25 yard run to set up the first, a 37 yard score to Bobby Chandlerlater in the 3rd, Chandler again was the target as Ferguson hit him for a 6 yard score. Amazingly, it was the 3rd time in 3 games these two would link up for a TD, as the Bills would only garner 4 TD passes for the entire season.
With Buffalo well ahead 37-13, Saban pulled Simpson in the 4th. It was a big disappointment to the fans and the team, as OJ still needed 61 yards to beat out Jim Brown, but with 3 inches of snow covering the field, Saban prudently pulled his star back fearing injury. OJ’s 22 carry 219 yard performance set the stage for a dramatic season final against the Jets in New York. With the win, Buffalo still remained alive in the Wild Card chase and improved their record to 8-5. Simpson had 1,803 yards to date, with 1 game to go.
Bills 34, Jets 14
After an astonishing 219 yard performance against New England in the snows of Rich Stadium, The Buffalo Bills as a team were committed to get Simpson Jim Brown’s record. With 1,803 yards in 13 games, OJ was 61 yards shy heading to Shea stadium, the weather again would try what defenses could not do- slow down the Juice. Flurries, wind, and bitter temperatures were on hand again in the season finale against the New York Jets.
On the first series of the game, it was obvious what the game plan was- feed Simpson the ball. OJ contributed 57 yards as the Bills moved down the field in a time consuming drive. Jim Braxton capped the nearly 9 minute drive for Buffalo’s first score, a 1 yard TD plunge.
On the Bills’ next series, Simpson broke Brown’s 10 year old record with the first play from scrimmage, a 6 yard run. Back in the huddle, the focus now turned to the unthinkable record- 2,000 yards in a season. The game was halted as he was mobbed by his teammates. Buffalo and OJ needed 134 more yards, and had 3 quarters to get the job done. With all the excitement, on the very next play Simpson fumbled the ball at midfield. Jets QB Joe Namath made the Bills pay for the mistake, hitting Jerome Barkum on a 48 yard scoring strike to tie the game 7-7.
Buffalo went back to work, on another grinding 70 yard drive. Simpson capped the drive with a 13 yard TD scamper with 1:12 left in the half. After 51 seconds and a 3 and out by the Jets, Bill Cahill returned a punt 51 yards for another Bills TD. It was the back breaker for the overmatched Jets. The only thing keeping the New York crowd in attendance during the miserable weather conditions was the assault on 2000.
Braxton and Simpson battered the Jets defense into the third quarter, and Buffalo extended their lead to 28-7 on Braxton’s second 1 yard TD run in the game. On that drive, the Bills broke Miami’s 1 year old record of 2,960 yards rushing as a team. With around 8 minutes remaining, QB Joe Ferguson entered the huddle and informed “The Electric Company” that OJ was 60 yards shy of 2,000. It was all they needed to hear. Fired up, they proceeded to blow the Jet defenders off the line of scrimmage. In under 2 minutes, Simpson managed to churn out 56 more yards, to give him 1,996. With 5:56 to play, Ferguson called the play that would change football history.
It was the 27 play-“ Ferguson recounted. “I fake to the FB (Braxton) up the middle. Reggie McKenzie leads the way as Joe DeLamielleure pulls in front of him and leads through the hole. It’s OJ’s favorite play.” Simpson slid off the left side for seven yards, giving him 2,003 and earning him an escort off the field on the shoulders of his teammates. His day and season were over, with exactly 200 yards on 34 carries. Braxton added 98 more on 24 attempts.
The Bills went on to an easy 34-14 win, their 4th in a row. Unfortunately, the Bills would learn that they were eliminated from playoff contention as the Pittsburgh Steelers claimed the wild card berth. But the news would not tarnish what this young team did on that frozen field, or what they were able to accomplish all season. Simpson’s appreciation of his blockers’ efforts hasn’t been restricted to flattering references in the press; following the 1973 season, he presented members of the Bills’ offense and coaching staff with gold bracelets, a gesture that reportedly cost him more than $20,000.
OJ’s 204-yard day against the Jets set still more records. He became the first back to get 200 yards in back to back games, his 419 yards the most in back to back games for any back to date. He also owned the most 200 yard games in one season with three. His 332 attempts was another league record, and his 6 yard a rush average led the NFL.
The victory gave the Bills a 9-5 record, good for second in the AFC East. The 9 wins were the most since their 1966 AFL East winning season. The Bills lost out on the Wild Card race to the Pittsburgh Steelers, who won over Houston in the last week of the season to finish at 10-4. The Bengal loss earlier in the season cost the Bills. Had the Bills beaten or even tied the Bengals, the Steelers would have won the AFC Central, and Buffalo would have won the tiebreakers. Bengal Kicker Horst Muhlmann’s last second FG against the Bills in week 9 was the difference.
OJ led the Bills with 12 TDs on the season. Not to be forgotten were the excellent performances of his backfield mates. Jim Braxton had 494 yards and an excellent 4.6 YPC average himself, adding 4 TDs. Splitting time with Braxton was FB Larry Watkins, who managed 414 yards, 2 TDs, and 4.2 YPC. The Bills finished the season with 3,088 yards and a 5.1-yard per carry average AS A TEAM. This broke the Miami Dolphin’s NFL record of 2,960 yards from the previous season.
Rookie QB Joe Ferguson finished the season with a mere 939 yards on a paltry 164 attempts, for 4 TDs. The 4 TDs were the fewest passing TDs the Bills ever managed in one season, and the fewest by any NFL team since the 1946 Green Bay Packers, who also had 4. Bobby Chandler led the team with 30 catches, 427 Yards, and 3 of the team’s 4 receiving TDs. JD Hill put up nearly identical numbers, with 29 receptions, 422 yards.
The Bills sent OJ Simpson to the Pro Bowl, along with T Dave Foley. CB Robert James made it 2 consecutive appearances representing the Bills defense.