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O.J. runs to 2,003 in the snow at Shea

Simpson surpasses Jim Brown's NFL record, then overtakes a once-unthinkable milestone.

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By BRUCE LOWITT

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 29, 1999


It was as formidable as the sound barrier, the four-minute mile.

No one in NFL history had run for 2,000 yards in a season. The record, set in 1963, was 1,863 yards by the Cleveland Browns' Jim Brown.

But on Dec. 16, 1973, on Shea Stadium's frozen and snow-covered turf, running behind an offensive line that dubbed itself The Electric Company "because we turn on the Juice," right guard Joe DeLamielleure explained, O.J. Simpson burst around and through the New York Jets defense, past Brown and into history, finishing the season with 2,003 yards.

The Bills won 34-14. The outcome was irrelevant. Buffalo finished 9-5, the Jets 4-10; neither made the playoffs.

And all but lost in the celebration of Simpson was the farewell of Weeb Ewbank, who coached the Jets and the Baltimore Colts before them to Super Bowl victories. "We just have to take our hats off to a great halfback," Ewbank said of Simpson. "That guy is fabulous."

Simpson came into the game needing 61 yards to break Brown's record. "We were saying, "Let's get it in the first quarter,' " he said after the game. They did, 10 minutes, 46 seconds into the quarter, Simpson gaining 6 yards with DeLamielleure clearing the way.

Play was halted, Simpson was pounded by his celebrating teammates, an official handed him the ball and he took it to the Buffalo bench, where he was engulfed by the rest of the Bills.

When the game resumed, Simpson continued piling up the yards. Early in the fourth quarter, he said, "Joe Ferguson (the Bills' rookie quarterback) came in and said I needed 50 yards for 2,000. We broke 20 off right away and then we were going after it."

With 6:28 remaining, he burst through the left side of the line for a 7-yard gain. That shattered the final barrier, giving him 2,003 yards for the season -- and 200 yards for the game.

Again, play stopped, again Simpson was given the ball, and again he was mobbed by his teammates. This time, though, they hoisted O.J. onto their shoulders and carried him off the field while the 47,740 fans at Shea Stadium -- most of whom had remained despite the frigid conditions in order to see the marks eclipsed -- roared their approval.

Simpson did not return to the game, the Bills unwilling to take the chance that he might be thrown for a loss and lose 4 or more yards.

After the game, Simpson came into the interview room and brought The Electric Company, his offensive linemen, with him. He introduced each individually -- center Mike Montler, guards DeLamielleure and Reggie McKenzie, tackles Donnie Green and Dave Foley and tight end Paul Seymour -- to honor the players "who did the job all year."

It was a thoughtful gesture by an outwardly gentle man.

"I may not look it," Simpson said, "but I'm aggressive. You have to be aggressive to be a good football player, to be a good anything."


-- Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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