This is the third in a series of profiles on the 2016 inductees into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.
By Jack Goods
News Sports Reporter
Name: Reggie McKenzie
Hometown: Detroit, Mich.
Born: July 27, 1950
Career overview: If you ask people around Buffalo what they remember Reggie McKenzie for, it’d be pretty simple. He turned on the Juice.
McKenzie was one of the leaders of the Electric Company, the top-notch offensive line in front of Hall of Fame running back O.J. Simpson.
“The best way for us to win was to give O.J. the football and to dominate the game from an offensive perspective by running the ball,” McKenzie said. “As long as we had the ball, the other team’s offense was on the bench.”
McKenzie played 11 seasons with the Bills, helping Simpson become the first NFL running back to eclipse the 2,000-yard mark in a season. The left guard was a two-time All-NFL First-Team member, made three playoff appearances with the Bills (1974, 1980, 1981) and was named the league’s top blocking lineman in 1973 by the Pro Football Writers Association.
Memorable moment: On Dec. 16, 1973, McKenzie was a part of history in the midst of snowy conditions at Shea Stadium. The stadium was packed, despite the 4-9 Jets’ forgettable season. Everyone wanted to see if Simpson would do it – break Jim Brown’s rushing record and become the first running back to rush for 2,000 yards in a season.
Simpson rushed for 200 yards that day, achieving both milestones. After the game, Simpson brought the entire offensive line in for his interview.
“When I got to Buffalo in 1972, people had doubts and questions about O.J.’s athletic ability,” McKenzie said. “He was being called a stutter step. … I used to ask him, and he said, ‘I never had any blockers. I didn’t have the kind of commitment that I got from you and the rest of the guys.’ ”
On O.J.: McKenzie was referred to by Simpson as his “main man” during their Bills careers, but the two haven’t talked since Simpson went to prison. Simpson was thrust back into pop culture recently by the FX drama and ESPN documentary series. McKenzie hasn’t paid too much attention to it.
“I lived it,” McKenzie said. “I didn’t need to watch.”
Big Man on Campus: McKenzie was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2002, honoring him for an outstanding career at the University of Michigan. McKenzie played for legendary coach Bo Schembechler, earning All-America status in 1971.
Although playing for Schembechler was tough at the time, over the years he’s learned to appreciate all the late coach did for him.
“He was tough on us, particularly from a mental perspective,” McKenzie said. “It helped me at the next level. It also helped me in life. … I have nothing but great things to say about Bo.”
Michigan set a program record for net-rushing yards (3,977) in McKenzie’s All-America season.
Star-studded: McKenzie is the second member of the Electric Company to be inducted, joining guard Joe DeLamielleure. Also in the Hall from that era is Simpson, head coach Lou Saban and quarterback Joe Ferguson.
Quotable: “I’m a throwback to Bo, Woody Hayes and Lou Saban and Jim Ringo. When you throw the football, three things can happen and two of them are bad. We had a guy who could run with the coconut like no other.”
Post-career: McKenzie started a Livonia, Mich.-based industrial products company, Reggie McKenzie Industrial Materials Inc., in 2000.
He also started the Reggie McKenzie Foundation, which helps Detroit youth athletically and academically. He has run the Reggie McKenzie All-Pro Football Clinic for 43 years.
“We have empowered a lot of people over that time,” McKenzie said. “Now we’re starting to see the people who were the participants in the All-Pro Football Clinic back then now bring their kids back because it was such a great experience for them. In many cases they attribute what they learned there to them being successful today. That’s the thrill.”
The GBSHOF induction dinner is Oct. 6 at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center. Tickets can be purchased at the GBSHOF web site, buffalosportshallfame.com.