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40 years ago: O.J. Simpson's record-setting Thanksgiving Day game

On Nov. 25, 1976, 40 years ago today, Buffalo Bills running back O.J. Simpson rushed for an NFL-record 273 yards and two touchdowns in front of a national TV audience on Thanksgiving Day.

Only problem was the rest of the Bills offense was pitiful. Quarterback Gary Marangi completed just 4 of 21 passes for 29 yards and threw an interception as Bills lost to the Detroit Lions, 27-14, their eighth straight loss during an eventual 2-12 season.

Simpson broke his own NFL record for rushing yards in a game, however it didn’t stand for too long as Walter Payton broke it by just two yards the following year. Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson now owns the single-game record after a 296-yard performance during his rookie year in 2007.

Here’s former News reporter and columnist Larry Felser’s story from the record-setting day.

Juice, Juice, Juice! O.J. the King in Lions’ Stacked Den

By Larry Felser

Pontiac, Mich. – It may have been the first time in history of the National Football League that a head coach asked an opposing player for his autograph.

Tommy Hudspath, coach of the Detroit Lions, did it Thanksgiving afternoon, but his breech of coaching decorum can be excused.

The man signing the autograph was O.J. Simpson, whose record-breaking running in the Pontiac Silverdome made the Lions’ 27-14 win over the Bills beside the point.

About three quarters of the way through the game it became apparent it was going to be a “what’s new” outcome with the Bills losing their eighth in a row and Detroit reaching the break-even level.

So the contest turned into a man-against-the-elements struggle.

It was a beautiful matchup. In one corner was Simpson, playing with the benefit of a passing game to open up the tightly-aligned Lions.

In the other corner was the Detroit defense, top-ranked in the NFL and stacked in what amounted to a seven-man line against a team it knew can’t throw the football.

The stakes kept getting higher as the duel continued.

At first it was the 144 yards he needed to reach his fifth 1,000-yard season.

Then it heated up to revolve around his fifth 200-yard game, an NFL all-time record.

Finally, it got down to his own pro football record of 250 yards in a single game.

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Only one runner had exceeded over 100 yards in a game all season against the Lions. That was Green Bay’s Willard Harell, who gained 111. In the rematch, the Lions held him to minus yardage.

Fortified by the knowledge that the Buffalo passing game was eligible for Federal aid – Gary Marangi completed only 4 of 21 for 29 yards –the Lions stacked up seven men at the line of scrimmage to stop the Juice.

To help O.J., Coach Jim Ringo had devised a special offensive set – the old full house T-formation, with wide receiver Bob Chandler aligned alongside O.J. and fullback Jeff Kinney in the backfield.

“When Detroit countered that by taking out their middle linebacker,” said O.J., “we shifted into a Power-I formation and then ran to the Lions’ weak-side, which way their linebackers set up.”

It was an admirable chess match with O.J. the king.

The 1,000 yards came in the fourth minute of the third quarter.

The play was vintage Juice. He broke over right tackle, with Kinney and guards Reggie McKenzie and Joe DeLamielleure digging a huge hole.

He made an abrupt left turn and raced down the center of the field. Only one man had a chance to stop him, corner back Levi Jackson, who had saved a touchdown in the first quarter by stopping O.J. on the end of a 36-yard run.

This time Levi had no such chance, since Chandler erased him with a downfield block at the 15.

“Bobby has been blocking for me since our college days at USC,” said O.J., “but I think that was the best he threw.”

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