In September, we took a look at some interesting Bills’ numbers from the 1960s – one for each season – that one will not just find on the back of a Topps football card, doing so in two parts: 1960-65, highlighted by Billy Atkins’ 1961 season in which he had double-digit interceptions and managed a 39-yard field goal and a 56-yard rushing touchdown. And from 1966-69, emphasized by a 37-35 victory over the New York Jets on Sept. 29, 1968, the same Jets that would go on the win the Super Bowl after Broadway Joe guaranteed victory, their only win on a 1-12-1 season, as they parlayed rags into riches, drafting O.J. Simpson with the first overall pick next season.
Now, with a bye week, we have some time to pick up where we last left off, with the 1970 Bills, as I dig deep to find an interesting factoid about a team that went just 3-10-1 on the season.
In 1970, Marlin Briscoe had 57 receptions for 1,036 yards, good for 18.2 yards-per-catch, with eight touchdown grabs. A great season by any stretch, but here is where it gets interesting. Two years prior, as a rookie with Denver, Briscoe – an All-American quarterback out of the University of Nebraska at Omaha – had been banished to the defensive secondary. However, on Sept. 29, 1968, the third game of the season after a slew of injuries and poor play, Briscoe entered the game under center. He played well enough to earn the nod to start the following week and in doing so became the first ever African-American player to start a game at quarterback – that year he would throw for 14 touchdown passes, which still stands as a Broncos rookie record. Briscoe would go on to win Super Bowls as a wide receiver with the Dolphins in 1972 and 1973, leading the undefeated 1972 team in touchdown catches and the 1973 team in total receptions.
In 1971, the Bills were just 1-13 on the season. Their only victory came in a 27-20 victory on Nov. 28th over the New England Patriots. The Bills intercepted 1970 Heisman Trophy winner Jim Plunkett three times, holding him to 138 yards and a touchdown on 22 attempts – a 41.7 passer rating. His counterpart, Buffalo’s Dennis Shaw, was 9-for-17 with 154 yards, two touchdowns, no picks, tallying a 123.2 rating. O.J. Simpson added a rushing score on a seven-yard rush in the fourth quarter. (Plunkett, out of Stanford, went on to be a 1980 and 1983 Super Bowl Champion and winner of the 1980 Super Bowl MVP Award.)
In 1972, the Bills found themselves in the same situation as they had been in just three years prior, with the first overall pick in the draft. In 1969, they used their first choice to select Heisman Trophy winner out of USC, O.J. Simpson. In 1972, they used their first overall selection to take defensive end out of Notre Dame Walt Patulski. Unfortunately, Patulski is widely known as one of the biggest draft-busts in history and in hindsight, this slot would have been better suited for the man whom the Pittsburgh Steelers took 13th overall, Future Hall of Fame fullback, Franco Harris. (Imagine O.J. Simpson and Franco in the same backfield?) That season, Simpson led the NFL with 1,251 rushing yards and Harris, who would win Rookie of the Year, finished sixth with 1,055 yards on the ground, leading all players with at least 150 carries with 5.6 yards-per-touch.
In 1973, O.J. Simpson, who as we just mentioned, had finally broken out in 1972, reached his potential as “the next Jim Brown,” breaking Brown’s 1963 single-season rushing record of 1,863 yards with 2,003 yards rushing – a record that has only since been bested after the schedule expanded from 14 to 16 games. Additionally, on Oct. 14th that year, Simpson rushed for 100-plus yards for the seventh straight game, dating back to Dec. 10, 1972, yet another record for The Juice on the year.
In 1974, Simpson, who had the most rushing touchdowns in the NFL the year prior (12), and would again lead the league in rushing scores the following year, in 1975 with 16, managed just three touchdowns on the ground. One fewer than teammate Jim Braxton had that year. But the Bills played to a 9-5 record nonetheless, earning a playoff berth – their first since losing 31-7 to the Chiefs in the AFL Championship game on Jan. 1, 1967. On Dec. 22nd of that year, they lost the Divisional Round game to the Pittsburgh Steelers 32-14, and in that game – to bring everything full circle – Franco Harris had as many rushing touchdowns as O.J. did on the season just in the second quarter.
Did you know? O.J. Simpson’s record of seven straight 100-plus yard rushing games has since been broken – in fact, shattered. Barry Sanders now owns the title as he rushed for at least 100 yards in 14 straight contests from Sept. 14, 1997, to Dec. 21, 1997. Remarkably, despite doubling Simpson’s mark, Barry’s total rushing yards during that 14-game stretch (2,000) still falls three shy of O.J.’s 1973 total of 2,003 during his 14-game season.