This Day In History: December 16

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On December 16, 1973, the Buffalo Bills running back Orenthal James “OJ” Simpson becomes the first player in the National Football League (NFL) to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a single season.

After leading the University of Southern California (USC) Trojans to a Rose Bowl victory and winning the Heisman Trophy, Simpson was drafted by Buffalo as the first pick in the 1969 NFL draft. He struggled for several seasons on weak Buffalo teams but first rushed for more than 1,000 yards in 1972, ending the season with a league-leading 1,251. The following year, he totaled 219 rushing yards against the New England Patriots in the next-to-last game of the season, putting his total at 1,803. On December 16, with the Bills facing the New York Jets in New York’s Shea Stadium, Simpson rushed for another 200 yards, for a record-setting total of 2,003.

Simpson had another banner year in 1975, with 1,817 yards rushing, 426 yards on receptions and a then-record 23 touchdowns. All told, he led the league in rushing four times (1972, 1973, 1975 and 1976) during his eight years with Buffalo, and was named NFL Player of the Year in 1972, 1973 and 1975. Plagued by injuries, Simpson was limited to seven games in 1977 and the following year was traded to the San Francisco 49ers. He played only two more seasons in the NFL, gaining a total of just 1,053 yards and averaging less than four yards per carry.

After retiring, Simpson acted and worked as a sportscaster. Though some view him as the greatest football player ever to play the game, he will unfortunately be remembered primarily for something quite different: In June 1994, Simpson was charged with the brutal murder of his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman. After a sensational and divisive criminal trial, he was acquitted in October 1995, but was later found liable for the deaths in a civil trial and ordered to pay $33.5 million in compensatory and punitive damages. Simpson died of cancer on April 11, 2024.