1973 - The Electric Company
9-5 record, Second of five in AFC East, Fifth of thirteen in AFC, Ninth-t of 26 in NFL
While acceptable to AFL standards, the War Memorial in downtown Buffalo was being outclassed in the NFL. The league mandated 50,000 seats minimum in a stadium and the Rockpile held less than 47,000. Because of the dilapidated state of the stadium Ralph WIlson briefly considered moving the team to Seattle. Ultimately, a new stadium was built in Orchard Park and in 1972 Rich Products signed a 25-year, $1M deal to name the new field Rich Stadium.
Prior to the 1973 season the Bills moved into Rich Stadium and One Bills Drive became the new address in Orchard Park as the home base for the team. Much like they had done in the 1961 draft, the Bills would select several cornerstones of the franchise in the 1973 draft. In the first round the Bills selected tight end Paul Seymour seventh overall. They traded wideout Marlin Briscoe to the Dolphins for Miami's first round pick and selected eventual Hall of Fame guard Joe DeLamielleure. The Bills also replaced underachieving quarterback Dennis Shaw by selecting Joe Ferguson in the third round. The team also selected linebackers John Skorupan in the sixth and Mervin Krakau in the 14th round.
In 1973 the Bills moved into their new digs in Orchard Park but that wasn't the only major change that took place. Rookie Joe Ferguson became their new quarterback, the rushing offense took center stage behind O.J. Simpson, and the team had its first winning record since 1966. The Electric Company led the Bills to a dramatic turnaround on the field. The "Electric Company" was the nickname for the offensive line featuring OG Reggie McKenzie, OT Dave Foley, C Mike Montler, OG Joe DeLamielleure and OT Donnie Green as well as fullback Jim Braxton, tight end Paul Seymour. They were so named because they provided the electricity for the "Juice", O.J. SImpson.
The offensive changes took place almost immediately. Coming off his first thousand-yard season, OJ Simpson uncorked in the first game rushing for a record 250 yards and 2 touchdowns in the season opener against the Patriots. Until Matt Ryan matched the feat last year Ferguson was the only rookie QB to start immediately and win four of his first five starts. After a loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Miami Dolphins in week 10 to drop the team to 5-5 the Bills rattled off four straight wins to end the season on the back of OJ Simpson. In the final week of the season Simpson rushed for 200 yards in a win over the Jets. In the process he broke the season rushing yards record held by Jim Brown of 1863 yards. Simpson became the first running back in NFL history to rush for over 2000 yards, eclipsing the mark by three yards. Jim Braxton added 494 yards and fullback Larry Watkins contributed 414 as the Bills rushing attack ranked first in the league. Ferguson, for his part, threw four touchdowns to ten interceptions and did not even pass for a thousand yards finishing with 939 yards despite starting all 14 games that year. The Bills defense also improved dramatically finishing 10th in points allowed and 13th in yards allowed.
Despite the stellar run game, only Simpson and left tackle Dave Foley made the Pro Bowl that year from the offense. Cornerback Robert James also made the roster again for the second consecutive year. Simpson and James were both named to the All-Pro team as well and were joined by guard Reggie McKenzie who somehow did not receive a Pro Bowl invite. To cap the best rushing season in history, O.J. Simpson was named NFL Offensive Player of the Year, UPI AFC Player of the Year, NFL MVP, and AP Male Athlete of the Year.