Last Thursday night, I photographed my first Kansas City Chiefs game since the mid-90’s. Working for Sports Illustrated, game coverage against the Denver Broncos was secondary to coverage of a National Football League great, Peyton Manning, and questions surrounding the future of his illustrious career.
My work with KU over the last 18 years keeps me firmly based in college athletics, which I thoroughly enjoy. However, much like last fall when the Kansas City Royals returned to the playoffs and World Series after long absences, many people have no recollection of how much professional football I once photographed. My NFL coverage began with the Chiefs playing in the long gone old Municipal Stadium, not Arrowhead, and includes the team’s Super Bowl victory in 1970.
This fall, I will look back on a few memorable games and moments starting this week with another illustrious career that once made O.J. Simpson the sterling image of the NFL much like Manning is today. Simpson’s image is now tarnished beyond recognition given his well-publicized and crime-filled, post-football life. Yet, in his prime, “The Juice” running behind the Buffalo Bills’ offensive line known as “The Electric Company” ignited the nation’s passion for professional football. Simpson became the first player to ever rush for over 2,000 yards in a season of only 14 games in 1973.
Even in 1976, when I photographed Simpson in Buffalo’s Rich Stadium, there remained plenty of “Juice” in the tank. Simpson rushed for 130 yards and two touchdowns in the Bills’ 50-17 victory. His long run of the day, for 49 yards, began with his leap through the massive hole you see in the lead photograph. Such runs on the field led to runs and leaps through airports for Hertz Rental Car advertisements as well as a career in movies and on television that made his initials O.J. the only moniker needed.
However, Simpson was not the only star for the Bills on that October day. Former Nebraska great Jeff Kinney, running for 114 yards and a touchdown, helped make the game a delight for this life-long Husker fan.