Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The NFL's all-time best running back. (Single season)

YO ADRIAN!!  Sorry, even though they were hokey and quite far-fetched, yours truly was always a sucker for Rocky movies. Besides, Talia Shire was a whole lot better looking than...

Adrian Peterson, currently the super-star running back for the Minnesota Vikings. #28 of the purple gang has an outside shot at breaking the all-time NFL single-season rushing record. He needs to run for an average of 157 yards per game, no small feat, over the last two regular season contests to claim the all-time single season championship. Will he do it? Probably not, because those last two games involve going to Houston, where the Texans can be brutal to visitors, and then coming back home to face the Green Bay Packers, never an easy task.

But he only needs 188 yards to break into the 2000 yard club. At 94 yards per game, that sounds much more doable.

So who was the greatest single-season running back in the history of the NFL? The answer may surpise, disappoint, and maybe even outrage you, but yours truly submits that stats don't lie, at least in this case.

Here's a list of the 2000 yard club, with the player, his team, how many total yards, what year, and how it averaged out in rushing yards per game............

1) Eric Dickerson. Los Angeles Rams. 2105 yards. 1984. Average per game -- 131.5.
2) Jamal Lewis. Baltimore Ravens. 2066 yards. 2003. APG --- 129.1.
3) Barry Sanders. Detroit Lions. 2053 yards. 1997. APG --- 128.3.
4) Terrell Davis. Denver Broncos. 2008 yards. 1998. APG --- 125.5.
5) Chris Johnson. Tennessee Titans. 2006 yards. 2009. APG --- 125.3.

Currently, Adrian Peterson has averaged 129.4 rushing yards per game over his first 14 games. Very impressive stuff indeed, especially considering he's coming off a knee injury last year that in days of yore likely would have been career-ending. What he'll accomplish against the Texans and Packers in the final two weeks is anybody's guess. Maybe he runs wild, or maybe he gets shut down. Either way, you can bet he'll be high on the attention list of those teams' defensive coordinators when they're coming up with a game plan.

Of course, there was a notable omission in the 2000 yard club listed above. That running back was not only the first to accomplish the feat, but yours truly would maintain he remains to this day far above all the rest.

He's now 65 years old and his name was/is Orenthal James (OJ) Simpson. Sure, over the last couple decades OJ hasn't exactly endeared himself to the public at large with how he is perceived for various reasons, but this is not the venue for such a debate. This is about what he once did as a football player. Here is his stat line....

OJ Simpson. Buffalo Bills. 2003 yards. 1973. APG --- 143.1.

I emphasize that last stat for it's significance. From #1 Dickerson, to #5 Johnson, there's about a 6 yard difference per game. OJ was a whopping 12 yards per game ahead of even Dickerson. Like Tiger Woods stood head and shoulders above the field during his heyday several years ago, so too did OJ in 1973 and, for that matter, to this day.

How can that be? Because OJ did it when the NFL still only had a 14 game regular season. The NFL didn't go to the 16 game format until 1978.

Averaging 143 yards per game through the first 14, OJ would have merely needed to average 52 yards per game over another two that he didn't get to play to be the all-time record holder. Few would doubt he would have easily accomplished that and likely much more.

So the next time you hear about the all-time NFL single-season rushing leader, whether Peterson eclipses Dickerson's record this year, or even becomes a member of the 2000 yard club, or not, remember one thing....

He may still be currently #6 on that list, and maybe even #1 on the hate list of some people, but once upon a time, OJ was simply the best for a year running the football -- by a wide margin.

It's really not even a close call.

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