Or perhaps he is, as Hall-of-Famer McElhenny once saw himself, "like a little kid walking down the middle of the street after a scary movie. He can't see anything in those shadows, but he knows something's there he'd better get away from."
Simpson admits to such sensitivity. No matter how low the temperatures—and they can be cruelly low in Buffalo—he always wears short-sleeved jerseys, exposing bare arms. "I can feel the tacklers better that way," he says. "I can feel their touch, and in a football game I just don't want to be touched. The more I feel that way, the better the game I play."
He is hardly an untouchable socially. In contrast to the frequently surly Brown, he is relentlessly congenial. And, if that were not enough, he also seems genuinely humble.
The Jet publicity people, anticipating the record onslaught, had set aside a special interview room for Simpson after Sunday's game, where he could preside with Kissingerian imperiousness over the press corps. Simpson entered this chamber with his entire offensive team in tow. "These," quoth he, "are the cats who did the job all year long." And he introduced them all—wide receiver J.D. Hill; flanker Bob Chandler; tight end Paul Seymour; tackles Dave Foley and Don Green; guards Reggie McKenzie ("My main man") and Joe DeLamielleure; center Mike Montler; quarterback Joe Ferguson; and fullback Jim Braxton.
"O.J. gives credit where credit is due," said Ferguson, a rookie whose unfamiliarity with NFL defenses hampered the Bills' passing game, permitting opponents to stack their defenses, albeit unsuccessfully, against the Juice's flow. "He's helped me on the field and off. Nobody here is jealous of him. He hasn't got an enemy in the world. All of us wanted to see him get the yardage."
"A record is a collective thing, anyway," says McKenzie, echoing the sentiments of the runner he blocks for. "I'm just thankful to be on the offensive line that broke Jim Brown's record."
Simpson himself is not convinced that his record is etched in granite. When asked after the game if he thought 2,003 yards would last, he commented quickly, "No, someone will come along and break it, but I hope to stay in the league until these guys [his offensive line] get so old no young back can get behind them to break my record." [Eric Dickerson of the Los Angeles Rams did gain 2,105 yards during the 16-game 1984 season. Simpson played in a 14-game season.]
The pressure in anticipating the breaking of the record may have reached him last week. He refused to accept telephone calls at his New York City hotel and protested mildly when photographers hounded him during the game. "Look, man, I can't do that here. C'mon now, no pictures now."
Throughout the season O.J. had fought to banish the accumulating figures from his mind, even to banish the thought of Jim Brown. There is a peril, he discovered, in keeping tabs on oneself.
"If you think about how much you're gaining," he said recently, "you're not thinking about winning the game. Actually, people are always asking me what I'm thinking about when I'm running. The answer is, nothing—or at least it used to be. But when you get close to a record, you think to yourself, If I'm this close, I might as well get it.