"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.'
"But I still try not to keep track. Once during a game I heard the guy on the P.A. system announce that ' O.J. Simpson has such and such yards.' It scared me. I went down to the end of the bench and just batted myself in the ears, trying to get it all out of my head. Football is a team game. You can't be thinking about these other things."
It is unlikely, however, that "these other things" escaped Simpson's attention last Sunday. They were definitely on the minds of his teammates, who continually exhorted each other in the bitter cold to "open it up, open it up for the Juice."
Simpson steadfastly avoided such chatter. Huddled in his parka, he sat mostly in solitude on the bench, occasionally exchanging views on blocking assignments with Braxton or Hill, avoiding always the obvious.
But even he gave way to the occasion when Ferguson leaped high after first examining the yard markers to make certain that his friend and teammate had exceeded 2,000 yards. Hoisted aloft by his pals, Simpson raised his left fist in triumph. It was over, and he was through for the day and for the season.
There were no characteristic Simpson long-gainers in this game, his lengthiest run being a 30-yarder on the second play from scrimmage. The nearest he came to bursting free was on a patented sweep of right end in the third quarter. He seemed to be on his way down the snow-packed sideline when he was finally hemmed in by the Jet secondary after a 25-yard gain. It was one of three runs he had during the day of more than 20 yards. Against New England the week before, he had broken loose on a magnificent, snow-churning 71-yard dash. This day he was more workmanlike, more Brownlike.
There are similarities between the game's two supreme rushers. Simpson wears Brown's number, 32, and, like the older man, aspires to a show-business career when his playing days are over.
"Actors have an air about them that athletes don't have," O.J. said the other day, looking decidedly untheatrical in his USC warmup jacket. "You know how people look at Jim. He's that tough guy beating up on everybody, throwing women out windows and shooting up all those people in the movies. Really, he's a good guy. But he has a very forceful way about him and people keep their distance. With me, well....
"But it's a real trip being somebody else. I've done a few things in the off-season and I have my broadcasting with ABC television. When I was at SC, I used to work in the studios and I'd watch some of those directors. I think I learned a lot, a lot of technique. I want to play at least two more seasons, until I'm 28. In two more years I'll be financially able to do what I want to do, even if it's nothing. Of course, if we're close to the Big One, I'll want to be there."
Brown, who performed in the pre-Super Bowl era, retired when he still had playing time left, but Simpson insists the actor has never influenced him in anything concerning his affairs. They are friends of a sort, near neighbors in Los Angeles and Simpson occasionally plays basketball at Brown's house. They will talk sports, "although never business," says O.J., "business being football."