The Buffalo Bills' "Electric Company" Got Its Name From O.J. Simpson's Biggest Season
For TV viewers of a certain era, the phrase "Electric Company" brings to mind a '70s public television series for kids who just aged out of Sesame Street. For sports fans and historians, the term means something else entirely. Through its connection to O.J. Simpson, "Electric Company" is also relevant to one of the most infamous trials in American history. ESPN will begin airing the documentary series O.J.: Made In America on June 11, reaching back to before Simpson's 1995 trial and acquittal of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, to go in-depth into his football career, endorsements, and crossover into Hollywood. His athletic triumphs were the core of Simpson's fame, though, including his contributions to his first NFL team, the Buffalo Bills. And it was due to Simpson that in the mid-'70s, the Buffalo Bills offensive line was known as the "Electric Company."
Of course, Simpson already had his own nickname as a player. "The Juice" is a play on the initials of Orenthal James Simpson, and apparently his friends would use it even off the field. (See: this supercut of David Schwimmer as Robert Kardashian saying "Juice" over and over again in the FX series The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. The word will lose all meaning.) The title "Electric Company" was born out of another colloquial connotation of the word juice: power, or electricity. The Buffalo Bills' then Vice President of Public Relations, Bud Thalman, nicknamed the offensive line the Electric Company "because they turn on the Juice," according to the team's website. The name was coined on Dec. 7, 1973, at the height of an enormously successful season.
A 1975 People profile of Simpson claims that the Buffalo Bills offensive team was "in chaos" when the running back arrived. ("In the opening game of the 1972 season, O.J. dipped into the huddle, looked at the paste-up line before him and asked, 'You guys all know each other?'") In 1973, the Associated Press reported that Simpson credited returned Bills Head Coach Lou Saban for whipping the "Electric Company" into shape and making it possible for him to succeed. "He promised me he'd give me the football and give me an offensive line and he sure kept his word," Simpson said.
That legendary line included right offensive guard Joe DeLamielleure, left tackle Dave Foley, right tackle Donnie Green, left guard Reggie McKenzie, center Mike Montler, and offensive tackle Paul Seymour. The Electric Company only led the Bills to the playoffs once during their reign, but their efforts enabled Simpson to break a long list of records including single game rushing yards and single season touchdowns. According to his Pro Football Hall Of Fame bio, Simpson won the league's rushing title in four of his seasons with the Bills and was named NFL Player of the Year in '72, '73 and '75.
Sounds like a "wind beneath my wings" situation, but Simpson didn't take the Electric Company for granted. The same 1975 People article reported that the line's "rugged members are treated regularly to victory dinners by the grateful Juice." Despite their lauded line, the Bills of that era were bested by the Steelers in 1974 in their best shot for the Super Bowl, and Simpson was traded to the San Francisco 49ers in 1978.
Image: M. Osterreicher/Courtesy of ESPN Films