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NFL Sunday: Hall of Fame runners discuss C.J. Spiller's season

By Tim Graham

C.J. Spiller is having one of the greatest rushing seasons of the past 50 years.

He's averaging 6.62 yards per carry, which would be the best in Buffalo Bills history and highest number for a running back since 1960 (minimum 10 attempts per game).

O.J. Simpson went into this season with the club record of 6.03 yards. For Spiller to lose his cushion, he would need to gain no more than zero yards on his next 13 carries.

Spiller already holds Buffalo's record for career average (minimum 200 attempts) at 5.51 yards. Simpson's average was 4.80 yards. Fred Jackson is third at 4.57 yards.

But the stat that resonates with me -- and led to this week's NFL Sunday story in The Buffalo News -- is that Spiller's average is the best through 12 games since Jim Brown averaged 6.71 yards in 1963. Brown finished the season with a league-leading 6.40 average.

I wanted to learn what the all-time great running backs think of Spiller's season -- not only that 6.62 rushing average, but also those 11.42 carries a game.

I canvassed eight Pro Football Hall of Fame running backs, a great mix of workhorses, halfbacks, old-school fullbacks and modern tailbacks. I was able to speak with NFL's all-time leading rusher and its single-season record-holder.

The group encompassed every season from 1952 through 2005, the last season to feature a running back already in Canton:

  • * Hugh McElhenny 1952-64
  • * Lenny Moore 1956-67
  • * Paul Hornung 1957-66
  • * Floyd Little 1967-75
  • * Franco Harris 1972-84
  • * Eric Dickerson 1983-93
  • * Emmitt Smith 1990-2004
  • * Curtis Martin 1995-2005

I tried to interview Thurman Thomas for the story, but he was out of the country and unavailable to share his thoughts.

Spiller seemed stunned Thursday, when I told him some of the legends I interviewed about him. Spiller still beams when recalling his visit with Little, Brown and Barry Sanders at the 2010 NFL draft in Manhattan.

"When you're meeting guys that are in the Hall of Fame, especially at your position and who you grew up watching on TV," Spiller said, "not too many guys can say they have the opportunity to sit down with Barry Sanders and Jim Brown or Floyd Little to ask them about their games."

With that in mind, I wanted readers to get a sense of hearing from these legendary backs by presenting this morning's feature as a roundtable discussion.

With so many phenomenal Hall of Fame insights, nobody needed to hear from me. So I removed myself from the story and let their quotes carry the conversation.

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About Press Coverage

Tim Graham

Tim Graham

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

@ByTimGraham |

Mark Gaughan

Mark Gaughan

Buffalo native Mark Gaughan started working at The News in 1980 and has been covering the Bills exclusively since 1992. He is a former president of the Pro Football Writers of America, and he is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee.

@gggaughan |

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida. He writes a weekly Fantasy column in addition to his beat writing duties.

@JaySkurski |