For Pete's Sake

By: Pete Fierle

Pete Fierle, Manager - Digital Media/Communications
Pete's familiarity with the game's history is a result of spending two decades surrounded by the world's largest collection of pro football information. His many duties include overseeing the Hall's website as well as the day-to-day operation of the Ralph Wilson, Jr. Pro Football Research and Preservation Center.

Rushing to blog

Sep 22, 2011

A new "For Pete's Sake" blog appears each Thursday on

You may call it “water cooler” talk, I call it work! That’s right, I get paid to discuss football.

On any given day the research staff at the Pro Football Hall of Fame talk more football than one can imagine. A typical day’s casual conversation is sprinkled with the occasional challenge on football knowledge.  We’ll fire off a football history question at one another to test how well we’ve retained all of the info we’ve digested as a result of years of scouring through the world’s largest football library.

So, the other day while I was busy working away, one of our researchers, Saleem Choudhry, ran this one by me because of my Buffalo, NY roots. He observed how Fred Jackson is currently the NFL’s leading rusher.

Saleem asked me, ‘who was the last Bills’ player to lead the league in rushing, O.J. Simpson?’

I quickly ran through some of whom may have done it. I knew that Thurman Thomas won an AFC rushing title but never the NFL crown. Did Joe Cribbs do it? No. Hmmm…what about Terry Miller in the late ‘70s? No. So, my answer was yes, it was O.J. For the record, I was correct.

Now, that wasn’t too terribly difficult to figure out. But, we got to thinking about other teams and which players have led the NFL rushing.  We quickly scanned through the NFL’s Record & Fact Book and its list of the annual stat leaders. As I looked at the list, it struck me that there are some surprises about this rather glamorous honor which has led to my topic for this week’s blog.

The NFL began keeping official stats in the early 1930s. So, here’s a few notes about the annual rushing leaders.

• Starting in 1932, there have been 79 rushing titles awarded.  

• Only 47 different players have won the league rushing title.

  • • 13 players have won multiple rushing crowns. Seven of those players have three or more titles to their name.
  • • Just two players have ever won the rushing crown with multiple teams. Byron “Whizzer” White did so with the Pittsburgh Pirates (a.k.a. Steelers) and the Detroit Lions. Eric Dickerson won three titles with the Los Angeles Rams and one while playing with the Indianapolis Colts.

    Jim Brown is the all-time record holder with eight titles. His consecutive string was interrupted in 1962 when Jim Taylor led the NFL in rushing. Taylor is the only Packers player to be the league’s top rusher.

    Tony Dorsett, Marshall Faulk, and Franco Harris never won the NFL rushing title; Bill Paschal, Doug Russell and Dan Towler have!
  • •  There have been 13 rookies who were the NFL’s leading ground gainer. The last first-year player to do so was Edgerrin James for the Colts in 1999.
  • •  Eighteen Hall of Famers have accounted for 45 rushing crowns.
  • •  Of the current NFL teams, only five clubs have never had a runner lead the NFL in rushing. That includes three of the four teams in the NFC South – Atlanta, Carolina, and Tampa Bay – along with Cincinnati and Jacksonville.
  • •  A dozen franchises have boasted multiple players how've won the league rushing title. Leading the way is the Chicago Bears who’ve had five different runners do so. Next in line with three RBs with rushing crowns are the Browns, Broncos, Colts, Giants, Rams, and Redskins.

•  The Browns have accounted for the most rushing title with 10 overall, eight by Jim Brown plus one each by Leroy Kelly and Marion Motley.
  • •  Only one defunct team is represented on the list. Clarence “Pug” Manders led the NFL in 1941 as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
  • •  The statistics from the AFL (1960-69) were absorbed into the NFL record book with the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. The only runner from the AFL to led pro football in rushing during the 1960s was the Boston Patriots’ Jim Nance (1966-67). He bested NFL runners Gale Sayers in 1966 and Leroy Kelly in 1967.

Hopefully, I’ve poked your curiosity enough that you’ll peruse these two new pages on our website.