NFL history: Feathers first to 1,000

Chicago Bears Bronko Nagurski clearing a path for Beattie Feathers. (credit: Pro Football Hall of Fame)

With the myriad of off-the-field issues coming to a head today, we thought we would take a break and harken back to a simpler time with the help of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Today’s topic comes from their weekly historical series regarding the first player to surpass 1,000 yards rushing in a season.

The Hall posed the question on its website and the overwhelming response favored the Eagles’ Steve Van Buren, who was the league’s leading rusher from 1947-1949, but it was the Bears’ Beattie Feathers who first broke the barrier.

In 1934, the Tennessee alum joined a “Monsters of the Midway” team that included future Hall of Famers Bronko Nagurski and Red Grange. As a 5-foot-10, 185-pound rookie, Feathers ran for 1,004 yards on 119 carries with eight touchdowns despite having to sit the last two games because of a shoulder injury.

According to the Hall, when asked how he managed the feat, Feathers replied in his southern drawl, “They just give me the ball and Ah get goin’. Guess the blockin’ is pretty good ahead of me.”

Feathers never came close to the 1,000-yard mark again in his six NFL seasons, and he went on to play a year of baseball with the Brooklyn Dodgers before becoming a full-time college coach at North Carolina State, Texas Tech and Wake Forest.

It took 13 years for the mark to be broken again when Van Buren rushed for 1,008 yards in 1947.

The 1,500-yard mark was first passed by the Browns’ Jim Brown in 1958, and the first 2,000-yard rusher was the Bills’ O.J. Simpson in 1973.

The complete list of all 2,000-yard rushers:
1984 — Eric Dickerson, Rams – 2,105
2003 — Jamal Lewis, Ravens – 2,066
1997 – Barry Sanders, Lions – 2,053
1998 – Terrell Davis, Broncos – 2,008
2009 – Chris Johnson, Titans – 2,006
1973 – OJ Simpson, Bills – 2,003

But it was Feathers’ other record — 8.44 yards per attempt during that 1934 season — that stood for 72 years, only to be broken by a quarterback when Michael Vick bested it by 1/100th of a yard per rush in 2006.

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