Senorise Perry doesn’t figure to get on the field often this season for the Bills, but even on the sideline, he’ll draw attention from Buffalo fans. The veteran running back, in his first season with the team, has been given a No. 32 jersey.
That number was last seen worn by a Bills player in 1977, when O.J. Simpson played his last season for Buffalo before spending the final two years of his career in San Francisco. Since then, Simpson has become a figure of considerable controversy.
He served time in prison after being convicted on armed robbery and kidnapping charges. More notably, Simpson was charged in connection with the deaths of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman. He was acquitted on those charges after a high-profile trial in 1995.
Simpson is also a Hall of Fame running back who was a six-time Pro Bowler. He was named first-team all-pro five times and led the NFL in rushing four times. His Buffalo jersey was not retired but also was never issued to another player.
And Perry was surprised to learn he could have it.
“I thought it was retired, but then I was told it was available,” the 27-year-old back told the Athletic. “Boom, I took it."
For his part, Simpson said he was “fine” with that, telling the Athletic: “When I played there, I tried to honor the team. Since I left, I always tried to honor the Bills.”
Simpson said the jersey number was not something he thought about.
“There’s too much else going on in life,” he said.
Simpson, 71, was speaking from Las Vegas, his home since being released from a Nevada prison in October 2017. He had spent nine years there after being convicted on charges stemming from a 2007 incident in which he forcefully took items related to his playing days from a memorabilia dealer in a Las Vegas hotel room.
An episode of far greater notoriety ended in Simpson’s 1995 acquittal on murder charges by a Los Angeles jury, after he was arrested the year before in connection with the violent deaths of Brown Simpson and Goldman. In 1997, a jury in a civil trial found Simpson “responsible” for the murders and he was ordered to pay $33.5 millions in damages to the families of Brown and Goldman.
“I know the situation,” Perry said, but he continued, “I know that greatness comes with that number, playing in Buffalo."
“I’m willing to take anything that comes my way,” said Perry, who was signed for his expected contributions on special teams and has just eight carries in his NFL career. “I’m going into my sixth year, and I know what it takes to get in this league and stay here.
"With that number on my back, I know I’m doing well for my family.”
Perry wore 32 while playing in college at Louisville, and he kept it after making the Chicago Bears’ roster as an undrafted free agent in 2014. When the Georgia native signed with the Miami Dolphins in 2017, he was forced to switch to 34 because his number was already being used by running back Kenyan Drake.
When Perry got to Buffalo he learned that while 32 was available, 34 was not. It was retired last year in honor of Thurman Thomas, a running back who was a key contributor to the Bills teams that made four straight unsuccessful trips to the Super Bowl between 1991 and 1994.
Two other standouts from that era, quarterback Jim Kelly (No. 12) and defensive end Bruce Smith (No. 78), account for the only other retired Bills jerseys. However, a teammate of theirs, wide receiver Andre Reed, is among a handful of former Buffalo stars whose numbers have been placed in “reduced circulation” by the team.
Simpson, who was inducted into the Bills’ Wall of Fame in 1980, has a number that also falls into that category.
In January 2018, after the Bills made the playoffs for the first time in 18 years, Simpson donned the No. 25 jersey of a Buffalo running back, LeSean McCoy, and watched his former team’s postseason appearance at a Bills fan-friendly bar in Las Vegas. “I kind of wanted to be around Buffalo people to enjoy it,” he told the Buffalo News last year.
“In every way shape or form, when I was a player or covering their games for ‘Monday Night Football,’ I’ve always honored the Bills and will continue to do that,” Simpson said to the Athletic. “Whatever they decide to do will not change the way I feel about the people of Buffalo and my time spent there.”