Jim Braxton, whose lead blocks cleared holes for running back O.J. Simpson with the Buffalo Bills in the 1970s, died Monday of cancer. He was 37.
Braxton, a native of Vanderbilt, Pa., battled the disease for two years and had surgery for lung cancer last August. He died at Roswell Park Memorial Institute in Buffalo.
"I've lost a teammate. I've lost a dear friend," Simpson said from his home in Los Angeles. "Bubby was my protector on the field, my companion off it.
"What he meant to my career is impossible to calculate, but I know many of the things I achieved wouldn't have been possible without him."
Braxton, known as Bubby to his teammates, was a third-round draft choice as a running back from West Virginia in 1971. He had his best season in 1975, when he rushed for 832 yards. He played for Buffalo for seven seasons, leaving the Bills early in the 1978 season and finishing the year with the Miami Dolphins.
Braxton, a 240-pounder, was best known as a blocking back for Simpson in 1973 when Simpson rushed for 2,003 yards, then a record in the National Football League.
Braxton finished his career with 2,832 yards rushing and 23 touchdowns. He also caught 140 passes for 1,426 yards and 6 touchdowns.
"The entire family of the Buffalo Bills is in mourning today," Bills' owner Ralph Wilson said. "People who saw Jim Braxton perform with such distinction during the mid-1970s will find it hard to believe he has been taken from us at such a young age."
Until last August, Braxton had been working in Syracuse for a real estate management firm. He lived in the Buffalo suburb of Amherst.
He is survived by his wife, Pam, and two sons.