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  O.J. Simpson - Super Hero, Super Villain - by Rick Anderson

 

O.J. Simpson was a legend on and off the field and his days with the Buffalo Bills will always be remembered as exciting. "The Juice" was probably the most talented athlete ever to play for a Buffalo team in any sport. However, it was a murder case that Simpson was directly involved in that will forever cloud the opinions of people and fans alike. It was that murder trial that made Simpson infamous and even people who never heard of O.J. before will never forget his face or name again.

Orenthal James Simpson was one of the most acclaimed football players ever drafted in the National Football League. The Buffalo Bills used their No. 1 overall pick in 1969 to select Simpson. Simpson, who had won the Heisman Trophy in 1968 as the top collegiate football player, would leave his mark on the city of Buffalo in more ways than one. He would become the all-time Bills runner, gaining the most yards per season over any other Bills runner. It was not until Thurman Thomas broke his career rushing record in 1999, that one of Simpson's records would fall by the wayside.

In Simpson's rookie year with the Buffalo Bills in 1970, he played under Bills head coach John Rauch. Rauch had different plans for Simpson than what the former Heisman Trophy winner had envisioned. The Bills used Simpson more on the special teams than what he considered his primary role as a running back. He was put on the kickoff return team and during one return in his rookie year, Simpson received a severe knee injury. The next year Lou Saban returned to the helm as Bills head coach and he made Simpson the center piece of his offense. Starting in 1972, Simpson racked off five straight years where he ran for 1,000+ yards. During that span, Simpson made the Pro Bowl and was named All-Pro. The Juice was the NFL rushing king four years and was voted the NFL Player of the year in 1972, 1973 and 1975.

Simpson was born in San Francisco on July 9, 1947. He did not have an easy youth while growing up in San Francisco and at times was rebellious. When he was 14 in 1961, Simpson did not make the Pop Warner team the Power Gliders. Simpson first attended the City College of San Francisco and then transferred after two years at that small school to the University of Southern California.

Late in Simpson's first season with the Trojans, his team was battling for the PAC-8 title. The date was November 18, 1967 and USC was playing their arch rival UCLA Bruins at the Los Angeles Coliseum. The Bruins were rated as the top team in the nation, while the Trojans were ranked 3 teams below them. The Bruins held O.J. in check on his first ten carries, as he only gained 11 yards. But then he burst out and finished with 177 yards and two touchdowns.

Gary Beban, who would eventually finish ahead of Simpson in the Heisman Trophy race, threw for his second touchdown of the game to put UCLA ahead 20-14 with a little less than a quarter remaining. That was when O.J. would make his most famous run in his college career. With the Trojans at their own 36, Simpson ran through the left side of his offensive line and then cut towards the left and picked up 15 yards. He then got a great block and cut back to the right where a huge hole opened up. Simpson broke into the daylight and finished with a 64 yard touchdown scamper. That run helped the Trojans get into the Rose Bowl where they would win the national championship. He finished as the Heisman Trophy runner up that year behind Beban. The Trojans made it back to the Rose Bowl the following year, but lost this time. However, Simpson was the overwhelming winner of the Heisman Trophy after being the top rusher with 1,309 yards. While at USC, he was also a member of the relay team that shattered the world record for the 440-yard relay.

After the Bills made Simpson their No. 1 selection, he held out before finally signing a bonus package that instantly made him rich.

Said Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson after inking O.J. to a huge contract, "Simpson will be getting more money than any rookie has been paid since the merger, and Buffalo will be getting what it feels is an outstanding football player who one day may take a place among the great running backs of his game."

Playing for an inept team, the Juice wasn't living up to his expectations. Finally, with Saban back at the helm, the Bills constructed one of the best offensive lines in the league, which was to be nicknamed "The Electric Company" by none other than O.J. himself because as he described, "it turned on the Juice." In 1972, Simpson finally displayed the speed and the moves that made him the Heisman Trophy winner. He finished first amongst all runners that year with 1,251 yards. The next season would be the year that Simpson set the league on fire. In the very first regular season game of the year, O.J. broke the All-Time single game rushing record when he gained 250 yards. He also went on to break the season rushing record of 1,863 yards set by Cleveland's Jimmy Brown in 1963. Then, on the last game of the season against the New York Jets in Shea Stadium, Simpson broke the 2,000-yard mark by finishing the season with 2,003 yards! O.J. had set a new mark for excellence and it wasn't until years later that Eric Dickerson broke that record.

"I was in the locker room all by myself right before the game ended. I started walking around thinking how I couldn't wish to do anything more or be anyone else. I was part of the history of the game," O.J. reflected about how it felt to be the first player to crack the 2,000 barrier. "If I did nothing else in my life, I'd made my mark."

Simpson would make only one appearance in the post season during his illustrious 11-year career in the National Football League. That was on Dec. 22, 1974 in Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Stadium when the Bills lost to the Steelers 32-14. The Juice only managed 49 yards against the Steel Curtain on 15 rushing attempts. He also was the recipient of 3 passes by Bills QB Joe Ferguson for 37 yards, which included a three yard touchdown reception.

1975 was another excellent year for the Juice. He ran for 1,817 yards and broke the single season record for most touchdowns when he scored 23 times. The next season, O.J. took a hit of over 300 yards but still finished first in the NFL with 1,503 yards for his fourth straight rushing crown. In 1977, Simpson's last with the Bills, he fell under the 1,000 barrier for the first time since 1971. He ran for just 557 yards on only 126 carries. After that season, Simpson requested that he be traded to a team on the West Coast. The Bills obliged him by sending him off to the San Francisco 49ers for a total of 5 draft choices - one No. 1 pick, two No. 2s, a No. 3 and a No. 4. The Juice played two years with his hometown 49ers before he decided to finally hang up his cleats because of nagging injuries.

During his 11-years galloping on the football fields across the NFL, O.J. finished with 11,236 total rushing yards and scored 61 touchdowns on the ground. He added another 14 touchdowns by receiving and had one on a kickoff return. In all, Simpson scored a total 456 points by reaching the endzone 76 times. In his very first year of eligibility, O.J. was enthroned into Pro Football's Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

O.J. was picked as the 49th top athlete of the past century on the ESPN Sports Network.

"One of the big motivating things for me was Joe Louis, not only his hero side, but the fact that he was broke virtually at the end of his career and I vowed that wouldn't happen to me. So I tried to put myself in a position that I wouldn't finish my life broke and be this negative story," said Simpson during the SportsCentury broadcast on ESPN.

O.J.'s accomplishments on the playing field were many. During his 2,003-yard season in 1973, Simpson was the first running back to rush at least 100 yards 11 times in a year. Three players have rushed for 250 yards or more in the NFL's history. O.J. did it twice, on the opening day against New England in 73 when he galloped for 250 yards and on Thanksgiving Day in Detroit in 1976 when Simpson ran for 273 yards. One year later (1977), Walter Payton broke Simpson's All-Time single game rushing record when he rushed for 275 yards.

During his 11 years playing in the NFL, Simpson averaged 83.2 yards per game (135 total regular season games). From 1972-76, the Juice averaged 110 yards per game for the Bills. In his 8 years with Buffalo (1969-77), Simpson carried the ball 2,123 yards for 10,183 yards for a 4.8 yards per carry average. His longest gainer was for 94 yards for a touchdown and he made paydirt 57 times while wearing the red, white and blue Bills uniform.

Only Thurman Thomas tops the Juice as the Bills' All-Time rushing leader. Thomas had more carries (2,849) than Simpson, played 11 years with the Bills before being cut after the 1999 season. Thomas gained 11,938 yards (1,755 more than O.J.), and scored 65 touchdowns (8 more).

After O.J. retired in 1979, he turned his attention to a movie career. The Juice starred or acted in a total of 19 movies. The most famous were his Naked Gun series of movies, along with The Towering Inferno and two Roots made for TV movies. Below is a chronological list of movies that O.J. played in, from latest to earliest:

Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult (1994)
No Place to Hide (1993)
C.I.A. Code Name: Alexa (1992)
The Naked Gun 2 : The Smell of Fear (1991)
Richard Lewis - I'm Doomed (1990)
The Naked Gun - From the Files of Police Squad! (1988)
Naked Guns Collection (1988)
Hambone and Hillie (1984)
Firepower (1979)
Capricorn One (1978)
The Cassandra Crossing (1977)
Roots - V. 1 (1977)
Roots - V. 2 (1977)
Behind the Badge (1977)
Killer Force (1975)
The Towering Inferno (1974)
The Klansman (1974)
First and Ten - V. 1
First and Ten - V. 2

Simpson also became a color anchor on NBC's weekly NFL telecasts. He became a familiar figure on the sidelines, especially at Bills games, giving interviews to star players. Thurman Thomas was one of his all-time favorite interviews.

These endeavors with the media would be overshadowed by an event that would affect the life of O.J. Simpson, his ex-wife and his family for years to come. Simpson's ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ronald Goldman, were found horrendously butchered outside her home in June of 1994. O.J. Simpson, took a red-eye flight to Chicago and was arrested after he came back to California after hearing about the double murder. The arrest preceded a slow chase along the LA freeway where his friend and former Buffalo Bills, A.C. Cowlings drove his white Ford Bronco, while O.J. was spotted in the back with a revolver pointed to his own head. This went on for a couple hours before they finally went back to Simpson's home.

The trial of the century began in January 1995. Simpson had an All-Star team of attorneys including superstars Johnnie Cochran and Robert Shapiro. They provided "The Juice" with a perfect defense and the trial became more of a debate about police procedure, race relations and spousal abuse than murder. The trial became more of a circus act than a court house where justice was to be served.

On the day of the verdict, billions across the nation and the world tuned in to TV and radio to find out the fate of O.J. Simpson. Finally the verdict was reached and "The Juice" sat there with a furrowed brow as he awaited his fate. That's when the he and the world heard the words "not guilty" on all accounts. Suddenly, the weight of the world fell off his shoulders. The old smile of O.J. returned as the decision sank in.

The decision caused a huge release of emotion on both sides. Simpson's son Jason, cried while holding his head in his hands, while his sister Arnelle, hugged him. Arnelle was reported as saying, "We did it, Jason."

On the Goldman side, Ronald Goldman's sister broke down and cried. Goldman's father appeared as if he had been hit by a Mac truck and would later take Simpson to court with a civil suit (that Goldman would win).

While the verdict was being read, the jurors sat stone-faced. They did not show much emotion throughout the trial. The following is the CNN report about how people around the world reacted to O.J.'s verdict:

Simpson Trial Draws Jeers 'Round The World

October 3, 1995
[From the CNN web site, posted at: 8:45 p.m. EDT]

From International Correspondent Rob Reynolds

The O.J. Simpson trial was an unprecedented media sensation in the United States. It was also big news in many other parts of the world. Here is a sampling of international reaction to the verdict.

In Britain, where the Simpson case has been closely followed by the news media, news broadcasts were extended to allow live coverage of the verdict.

"I think a lot of people have looked at American society through the prism of the O.J. Simpson case, seen the racial divisions, seen the issues of access to the judicial system been helped by extreme wealth, and perhaps conclusions have been drawn about the American social system," said ITN Deputy Editor Michael Jermey.

Drinkers in a London bar watched the verdict live and passed their own verdict on U.S. justice.

"It should have been done like a normal trial," said one patron. "It shouldn't have been televised either, made a big drama out if it. It's like watching a soap."

"I think is all blown out of proportion, and it's all a big film really, made for TV," said another woman.

"It's a very bad reflection on the American justice system," said a third patron. "I think the justice system over there stinks."

Barry Wigmore, a reporter for the British tabloid TODAY, told CNN that most of his countrymen believe the American justice system does not work very well. "It becomes a three-ring circus," he said. "There's more show biz than there is a search for truth and for justice." Wigmore said his paper would be running a five-page story on the verdict Wednesday under the headline, "What a Farce."

In an interview with CNN, Vittoria Zucconi, a U.S.-based columnist for the Italian newspaper La Stampa, said Italians have difficulty understanding the American justice system. "You have Susan Smith not getting the death penalty in South Carolina, the Menendez brothers walking, O.J. Simpson walking, the Rodney King beaters walking," he said. "It's incredible story for us not so much of guilt or innocence, but (of) how does the American system work or not work."

Reactions were similar in other parts of the world. In Brazil, a television commentator said, "What's really on trial is racism in the United States."

News coverage of the trial's finale Tuesday varied among countries. In Germany, the verdict led news bulletins. In Russia, state television largely ignored the story.

In Israel, there was no coverage at all, but not for lack of interest. Television and radio stations were off the air as the country observed the solemn holy day of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

The verdict brought tears to both sides. Just as Simpson's son, Jason, sobbed with head in hands, so did Ronald Goldman's sister, Kim. Simpson's daughter, Arnelle, hugged her brother, reportedly saying, "We did it, Jason."

A defense witness Kathleen Bell, was upset with the verdict. She cried when the verdict was read and said,. "This is very hard to take. Watching the families crying is very difficult."

When Bell was questioned if she would come forward again, if she had a chance to make the decision over, she said, "Yes, unfortunately." Then she sighed as said, "... stupid."

Fred Goldman, Ron's father, had his eyes closed while the verdict was being read. When O.J. was pronounced a free man, Goldman appeared as if the insides were ripped out of him. A couple years later, the Goldman family would launch a civil suit against Simpson and they eventually won that. Because of losing the civil suit, Simpson had to sell off his mansion and most of his belongings.

After 5 years of being in the spotlight for the wrong reasons, O.J. Simpson has finally moved to Florida, where trouble seemed to follow him to his new home. O.J. found himself in the news again just recently when on May 25, 2000, Miami police were called in to settle a domestic dispute. According to the report, Simpson claimed to be the "victim" of domestic violence when his 24-year old female "friend" apparently slapped and kicked him. When the police arrived at the Miami hotel, they found Simpson and Christie Prody alone together in the same room. The police were notified by a call from hotel security when they heard the ruckus between the two. Simpson decided to not file any charges against Prody and he apparently was not injured during the scuffle, except for his ego. The hotel management decided to ban Prody from the hotel grounds because of "loud and violent behavior." The police issued a trespassing warning and Prody was last seen leaving the hotel in a taxi. Just like in the murder trial, O.J. claimed to be a victim of domestic violence. This brings up the question of whether Simpson will ever lead a quiet, acquiescent private life or whether these incidents of violence will follow him to the grave?

It took only one night for O.J. Simpson to fall from grace of being a super hero to becoming a super villain. For the rest of his life, "The Juice" will be known more for his possible involvement in two horrific murders than his achievements on the football field.

 


Bills Backers United is a combined effort between the Bills Backers International Chapters located in Willow Grove PA, Laurel MD, Phoenix AZ, and Virginia Beach VA.

Copyright 2002 Rick Anderson