In the mid-1970s, O.J. Simpson was considered the best running back in the NFL.
His celebrity status as a pro began in 1973 when Simpson became the first back in NFL history to surpass 2,000 yards in a single season.
— RUN Hoops (@runhoopsapp) December 16, 2020
Simpson followed that achievement with three more years of spectacular running for the Buffalo Bills.
After three not-so-special years with Buffalo and the San Francisco 49ers, Simpson retired.
His career rushing totals at the time placed him second all-time in the NFL.
In retirement, Simpson became a television pitchman and broadcaster as well as a frequent actor in movies.
Then, in 1994, Simpson found himself embroiled in a murder trial and was accused of killing his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman.
For the next year, Simpson was front-and-center in a national courtroom drama that perpetually left people guessing his guilt or innocence. He was eventually acquitted.
Years later, Simpson would again be front page news for a robbery he helped commit in Las Vegas, further tarnishing his legacy.
This is the troubling story of O.J. Simpson.
Turbulent Life as a Youth
Orenthal James (O.J.) Simpson was born on July 9, 1947, in San Francisco, California.
Simpson’s unique name came from an aunt who was a fan of a French actor with the same name.
From then on, the young boy was known to family and friends as “O.J.” or “The Juice” (as in orange juice).
Growing up in the Bay area, Simpson encountered one hardship after another.
When he was five, his father, Jimmy Lee, separated from Eunice, Simpson’s mother, leaving Eunice to raise O.J. and his siblings alone in a rough area of town.
Jimmy Lee Simpson would eventually become a renowned drag queen and die of AIDS in the 1980s.
Around the time of his father’s departure, O.J. developed rickets and had to wear braces on his legs to help correct the condition.
Because of his malady, Simpson’s gait was bow-legged and classmates called him “Pencil Pens.”
By the time he was in middle school, Simpson and his good friend, Al Cowlings, decided to join a gang called the “Persian Warriors,” just one of a few gangs of which Simpson was a member.
“I never infringed on people,” Simpson said in a 1976 Playboy interview. “I only beat up dudes who deserved it … At least once a week, usually on Friday or Saturday night. If there weren’t no fight, it wasn’t no weekend.”
When he wasn’t in trouble with the law, O.J. would play sports at a local recreation center. That was where he developed a reputation as a talented athlete.
“Black kids were welcome at that gym and that’s where most spent their time,” said a local resident.
Simpson grew to love baseball and was a fan of Willie Mays, the star center fielder with the San Francisco Giants.
However, the lure of gang life continued to land Simpson in youth detention centers.
Simpson Gets His Act Together
After his third arrest, a friend contacted Mays and asked if he would speak to Simpson.
Seeing nothing to lose, Mays agreed to speak with the young man.
During their conversation, something clicked inside Simpson. He began to see he was wasting his potential.
“I had an entirely different outlook on everything after that day with Willie Mays,” Simpson told Sports Illustrated. “I can’t really say that it turned my life around, just like that. I honestly believe that I would have made it on my own. But that time with Mays made me realize that my dream was possible. Willie wasn’t superhuman. He was an ordinary person, so there was a chance for me.”
Simpson began playing sports for Galileo High School. He turned heads as an athlete for the Lions.
O.J. Simpson attended SF's Galileo High and then City College of SF before transferring to USC. The rest is history, some of it good, most of it bad.
The best prospect in SF public schools in recent history was David Henderson. He was a man among boys, racking up averages of 1/
— Too Bright For Your Gaslight (@LNSmithee) April 30, 2019
Initially, he was a tackle for the football team but then was moved to running back.
While he was racking up yards on the gridiron and playing baseball and competing in track as well, Simpson found solace at home with Eunice.
“He would say ‘My mama. My mama would inspire us to stay in school’ and this and that. He had a wonderful love for his mother,” said friend, Michelle Metcalf.
There was no doubt that Simpson had great talent.
Unfortunately, while he applied himself in athletics (All-City in football), he rarely showed any interest in academics and barely graduated.
Junior College and Marriage
Simpson’s poor grades meant that he had to spend time at the JuCo level and show the big colleges he was more than just a sports star.
During his two years at City College of San Francisco, Simpson continued to showcase his ability on the gridiron.
He played running back and defensive back for the Rams and scored 26 touchdowns. He averaged just under ten yards per carry as a freshman in 1965.
Then, in 1966, Simpson was named a JuCo All-American. His total stats at CCSF were 2,445 rushing yards and 54 touchdowns.
I was good friends with O. J. Simpson. We were both students at the City College of San Francisco. He later became one of the greatest running backs in football — Vic Alexander pic.twitter.com/73VihdL3HZ
— VicAlexander (@VicAlexander15) February 1, 2022
In addition to his stats on the field and his work improving in the classroom, Simpson dated Marguerite Whitely and the couple was married in the spring of 1967.
Eventually, they would have three children.
Simpson made another big decision that spring when he chose to attend USC for the remainder of his college years.
The Juice Runs Roughshod as a Trojan
In the spring of 1967, Simpson prepared for major college football by running track for the Trojans.
Simpson was a sixth-place finisher in the NCAA for the 100-meter dash. He was also part of the 440-yard relay team that won the NCAA championships and set a world record.
When the 1967 college football season began, USC coach John McKay started Simpson at running back, and he immediately set the world on fire.
As USC dispatched such opponents as Michigan State, Notre Dame, Washington, and Texas, Simpson led the country in rushing with 1,543 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also had 10 receptions for 109 additional yards.
On this date, 1967. O.J. Simpson races into the end zone after his iconic 64-yd TD run. USC 21 UCLA 20. (AP Photo) #CollegeFootball #FightOn #USC @ClintKPoppe @randycrossFB @wig4usc pic.twitter.com/rSsYLGJPrZ
— History of College Football (@HistColFootball) November 18, 2022
In the regular season finale against top-ranked UCLA and a showdown with quarterback Gary Beban, Simpson provided the winning points on a 64-yard touchdown blast late in the contest.
“It’s a 5-yard run,” USC Coach John McKay said. “But he turned it into something else. It’s one of the greatest runs I’ve ever seen.”
After the Trojans’ 21-20 upset, Beban and Simpson met to exchange pleasantries.
“Gary, you’re the greatest,” said O.J. “It’s too bad one of us had to lose.”
“O.J., you’re the best,” said Beban. “Go get ’em in the Rose Bowl.”
Beban would win the Heisman Trophy that year. Simpson was runner-up.
However, Simpson had the last laugh.
During the 1968 Rose Bowl against the fourth-ranked University of Indiana, O.J. scored twice to help USC to a 14-3 victory and a national championship.
Simpson’s first year with the Trojans resulted in a UPI Player of the Year award, the Walter Camp Award, and a Unanimous All-American selection.
Simpson’s junior year in 1967 was remarkable, but he was just getting warmed up.
As a senior in 1968, he led the nation in rushing yardage (1,880, an all-time record), carries (383, also an NCAA record), touchdowns (23), and total points (138).
When Coach McKay was asked why Simpson was used so often, the coach didn’t miss a beat.
“He doesn’t belong to a union. Anyway, the ball doesn’t weigh that much,” answered McKay.
The Trojans began the ‘68 season with a 9-0 record, then tied the Fighting Irish in the final game of the season before losing to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl.
— InsideUSC (@InsideUSC) June 13, 2016
Although USC lost to the Buckeyes, Simpson provided a spark in the second quarter when he uncorked an 80-yard run that put the Trojans ahead, 10-0.
“Simpson was not only the greatest player I ever had—he was the greatest player anyone ever had,” said McKay.
During awards season that year, Simpson received the UPI Player of the Year award for the second time and became a unanimous All-American.
He also won the Maxwell Award and received the Heisman Trophy by a record margin of 1,750 points.
— 30 for 30 (@30for30) June 12, 2016
In his two seasons with USC, Simpson’s totals were almost laughable.
He had 3,423 rushing yards, 36 touchdowns, 36 receptions, and 320 receiving yards.
The College Football Hall of Fame inducted O.J. Simpson into its ranks in 1983.
Slow Start in Buffalo
The Buffalo Bills were a relatively new team in the AFL.
Buffalo’s first season in the AFL was in 1960, and the organization won championships in 1964 and 1965.
After losing the 1966 title game to Kansas City, the Bills went downhill fast.
In 1967, the team won four games followed by just a single victory in 1968.
Unfortunately, for Simpson, this was the same Buffalo team that looked to him to reverse their fortunes.
With the first overall selection in the 1969 NFL Draft, the Bills added The Juice.
On this day is sports history
— Sports Film Pitch (@SportsFilmPitch) January 28, 2022
Not exactly enthused about his new team, Simpson used the opportunity to demand a large contract and threatened to begin a career in Hollywood if his demands weren’t met.
After several weeks, Bills owner Ralph Wilson relented. He gave Simpson a five-year, $650,000 deal that was the largest in pro sports history at the time.
“Ralph Wilson said something during my first negotiation with him,” Simpson recalled later. “My agent, Chuck Barnes, told him, ‘O.J. can be the guy to turn this franchise around and fill the stadium and make them a championship team. Ralph’s reply was, ‘What good would a championship do me? All that means is everybody wants a raise.’ Me, being a 22-year-old kid, I had never heard anybody in athletics talk that way. That’s when it dawned on me this guy is all about the business and not about the game.”
When he reported for duty, new coach John Rauch didn’t envision an offense with Simpson as the focal point. He used the rookie as a decoy on several occasions.
“We knew he had a lot of ability, but the way Rauch was using him was weird,” teammate Paul Costa said.
As Buffalo won four games, Simpson started 13 games and rushed for 697 yards and two scores while also adding 30 catches for 343 yards and three more touchdowns.
— 30 for 30 (@30for30) June 12, 2016
He was named to the AFL All-Star Team, but Simpson’s teammates stated that he could have done much more if not for Rauch.
“After the first couple of weeks, it was like a bad dream,” cornerback Booker Edgerson said. “He was the worst coach that I ever had. The guy was terrible.”
Simpson Finally Gets a Chance
Things didn’t get much better in 1970.
That season, the Bills decreased their wins from four to three, and Simpson was limited to eight games due to an injury.
His 488 yards and five scores didn’t save Rauch, who was eventually fired after badmouthing current and former members of the Buffalo organization.
In 1971, Simpson started all 14 games and increased his rushing total to 742 yards and five touchdowns. However, new coach Harvey Johnson wasn’t much better than Rauch.
Buffalo could only muster one victory, and Johnson was fired as well.
“The last two years, I was playing football just for the money,” Simpson said in 1971. “I couldn’t wait for the season to end, so I could get out of Buffalo and go back home. Well, man, I finally realized that was no way to be. I had to get my mind right and go to work.”
Before the 1972 season, Wilson hired Lou Saban, and the Bills slowly began to show some life.
Saban was amazed at Simpson’s talent. He saw the same otherworldly ability John McKay saw at USC.
Saban made the Juice his workhorse.
“We have a great runner, a game-breaker who is a big-play athlete. I intend to use him,” Saban said.
Buffalo only increased its wins to four in 1972, but Simpson carried the rock 292 times for 1,251 yards, (which led the AFL) and had six touchdowns, including an AFL-best 94-yard score.
Simpson’s breakout year brought him first-team All-Pro, Pro Bowl, and UPI AFC Offensive Player of the Year accolades.
“I don’t think he’s even scratched the surface yet,” Saban said about Simpson.
Saban was correct in his assessment, and Simpson knew it.
Before the 1973 season, the Bills updated their offensive line and added such players as rookie guard Joe DeLamielleure and Arkansas quarterback Joe Ferguson.
As training camp wrapped before the season, Simpson remarked to teammate Reggie McKenzie that he believed 1,700 yards weren’t out of the question.
McKenzie was even more optimistic and countered, “Let’s shoot for two grand and really set the world on fire.”
That idea didn’t seem too far-fetched when Simpson embarrassed the New England Patriots in Week 1 with 250 rushing yards (an NFL single-game record) and a touchdown.
“O.J. had more yardage than Secretariat,” said Pats linebacker Edgar Chandler.
Simpson didn’t slow down. He continued to pile up yardage every week as “The Electric Company” was born.
In 1973- O.J. Simpson ran all over the NFL behind the famed "Electric Company" to led the league in rushing with 2,003 yards. The 1st player to ever get 2000+ yards & only 8️⃣ have EVER done it. He did it in 14 games too….#BillsHistory #Juiced pic.twitter.com/5MevUVrWuv
— VintageBills (@VintageBills) February 13, 2023
As the season wore on, the Bills were desperately trying to get a playoff spot while also keeping an eye on Simpson’s potential record-breaking numbers.
Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown had the all-time NFL record with 1,863 yards for a single season. Many people throughout the league believed the Juice could break that total.
Simpson Sets a New Record
By the time the regular season finale against the New York Jets arrived, Simpson was only 197 yards away from 2,000.
During the contest, Ferguson kept feeding him the ball, and with only six minutes remaining, Simpson ran for seven yards.
— BN Chronicles (@BNchronicles) December 16, 2019
That final dash (his 34th carry of the day) put Simpson at 2,003 yards. Buffalo won the game, 34-14, but still missed the playoffs with a 9-5 record.
“From the moment that happened, I knew I was a part of football forever,” Simpson said. “I was the first guy to gain 2,000 yards and nobody could beat that, like being the first to hit 60 home runs or run the four-minute mile.”
He also led the NFL in touchdowns (12), yards per game (143.1), total touches (338), and total yards (2,073).
Now that he was the NFL’s new single-season rushing yards record holder, Simpson also received first-team All-Pro, Pro Bowl, UPI AFC Offensive Player of the Year, AP Athlete of the Year, and Bert Bell Award accolades.
Furthermore, voters named Simpson the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year and MVP of the league.
Buffalo Reaches the Postseason
Rushing for more than 2,000 yards in the NFL is a tall order, and expecting an athlete to accomplish the feat twice is nearly impossible.
In 1974, the Juice had “only” 1,125 yards, three touchdowns, and a receiving touchdown.
He also led the NFL in attempts with 270.
Simpson’s workload helped the Bills reach nine wins and get to the playoffs for the first time since 1966.
Although Simpson scored a touchdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Divisional round, Buffalo still lost, 32-14.
The following year, Simpson very nearly cracked the elusive 2,000-yard mark again when he led the league in attempts (329), yards (1,817), touchdowns (16, also a career-high), and an 88-yard rushing score.
O.J. Simpson (Buffalo Bills)
1975 NFL Rushing champion
1817 yards pic.twitter.com/zmkP2YGko7
— The Book Man (@pensjim66) March 19, 2017
He also led the NFL with 5.5 yards per rushing attempt, 129.8 yards per game, 357 total touches, 2,243 yards from scrimmage, and total touchdowns (23, which included seven receiving scores).
In addition to All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors, Simpson became the UPI AFC Offensive Player of the Year for the third time.
Unfortunately, the Bills couldn’t make the best of his strong year and missed the postseason with an 8-6 record.
Simpson Is Traded to His Hometown Team
In 1976, Simpson had his fifth straight 1,000+ yard rushing season when he gobbled up 1,503 yards, nine scores (including one receiving), and an average of 107.4 yards per game.
O.J. Simpson (Buffalo Bills)
1976 NFL Rushing champion
1503 yards pic.twitter.com/9AtM4vopSt
— The Book Man (@pensjim66) March 25, 2017
His rushing yards and yards per game average were again tops in the NFL.
Then, in 1977, the wheels suddenly fell off. Injuries limited Simpson to just seven starts, 557 yards, and zero trips to the end zone.
The Bills hired former Rams head coach Chuck Knox in 1978, and he looked for trade partners to deal Simpson.
The San Francisco 49ers were more than willing to bring Simpson back to the Bay Area. They gave up several draft picks, including a first-round pick and two second-round selections.
— #Random49ers (@Random49ers) March 24, 2023
When he arrived back home, Simpson was ecstatic.
“Home at last, thank God almighty, I’m home at last,” he exclaimed.
“O. J. is back,” said 49ers’ general manager, Joe Thomas. “And the important thing is that we didn’t have to give up any of our current players to get him.”
San Francisco’s fan base and front office were excited to add Simpson to a roster that included veteran signal-caller Steve DeBerg, receiver Freddie Solomon, and an up-and-coming offensive line.
“O.J. will be most important on the field; if we get the job done there, the box office will take care of itself,” said Thomas.
Simpson did what he could in 1978, rushing for 593 yards and a score and adding two more receiving touchdowns, but the Niners could do no better than two wins.
In 1979, San Francisco added rookies Joe Montana and corner Dwight Hicks. First-year coach Bill Walsh coaxed six wins from the team.
Simpson started eight times and collected a career-low 460 yards and rushed for three scores.
San Francisco 49ers (1978-1979) pic.twitter.com/87BeFUA7FH
— Random California Athletes (@ca_athletes1) May 18, 2022
After the season, The Juice hung up his cleats.
During his career, Simpson racked up 2,404 carries, 11,236 yards, 61 touchdowns, 203 receptions, 2,142 receiving yards, and 14 receiving scores.
He was an NFL MVP, NFL Offensive Player of the Year, five-time All-Pro, five-time Pro Bowler, Bert Bell Award winner, AP Athlete of the Year, and UPI AFC Offensive Player of the Year three times. He also was NFL rushing yards leader four times, rushing touchdowns leader twice, NFL scoring leader once, and an AFL All-Star.
Later, Simpson became part of the NFL’s 1970s All-Decade Team, 75th and 100th Anniversary All-Time Teams, and the Buffalo Bills Wall of Fame.
In 1985, voters inducted O.J. Simpson into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Commentator and Acting Star
After retiring from football, Simpson didn’t slow down.
He was a regular presence on television, especially with his famous Hertz Rent-a-Car commercials.
During the ad spots, Simpson ran through an airport to catch a plane while waiting passengers yelled, “Go, O.J., Go!”
Simpson also dabbled in sports broadcasting and seemed to endorse everything under the sun.
On This Date In Film History with GVN: December 2
The Naked Gun (1988)
Starring: Leslie Nielsen, Priscilla Presley, O. J. Simpson, George Kennedy, and Ed Williams
Directed by David Zucker and Peter Segal
Grossed $350 million pic.twitter.com/tiZ9hXELFz
— Geek Vibes Nation (@GeekVibesNation) December 2, 2020
In the 1980s and early 1990s, he appeared in several movies, including the Naked Gun trilogy as Detective Nordberg.
“I have an aversion to being referred to as an ex-football player,” Simpson told Sports Illustrated in its November 2, 1992 issue. “I’m O.J., which means I’m somebody today and the highlight of my life isn’t behind me.”
Simpson Is Accused of Murder
Before Simpson’s final year as an NFL athlete, his daughter, Aaren, died tragically when the toddler drowned in the family swimming pool.
That same year, Simpson divorced his first wife, Marguerite Whitley, while dating former nightclub waitress Nicole Brown.
In 1985, Simpson and Brown were married, and the couple had two children.
Four years later, the police were called to the Simpson home after O.J. threatened Brown.
Police reported that Simpson said, “I’ll kill you,” to Brown. He was charged with spousal abuse.
After the altercation, a judge ordered the former Bills star to undergo psychiatric counseling and perform community service. Simpson was on probation for two years
The couple would eventually divorce in 1992.
Then, on July 12, 1994, neighbors found Brown and her friend, Ron Goldman, 7stabbed to death outside of Brown’s LA home.
In short order, Simpson became the prime suspect, and five days later, prosecutors ordered Simpson to surrender formally.
He promised to do so, then suddenly vanished.
8:56 PM ET on this date in 1994: Police begin pursuit of O.J. Simpson in the back seat of Al Cowlings' white Bronco pic.twitter.com/Lvj3Jx8KS2
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) June 18, 2016
Later that day, on July 17, 1994, the world learned that Simpson and his longtime friend, Al Cowlings, were in a white, Ford Bronco, driving at a slow rate of speed throughout the LA freeway system.
As the police pursuit played out on television screens, onlookers could be heard yelling in the Broncos’ direction.
“Go, O.J., Go!”
The Trial of the Century
After approximately 90 minutes, Cowlings pulled over, and police arrested Simpson.
His next step was to hire a legion of heavy-hitting attorneys to try and prove his innocence.
Attorneys Johnnie Cochran, F. Lee Bailey, Robert Kardashian, and Robert Shapiro were dubbed “The Dream Team.”
The whole of YSL needs O.J. Simpson's dream team 👀 pic.twitter.com/0zbHWaVIWW
— 𝖊𝖊𝖊𝖘𝖘𝖘𝖘 (@Isa1997_) May 10, 2022
For the next year, Simpson’s public trial was one of the highest-rated events on television.
At one point, viewers were transfixed when prosecutors asked Simpson to try on a pair of bloody gloves that were found at the scene and believed to be those of the killer.
As he worked to get his hands into the gloves, a palpable gasp went through the courtroom.
The gloves did not fit, and Cochran would later refer to this fact by stating, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”
.@Reuters Today in History: 1995 – The former American football star O.J. Simpson was acquitted of murdering his wife and a male friend. In 1997 he was found guilty in a civil suit.#ReutersArchive pic.twitter.com/kU79KPqA7Y
— Reuters Press Team (@ReutersPR) October 3, 2018
The belief in Simpson’s guilt or innocence was mixed among Americans as well as his friends and former teammates.
“I’m having a hard time seeing O.J. in a ski mask and gloves hiding in the bushes with a knife,” said Calvin Tennyson, a boyhood friend of Simpson’s. “This is a professional man, someone trained to control his emotions. I can’t see him flipping out to the point where he would kill two people and throw his whole life down the drain.”
“How could the guy I knew and admired be the same man who stood there in court trying to tug on that leather glove?” asked former teammate Joe DeLamielleure.
Finally, on October 3, 1995, the jury reached a verdict of not guilty.
Many viewers around the nation were shocked, and later studies showed that white and black America were sharply divided on the outcome.
Although Simpson had avoided a guilty verdict in the Brown and Goldman murders, the Goldman family took him to court for a wrongful death civil trial.
On this day 25 years ago, Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman were murdered in Brentwood, California. O.J. Simpson was later acquitted of the murders, but found liable for the deaths in a civil suit. pic.twitter.com/B3KNjV7HXC
— News Radio 840 WHAS (@840WHAS) June 12, 2019
This time, the trial lasted barely four months, and the jury found Simpson guilty, ordering him to pay $33.5 million to the Goldman and Brown families.
“You’ll never be able to hear O.J. Simpson’s name or even watch the great vintage footage of O.J. Simpson as one of the very greatest players who ever lived without thinking of this tragedy,” said broadcaster Bob Costas, who worked NBC’s NFL studio show with Simpson. “But that’s the consequence of what happened.”
For the next decade, Simpson was in the news for various legal issues that included failure to pay back taxes and pirating DirecTV broadcast signals.
Then, in 2007, he and a group of men entered a Las Vegas hotel room with guns and made off with a large number of items of memorabilia.
During questioning by police, Simpson stated that the memorabilia was actually his and that the pieces had been stolen from him.
July 20th in year 2017, O. J. Simpson is granted parole to be released from prison after serving nine years of a 33-year sentence after being convicted of armed robbery in Las Vegas. #O.J.Simpson #history #datefacts pic.twitter.com/VLrSQ9fAI5
— Today in History 🏛⛩🗼🗽📅 (@date_facts_MR) July 21, 2021
After the trial, jurors found Simpson guilty in 2008 of kidnapping and armed robbery. A judge sentenced him to at least nine years in prison.
He was released in 2017.
Simpson’s Life Since 2017
Since his release from prison, Simpson has mostly stayed out of the spotlight except for his occasional remarks on Twitter or other social media platforms.
He is currently 75 years old and primarily lives in Las Vegas.
In recent interviews, Simpson has stated that he and his family make it a point not to discuss his legal issues and focus only on the present.
“We don’t need to go back and relive the worst day of our lives,” he said about his family in 2019, adding that it is a subject that “I will never revisit again. My family and I have moved on to what we call the ‘no negative zone.’ We focus on the positives.”