Thursday, April 11, 2024

O.J. Simpson (no longer breathing)

I was six the first time I saw O.J. Simpson.

I huddled in front of a little color TV and watched USC-UCLA in 1967. It was the game of the season, and I rooted for UCLA, even though they were the underdogs, because I was already the Patron Saint of Lost Causes.

What I learned that day was you couldn't catch O.J. Simpson, and if you ever did, you couldn't tackle him. He moved like water, in a kind of upright, quirky style that no one else ever had.

He broke UCLA's heart, and mine, and then he went to the pros, and he gained yards like no one before him. I watched him break 2,000 yards in a 14-game season (against the Jets). It was preposterous. He was larger than life.

He was superhuman for a long time. Like any legend in that era, though, he had to stay until there was absolutely nothing left of his greatness, until the spotlight was gone. The long decline into the shadows was always painful to watch (as it was painful for Johnny Unitas and Joe Namath as well), and seeing him broken and plodding for the 49ers was nothing but sadness.

There was evil to come, and murders. What happened after his career ended is so well-documented that there's no need to recount it here. As a boy, though, the pure joy of seeing O.J. Simpson run was wonderous, a miracle on a tiny screen.

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