Home Australia Football’s muted response to OJ Simpson’s death shows his legacy is rightfully tarnished

Football’s muted response to OJ Simpson’s death shows his legacy is rightfully tarnished

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OJ Simpson and Bill Cosby

Long before the car chase captivated the national television audience and the “Trial of the Century” captivated the country, OJ Simpson was known only for what he did on the playing field.

“The Juice” was the best running back of his era during an 11-year NFL career that primarily played with the Buffalo Bills.

He won a national championship and a Heisman Trophy in college and set NFL records.

But Simpson’s achievements in the field were overshadowed and his image was forever ruined by charges that he killed his ex-wife and her friend in 1994. Although he was acquitted of the murder, Simpson was found responsible for the deaths in a case separate civilian.

Simpson’s tarnished legacy – having been accused of the stabbing deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman, before being acquitted and later found responsible for their deaths – resulted in a muted reaction to the news of his death on Thursday, local time.

He was not publicly recognized by the NFL, the Bills or the San Francisco 49ers, where he played his final two seasons.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame released a statement attributed to its president Jim Porter that said: “OJ Simpson was the first player to reach a rushing mark that many thought could not be reached in a 14-game season when he surpassed 2,000 yards. Field contributions will be preserved in the archives of the Hall in Canton, Ohio.”

Simpson’s name remains on the Bills Wall of Fame, which surrounds the interior of Bills Stadium.

That could change in a few years when the Bills move to a new stadium that will open across the street in 2026. Fans previously petitioned the team to remove Simpson’s name from the wall.

Otherwise, there are very few reminders of Simpson’s time playing in Buffalo. No statues. Many of his teammates and friends have moved away or died.

Simpson talks to comedian Bill Cosby during his 1973 celebrity tennis tournament in Los Angeles.(Getty Images: Michael Ochs Archive)

Hall of Fame guard Joe DeLamielleure was a rookie with the Bills during Simpson’s record-breaking season and became an important member of an offensive line known as “The Electric Company” that paved the way for Simpson to run free. He said Simpson was an icon when he played.

“[A feeling of] melancholy, I guess,” DeLamielleure said.

“[It’s] Just sad because his whole life was a tragedy the way it ended.

“I’m sad because when people die you say ‘oh God, that’s terrible,’ but what happened to him, and maybe he brought it on himself, but he was an icon in the nation. [when he played[.”

Former Bills defensive back Booker Edgerson said he had a rocky relationship with Simpson early on.

“He and I had a bumpy start and then we had a great relationship throughout,” Edgerson said.

“Because he was a celebrity. And in his ways, he just didn’t understand. He was a young guy. He didn’t understand the game of professional football and what all the guys went through. He just didn’t react to the veterans as I thought he should have.

“Like, disrespect and everything. But once we got to know each other and everything, and then eventually when we became roommates for that one year, from that point on, he and I had a very good relationship.”

OJ Simpson at USC

Simpson is carried off the field at the end of a college match after he scored two touchdowns as USC defeated UCLA 21-20.

After his success at USC, Simpson didn’t initially live up to the hype and expectations of a number one overall draft pick. He averaged 642 yards and four touchdowns in his first three seasons with the Bills and some thought he would be a bust.

Then the arrival of coach Lou Saban in 1972 changed the trajectory of Simpson’s football career. Saban built Buffalo’s offense around Simpson’s skills. That led to his breakout.

The 188 centimetre, 96 kilogram Simpson ran more with grace than power, though he could push through defenders for that extra yard or two. He dodged and eluded tacklers, using his instincts to find open space that allowed him to use his speed to outrace the defence into the end zone.

Simpson rushed for 1,251 yards and six TDs in Saban’s first year in Buffalo. He followed up with one of the greatest seasons in league history, rushing for 2,003 yards and 12 scores in 1973 while earning the NFL Most Valuable Player award.

Oj Simpson 49ers

A group of photographers surround Simpson as he bids farewell to San Francisco football fans at Candlestick Park prior to playing his last game.(Getty Images)

Simpson accomplished that remarkable total in 14 games and his record of 143.1 yards rushing per game still stands. Simpson topped 1,000 yards in each of his next three seasons and 1975 was his best all-around effort.

He rushed for 1,817 yards and 16 TDs and had 426 yards receiving and seven more scores that year. A knee injury ended his season early in 1977 and Simpson finished his career in San Francisco, where he grew up.

The five-time All-Pro was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985.

By then, he was already a fixture on television as an actor, pitchman and football analyst. Simpson first appeared in an ad for Hertz in 1975, and legions of sports fans knew him as the former player who dashed through airports wearing three-piece suits and holding a briefcase while hurdling railings on his way to the rental counter to secure his car.

Oj Simpson commentary

The ABC Monday Night Football commentary team in 1985, with Joe Namath, Frank Gifford, and Simpson.(Getty Images: Mickey Pfleger /Sports Illustrated)

Simpson began acting during his time at USC, appeared in various roles on television shows while in the NFL and co-starred in several movies after retiring. His promising on-screen career and everything else was halted following the murder allegations.

Simpson had matured as a teammate by the time DeLamielleure met him, aided by guidance he received from Edgerson and other veteran players who helped him find his way.

“He was like a star to us, even back then,” DeLamielleure said.

“He was like an icon even back then. But I’ll tell you what, he was never cocky. He worked hard in practice. … He was just one of those guys who was bigger than all of us. But he hung with everybody. Very humble to football players and very respectful to the offensive line because he’s a guy who shined a light on the offensive linemen throughout the league.

“He was a special person, a special player. I watched Pete Maravich play. I also saw Muhammad Ali box. Holy cow. But I was privileged to play with him.”

Gifted, brilliant, and ultimately overshadowed by the horror of what happened off the field, Simpson’s exploits on the field are almost confined to a foot note.


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