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Sports Then and Now



Waiting for the Weekend: O.J. Simpson – Trapped Between Two Worlds 1

Posted on July 21, 2017 by Dean Hybl
During the 1970s, O.J. Simpson was the best player in football, despite being relegated to Buffalo.

During the 1970s, O.J. Simpson was the best player in football, despite being relegated to Buffalo.

Typically, one of the great results of sports is in its ability to unite. Whether it be a team of players from different backgrounds coming together to create one cohesive unit or a group of fans with little more in common than their fondness for a team or player who come together to cheer, celebrate and agonize over the successes and failures of that chosen favorite.

As I join the rest of society in viewing the latest chapter in the nearly 50 year saga of former athlete O.J. Simpson, it seems clear that whether intended or not, instead of being someone that people unite around, O.J. has more often served as a divider.

Born and raised in the housing projects of the Potrero Hills section of San Francisco, Orenthal James Simpson joined a gang as a teenager and was incarcerated at least three times. His life could have very easily been one led quietly in jails and the neighborhoods of his hometown had he not possessed a number of characteristics that ultimately helped him rise above his potential path.

Regardless of whether it was a meeting with superstar Willie Mays or the encouragement he received around his own athletic ability, or a combination of factors, eventually Simpson moved off the path to destruction and became a standout high school athlete.

However, as this story from the 1973 book Power Football illustrates, even once Simpson moved onto a path with success as a potential end, he seemed to teeter on the edge.

A star athlete at Galileo High School, Simpson told writer Murray Chase about an incident that very nearly could have gotten him thrown off the junior varsity team.

Nor was it a bad beginning for a fellow who almost had his football career cut off before it started by coming within a lie of being thrown off the high school junior varsity football team.

On the day of a big game, Simpson and two teammates were spending some time shooting dice in the bathroom at school. They all crapped out, though, when Jack McBride, their coach, walked in and found them playing their little game. Many coaches in that situation would simply warn the players never to do that again and let them go. But McBride, in a move for which Simpson could later be thankful (even though he escaped punishment) took the boys to the dean’s office.

“When we went to the dean’s office,” Simpson recalled, “the other two guys, Joe Bell and Al Cowlings, walked in front of me. Coach McBride told the dean he caught us shooting dice in the rest room. He gave the dean the dice and left. When he did, the dean told me to close the door. So I started out and began to close the door from the outside, but the dean called, ‘Where are you going, O.J?’ So I said, “I wasn’t shooting craps. Coach just asked me to help him bring these guys down.’ Then the dean told me I could go and the other guys got suspended.”

The other two boys, one of whom (Cowlings) later became Simpson’s teammate at USC and Buffalo, couldn’t resent O.J.’s little ploy. “They thought it was pretty smart for me to think that quick,” Simpson said. “Al said there was nothing he could say about it. He said if I could get away with it, I deserved it.”

As we now very well know, Simpson has continued to live on that edge for his entire life.

After winning the Heisman Trophy at the University of Southern California in 1968, Simpson was relegated to the NFL’s equivalent of Siberia in Upstate, New York as a member of the Buffalo Bills. However, even though he struggled over the first three years of his career and some thought he might end up being an NFL bust, he still managed to catch the eye of television and advertising executives. Read the rest of this entry →

20 Years Ago: A Sports Day Like No Other 2

Posted on June 15, 2014 by Dean Hybl
The O.J. Simpson White Bronco chase on June 17, 1994 captivated a nation though it didn't break any speed records.

The O.J. Simpson White Bronco chase on June 17, 1994 captivated a nation though it didn’t break any speed records.

This past Thursday sports broadcasters spent a great deal of time discussing what a great sports day it was with the start of the U.S. Open Golf Tournament, World Cup Soccer Championships and the fourth game of the NBA Finals. Certainly an exciting day for sports fans and broadcasters alike, but nothing like a day whose twentieth anniversary we celebrate this week.

The primary sports elements on June 17, 1994 were basically the same as twenty years later, but the story lines in some cases were a bit more compelling. Then, of course, what makes that particular day unlike any other sports day was an un-scripted and un-expected event that transcended sports and captured the attention of the entire country.

Even though the United States wasn’t playing until the next day, June 17th was the most important day to that point in U.S. Soccer history with the opening ceremonies of the first World Cup ever held in the United States. President Bill Clinton, Diana Ross, Opera Winfrey and Daryl Hall were among those who participated in the festivities at Soldier Field in Chicago.

While many hoped the World Cup would usher a new era of interest for soccer in America, half a country away in Oakmont, Pennsylvania, the second round of the U.S. Golf Open included the end of an era for an American sports treasure.

Playing in the U.S. Open for the final time, Pennsylvania native Arnold Palmer said goodbye to the national stage on that Friday afternoon by shooting a final round 81 to finish 16 stokes over par. The 1960 U.S. Open Champion had played his first Open at Oakmont in 1953 and on that Friday afternoon 41 years later had an emotional conclusion to his magical career. Read the rest of this entry →

10 Best NFL Players Who Won the Heisman Trophy 15

Posted on July 21, 2011 by A.J. Foss

Cam Newton will try to join a small group of former Heisman Trophy winners who have been successful in the NFL.

2010 Heisman Trophy Winner Cam Newton is set to begin his career as a NFL quarterback with the Carolina Panthers.

Newton will have fight the Heisman “curse” in which former Heisman Trophy winners do not have productive NFL careers.

However, there have been a number of Heisman winners that not only had successful careers in the NFL, but some ended up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Here are now the 10 Best NFL Players who won the Heisman Trophy:
10. Jim Plunkett-For the first half of his career, Plunkett was a bust as he struggled with the New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers following his Heisman win at Stanford in 1970.

Plunkett joined the Oakland Raiders in 1978 to become its backup quarterback and in 1980 became the starter when incumbent Dan Pastorini broke his leg and led the Raiders to a Super Bowl title and was the game’s MVP with a 13-of-21 performance for 261 yards and three touchdowns.

Plunkett remained with the Raiders for six more seasons and led the Raiders to another Super Bowl title in 1983.

9. Paul Hornung-“The Golden Boy” won the Heisman in 1956 despite his Notre Dame Fighting Irish winning only two games, then became a vital part in the Green Bay Packers’ dynasty of the 1960s with his versatility as a halfback, receiver, and kicker.

In his nine NFL seasons, Hornung accounted for a total of 760 points and led the league in scoring from 1959-61, including a then-record 176 points in 1960 and the NFL MVP in 1961.

Hornung helped the Packers to four NFL championships despite missing the 1963 season for betting on NFL games.

8. Eddie George-The 1995 Heisman winner Ohio State became one of the toughest and best running backs during his time in the NFL.

George played nine seasons in the NFL, all but one with the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans, and never missed a game to injury during his time with the Titans.

In his eight seasons with the Titans, George rushed for over 1,000 yards in each season except 2001 where he rushed for 942 yards, and was named to four straight Pro Bowls form 1997 to 2000.

George was a part of the Titans’ Super Bowl team in 1999 where he rushed for 95 yards and two touchdowns in Tennessee’s 23-16 defeat to the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXIV. Read the rest of this entry →

What a Day: June 17, 1994 12

Posted on June 17, 2010 by Dean Hybl

95 million people watched the "chase" of O.J. Simpson's Ford Bronco.

Depending on your age, there are certain days and moments in United States and World history that even decades later you remember specific details about where you were, who you were with and what you were doing. Days such as November 22, 1963 (shooting of John F. Kennedy) and September 11, 2001.

For many Americans, especially sports fans, June 17, 1994 is one of those days.

Just based on the planned sports schedule for the day, it was going to be a busy day in the sports world.

The list of events included:

- The opening game of the first soccer World Cup held in the United States

- The final U.S. Open round for Arnold Palmer

- The victory parade for the 1994 NHL Champion New York Rangers

- A full Major League Baseball schedule including a game in which Ken Griffey, Jr. blasted his 30th home run

- The fifth game of the NBA Championship

But, as an awesome 30 for 30 broadcast for the first time last night on ESPN reminds us, the nation was captivated that day by a “chase” across a Los Angeles freeway that ended with the arrest of a then-beloved sports hero. It is estimated that as many as 95 million people watched the television coverage of O.J. and the white Ford Bronco on that summer night. Read the rest of this entry →

Video Is Worth A Thousand Words: O.J. Simpson’s 2,000-yard season 8

Posted on December 15, 2009 by Dean Hybl
On December 16, 1973, O.J. Simpson rushed for 200 yards against the New York Jets to become the first player in NFL history to pass the 2,000-yard rushing mark for a single season.

On December 16, 1973, O.J. Simpson rushed for 200 yards against the New York Jets to become the first player in NFL history to pass the 2,000-yard rushing mark for a single season.

In the wake of the continued dismantling of the Tiger Woods persona, I can’t help but think of another prominent African-American athlete who like Tiger was once an advertising force and one of the best known and most popular sports figures in the country.

While I am certainly not comparing anything that Tiger has been accused of doing to what led to the downfall of O.J. Simpson, I do think there are obvious comparisons in both the swiftness of the fall and the subsequent revelations that the public persona was really little more than a false facade.

This week marks the 36th anniversary of the greatest on-the-field accomplishment of O.J.’s Hall of Fame football career.

On December 16, 1973, Simpson rose to a level of greatness that had never previously been reached. In the final game of the regular season against the New York Jets he not only broke Jim Brown’s single season rushing record of 1,863 yards, but went on to become the first player (and only in a 14-game season) to eclipse the 2,000-yard rushing mark for a single season.

While I recognize that it is now difficult to separate the on-the-field greatness of O.J. with the off-the-field actions, I do still believe that his 2,000-yard season was one of the greatest individual performances in the history of professional sports.

In another installment of our occasional series looking at great athletes and moments through video, here is a look at O.J. Simpson’s march to a 2,000 yard season.

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    • George Musso: From Longshot to Hall of Famer
      August 5, 2017 | 4:52 pm
      George Musso

      George Musso

      The Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Month went from small college long shot to Pro Football Hall of Famer.

      When George Musso finished his college career at Millikin College in 1933, Chicago Bears coach George Halas offered the 6-foot-2, 265 pound lineman a tryout and eventually a $90 per game contract, but had serious doubts whether he could make the transition from small college football to the NFL.

      It took a year for Musso to adjust, but by 1935 he was an All-Pro tackle. Two years later, he moved to guard and again earned first team All-NFL honors. He became the first player in NFL history to earn first team All-League honors at two different positions.

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