It was 35 years ago this month that I sat in the freezing confines of Shea Stadium and watched as O.J. Simpson became the toast of professional sports. That was the day he ran roughshod over the hapless Jets en route the the NFL's first 2000-yard rushing season.
In retrospect, this was like Gretzky's 92-goal season or Wilt's 50 PPG average. It was thought to be an unreachable milestone. Even the great Jim Brown himself did not accomplish such a feat.
But here was O.J., a kid who ascended from the gritty inner-city strife of San Francisco's low end to the apex of the sports world, being carried off the field by teammates at a half-empty, snow-covered Shea.
To me, it seems like yesterday. O.J. Simpson was simply the best football player alive.
Speaking of yesterday...
I hung my head as O.J. was sentenced and chided by a Las Vegas judge. He had just been handed a minimum of nine years in lockup. That is, if all of his stars are aligned, but it was more likely that he would do at least 12 or 15 years.
At 61, he might never leave the Nevada correctional system under his own power.
Simpson looked old, and he looked as if he was sorry for what he had done. Many felt his current transgression was no more than an incident between friends and this should not have been the reason he was headed to jail.
O.J. did not have the home court advantage this time. Johnnie Cochran and Robert Kardashian are long dead; F. Lee Bailey is retired and Bob Shapiro is selling his services via TV commercials. There was no rube in a robe behind the bench this time either.
In 1995, O.J. walked away from two brutal murders. His main asset—himself—was too much for the jury to overcome. How could this guy who had it all commit these crimes? The jury didn't buy the revolutionary DNA evidence, which is now considered to be an irrefutable method of convicting criminals. He waltzed out of a Simi county courtroom and went looking for the real killers on every golf course in America.
Over the past decade or so, this once great player and product spokesman has led a muddled life and deservingly so. His children were left without a mother, Fred Goldman without a son. He was America's most famous pariah.
It was only a matter of time before one two things happened: O.J. would finally have to admit to the murders, or he would land in jail for something he didn't do. Balance the scales out, so to speak.
Those scenarios didn't happen. Instead, O.J. decided to tempt fate.
This time, being O.J. Simpson was the problem. He lost his "get out of jail free" card in 1995. All he had to do was something stupid, something felonious and he was going up the river.
During a rambling attempt at a confession yesterday, he broke down. Perhaps the realization that he was guilty was finally setting in. Justice had come to him, albeit 13 years late and final chapter in the book of America's most famous tragic hero was written.