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Editorial: O.J. and me: Close encounters of three kinds

Simpson’s relationship with Tanick goes back to 1968.
Image by Sarah Mai

The death two weeks ago of O. J. Simpson evoked distant memories of his connection to the University of Minnesota, The Minnesota Daily and an alumnus of both: me.   

The Simpson saga is well known from football superstar to accused and acquitted double murderer. But much more obscure is Simpson’s nexus to the University, this publication, and me.  

His passing, at age 76, of cancer provides an opportune occasion to recall those links.  

Story starts

The story begins in mid-September 1968, before the start of the 1968-69 academic year at the University.

Simpson’s college team, the defending national University of Southern California (USC) Trojans, to open the season here against the Gophers, coming off a three-way tie for the Big Ten title the prior year. 

During the week, as was customary then, the competing teams made available a star player or two for a telephone conference with the media at the rival’s location to promote the game. 

The USC participant was Simpson, returning from an All-American season as a running back. I was one of the media reps here, doing double duty as Sports Editor of The Daily as well as Sports Director for the campus radio station, WMMR.

I posed one rather lame question: “Do you think you will win the Heisman this year?” referring to the award given annually to the best college player. 

“Well, I’ll certainly try to,” Simpson obliged in his baritone voice.  

My question was prescient and his response prophetic because Simpson did win the Heisman, launched by his remarkable performance a few days later on an off-and-on rainy Saturday afternoon here at Memorial Stadium (where the McNamara Center now stands), leading his team to an exciting come 29-20 win before a frenetic opening game crowd of 60,000-plus fans. He gained 365 all-purpose yards running, pass receiving, and kick returns, scoring all four of his team’s touchdowns in the comeback win. 

In my dual roles, I not only covered the game for The Daily –– which ran a huge multi-page spread on it in the first publication of the school year two days later –– but also broadcast it on WMMR. 

Afterward, I briefly encountered him in the flesh in the locker room and obtained a few banal post-game remarks for the radio station and my front-page Daily story.

Bills brouhaha

Fast forward to the next summer.  

Simpson was the top draft choice of the lowly Buffalo Bills, pro football’s worst team, which spent the summer training near its base at Niagara College in upstate New York. 

I had spent the prior summer working as a sports reporter for a daily newspaper in Rochester and had covered the pre-Simpson Bills summer session.  The next summer, after a stint covering the Moon landing from Earth for the Voice of America international radio system in Washington, D. C., I drove up to the Buffalo training camp to catch-up with some journalists and Bills acquaintances, as well as freelanced a sports story or two before heading off to law school.  

There, lo and behold, I had my third close encounter with Simpson, who was engaged in a brouhaha with the Bills holding out for a big contract. Not participating in pre-season drills, he hung around the sidelines watching practices in well-garbed street clothes.

As I roamed seeking my acquaintances and a story. I found both with Simpson, who was, as they say in the trade: “Good copy.” I reminded him of the Gophers gave the year before and he said, “Man, it sure was a downpour that day.”

Actually, it was more of a hard drizzle. But his reaction was understandable because, according to the period hit Albert Hammond song, “It Never Rains in Southern California.”  We had an amiable chat on the sidelines, about football and life in California, where I was headed for law school.

The Bills ultimately gave Simpson a whopping five-year $650,000 contract, the largest in sports at the time, and he earned it. After a slow start, he became a perennial all-pro player, Most Valuable Player in 1973 and the game’s first 2,000-yard rusher in a season. While elevating the Bills to be a competitive team, Simpson was never able to reach a title game with that team or in his two final years with his hometown San Francisco 49ers, where he concluded his 11-year pro career.

I never saw him again after that third sideline tete-a-tete encounter, except on televised games, a few of his movies, the ubiquitous television commercials dashing through airport terminals and finally in the courtroom with his Dream Team of lawyers.  But I will always remember how affable, well-spoken and humble he was in our three encounters.

He didn’t seem like the killer type.

Marshall H. Tanick is a University of Minnesota alumnus and Twin Cities Constitutional law employment law attorney.

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  • Walter Stobaugh
    Apr 20, 2024 at 9:41 pm

    Perhaps you should apologize to the readers after doing them a disservice. I agree Shame!

  • shame
    Apr 20, 2024 at 7:52 am

    You’d likely feel different had you dated the guy.

    Abusers don’t abuse everyone they meet. They control themselves strategically so people like you will glorify them like you are doing here. He didn’t seem the type to you because you held zero interest for him. Had you mattered to him, had he wanted to exert power and control over you, you would have found out who he really was.

    Why did you write and publish this? To mention yourself (in the third person) and connect yourself to a double murderer? That’s a really weird thing to do. You romanticize a man who killed the mother of his children after years of beating her. You don’t even name Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman, you focus only on yourself and Simpson, almost like you still have a crush on him. You’re a reporter and a lawyer but instead of interrogating why you feel deeply attached to (and maybe even sorry for??) a psychopath, you erase the crime and the victims. You’re one of many who fall under the spell of abusers, killers like Simpson. Maybe your next OpEd will be something more useful.