SI Vault
Paul Zimmerman
November 26, 1979
Time and injuries have taken their toll on O.J. Simpson, but he's bowing out with class
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November 26, 1979

All Dressed Up, Nowhere To Go

Time and injuries have taken their toll on O.J. Simpson, but he's bowing out with class

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"Remember that house," O.J. said, pointing out a gray cement job at the corner of DeHero and Southern Heights. "It's got high windows now. There used to be a kid who lived here...this was his bedroom...and he had every toy soldier and every gimmick kind of toy you could name in there. I used to stop every day and look in the window. Then they raised it. Big, fat kid. Had the best lunches, too."

Arkansas and 23rd, three steel poles driven into the sidewalk in front of the door to the Four-Way Market, Four-Way standing for the four ways to break in—pipe, crowbar, bare hands and automobile. "They used to have windows, and those got broken," O.J. said. "So they put up metal blinds and they got forced. So they cemented the whole thing over, and one night some cat just drove a car right through the door. Must have been 200 kids in there the night that happened. Then they drove those three steel poles in the ground, and that stumped everybody."

For Simpson, coming home had also meant joining a team that was on its third coach in 12 months, a guy who was to be ousted by midseason—a rebuilding team coming off a 5-9 season. During the 10th game of 1978, O.J. went down with a separated shoulder. He suggested they take a look at his postoperative left knee, which never had seemed right. They found six pieces of floating cartilage and a tumor, and when they opened up the back of the knee they found a cyst the size of a lime.

"One thing you lose when you get older, or if you get hurt, is the straightaway speed, the burst coming into the hole," says Hugh McElhenny, the famous old 49er halfback, whose stutter-stepping, freewheeling style was much like O.J.'s. "You don't lose the finesse, the knack of knowing where trouble is coming from, but without the speed to back it up, it isn't the same." O.J. would never be quite the same again on a football field. But in one respect he hadn't lost a step.

"Fame," O.J. said, walking along, "is a vapor, popularity is an accident, and money takes wings. The only thing that endures is character."

"Where'd you gel that from?" Cowlings asked.

"Heard it one night on TV in Buffalo," O.J. said. "I was watching a late hockey game on Canadian TV, and all of a sudden a guy just said it. Brought me right up out of my chair. I never forgot it."

The character of O.J. Simpson will endure. It will be his legacy.

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