The second instalment of The Armchair Pundits’ “fallen sporting heroes” series looks at O.J. Simpson and his spectacular fall from grace from a long career in football.

There are few names as famous as his in modern sporting history, and here Josh Mott gives the low-down on the notorious former sportsman.

Trouble | 95 million Americans tuned in to watch O.J. Simpson flee chasing police cars on Interstate 405. (Image | Biker Gallery)

When Orenthal James Simpson and his friend Al Cowling drove down Interstate 405 in a white Ford Bronco truck, 95 million Americans tuned into cable news channels to watch the chase from the police helicopter.

As one of the most charismatic sportsmen of the time, Simpson was heading not just towards the most famous murder trial in American history, but also a life that would be punctuated by peculiarity right up to the present day.

The name O.J. Simpson carries with it a notoriety that few others do in modern America. He is undoubtedly the most infamous sportsman ever to be renowned for events that had nothing to do with his actual sport.

Simpson’s career spanned 11 years from 1969-1980, with his golden era coming with the Buffalo Bills in the early and mid-’70s. Sports Illustrated magazine ranked the 65-year-old, who moved to San Francisco in 1978 to join the 49ers, as the seventh greatest running back of all time.

Dominant | Simpson takes centre stage for the Buffalo Bills against the Denver Broncos in New York. (Image | Getty)

He ranks eighteenth in the all-time career rushing yards table, while occupying twelfth place in all-time career yards per game league. Simpson went to six Pro Bowl NFL all-star games and won Sports Illustrated’s sportsman of the year award in 1973. He was one of the most iconic football players of the decade.

Even before his retirement, Simpson had a fairly successful acting career with roles in the Naked Gun series and his public persona was one of an extremely charismatic and amiable man. However, his personal life was and remains wrought with tragedy and a history of events spiralling out of control.

The incident

In 1979, Simpson divorced his first wife Marguerite Whitley after their one-year-old daughter, Aaren, drowned in the family swimming pool. He remarried six years later to Nicole Brown. In 1989, Simpson pleaded no contest to charges of domestic violence and two years later the pair also divorced.

Brown and her friend Ronald Goldman were subsequently found murdered outside the former’s condominium in Los Angeles on June 13 1994. What followed is one of the defining events in the United States during the 1990s.

Police found evidence at the crime scene that led them to suspect Simpson of being guilty. After being offered the chance to turn himself in, Simpson was nowhere to be found. A speech from one of his defence lawyers, Robert Kardashian (father of magazine darling Kim), read a letter from Simpson that finished with the line: “don’t feel sorry for me, I had a great life”.

The press and a police psychologist interpreted this as a suicide note. That evening Simpson was spotted driving in a white truck with his long-time friend Cowling. A slow-speed police chase along the I-405 ensued, which was broadcast live on television.

The chase is so notorious that, along with other events, it helps to define an entire decade. Many Americans remember where they were when they watched the events unfold. Simpson eventually surrendered when he reached his home.

What ensued was the very definition of a media circus, with Simpson pleading not guilty to both counts of first degree murder. However, by the time the case came to trial in November 1994, the prosecution believed that had a very strong case.

To many watching at the time on television, evidence used in court seemed to prove that Simpson was guilty: from 911 calls to DNA evidence placing him at the scene.

However, the defence adopted by Simpson’s lawyers was highly successful in diverting the course of the trial and distracting the jury through partially disproving the prosecution’s evidence.

The verdict

Nevertheless, at 10am on October 3 1995 the verdict came in. The United States quite literally came to a standstill, and the audience watching on TV alone numbered 100 million Americans from a population of 267 million.

It was estimated that work stoppages during the one-hour long verdict announcement cost the US economy a total of $480 million.

Simpson was found not guilty. Civil suits followed, filed by the families of both Brown and Goldman for wrongful death. However, he was never proven to be guilty. The whole saga has gone down in history as a case where Simpson probably did get away with murder.

The footballer’s run-ins with the law did not end there. In 2001, Simpson was arrested again for battery in Miami, Florida, but the case was soon dropped. His Miami home was also raided in December of that year on suspicion of money laundering and possession of ecstasy, but no charges were brought.

On trial | Simpson grimaces while on trial for armed robbery in 2007, in Nevada, where he was jailed for 33 years. (Image | Reuters)

However, Simpson was to run out of luck in 2007, when he led a group of men to break into a room at the Palace Station Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, robbing an undisclosed amount of sports memorabilia at gun point. Simpson was in turn questioned by police and later arrested.

Following the initial hearing, and after Simpson violated the initial terms of his bail by attempting to contact co-defendants, he was brought to Nevada to face a total of 12 counts of kidnapping and armed robbery, with a life sentence a possible punishment.

In December 2008, Simpson was sentenced to 33 years in prison, though he will be eligible for parole in 2017, by which time he will be 70-years-old.

As the time-honoured phrase goes, the higher you climb the further you have to fall – and Simpson has been both ends of the spectrum.

From six-time all-star NFL player, Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee and arguably the greatest talent of his generation, to stealing sports memorabilia at gunpoint in a Las Vegas hotel, Simpson certainly fell a long way indeed.

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