By Larry Schwartz
Special to ESPN.com
"One of the big motivating things for me was Joe Louis, not only his hero side, but the fact that he was broke virtually at the end of his career and I vowed that wouldn't happen to me. So I tried to put myself in a position that I wouldn't finish my life broke and be this negative story," says O.J. Simpson on ESPN's SportsCentury show. Simpson was rated No. 49 among North American athletes of the 20th century.
Nov. 18, 1967 -- It was No. 1 UCLA vs. No. 4 USC battling for the national championship, Pac-8 title, Rose Bowl bid and Heisman Trophy, all on one Saturday. Simpson was already on his way to All-American status in his first season with Southern Cal. While he started slowly against UCLA, gaining only 11 yards on his first 10 carries, he finished with 177 yards and two touchdowns.
But only one run will be remembered by history. With a dash that was double his uniform double, No. 32 ran 64 yards and became an instant Trojan legend.
UCLA senior quarterback Gary Beban, who will win the Heisman this year, had just thrown his second touchdown pass of the game to give the Bruins a 20-14 lead with 11 minutes remaining at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Simpson, despite being hindered by a throbbing right foot inside a special sponge cover, was up to the challenge.
With the ball on USC's own 36, quarterback Toby Page called an audible - 23-Blast. It looked like a five-yard gain as Simpson ran through the left side of his line. Then he veered to the left sideline and it appeared as if he would gain 15 yards. But after receiving a good block, he cut back to the middle of the field, and ran to daylight.
UCLA couldn't catch the 9.4 sprinter. Simpson's breath-taking touchdown lifted USC to a 21-20 triumph. And to an eventual national championship.
ODDS AND ENDS
In 1961, Simpson was cut from a Pop Warner team called the Power Gliders.
On June 24, 1967, Simpson married his 18-year-old high school sweetheart, Marguerite White. They had three children. Their first child, Aaren, was born on the eve of O.J. winning the Heisman in 1968. Aaren died in a drowning accident in 1979. O.J. and Marguerite separated in 1978 and divorced in 1979.
In 1977, Simpson met Nicole Brown for the first time. A recent high school graduate, she was working as a waitress. They married on Feb. 2, 1985, had two children and divorced in 1992. USC went 19-2-1 in Simpson's two years (1967-68).
Simpson's 1,750-point margin over runner-up Leroy Keyes of Purdue is the largest ever in Heisman balloting.
Glenn Davis, 1946 Heisman winner on the 1968 winner: "O.J.'s the greatest runner in the history of the game. I don't know how he takes such a beating and still runs the way he does."
Only three times has a runner gained 250 yards in an NFL game; Simpson has done it twice. He ran for 250 yards against New England and 273 against Detroit on Thanksgiving Day in 1976. Walter Payton broke Simpson's record with 275 yards in 1977.
Simpson holds the NFL record for most games running for at least 200 yards -- six.
He was the first back to run for at least 100 yards 11 times in a year (1973, 14-game season) when he rushed for 2,003 yards. He was voted MVP by the Associated Press.
Simpson's teams made the playoffs just once in his 11-year NFL career. In his only postseason game, Simpson rushed for 49 yards on 15 carries and caught three passes for 37 yards (including a three-yard TD) as the Bills were crushed by the Steelers, 32-14, on Dec. 22, 1974 in Pittsburgh.
When the Bills traded an over-the-hill O.J. to the 49ers in 1978, they received five draft choices -- a No. 1, two No. 2s, a No. 3 and a No. 4.
Simpson averaged 83.2 yards for his 135 regular-season NFL games. In his five prime seasons (1972-76), he averaged 110 yards for 70 games.
After becoming the first player to rush for 2,000 yards in a season, Simpson remembers, "I was in the locker room all by myself right before the game ended. I started walking around thinking how I couldn't wish to do anything more or be anyone else. I was part of the history of the game. If I did nothing else in my life, I'd made my mark."