(On January 26, the day after the Super Bowl, I had the unique opportunity to interview O. J. Simpson. I happen to be a big sports fan and know a lot about Simpson's football career, and we're about the same age, so I expected we would have some things in common. I met him at his home on the west side of Los Angeles. It's not a particularly gaudy residence, but it's a comfortable place with much of it devoted to his kids, who were at school when this interview was conducted. O.J. appeared relaxed, but there was a slight undertone of apprehension. He agreed to answer any question, the only condition being he wanted a copy of the audio recording of the interview. No problem, I said.)
NEUMAN: Thanks for granting the interview.
SIMPSON: Well, from what I was told, you weren't out for blood.
SIMPSON: I figured you were, you know, not out to get me. Say, where's this going to run?
NEUMAN: Not sure yet. Maybe Inside Sports. Or Sports Illustrated.
SIMPSON: Yeah? Hey, that would be cool.
NEUMAN: We'll see. Tell me, before I ask you anything else: what did you think of the Super Bowl game?
SIMPSON: It was a good game. I was happy for Elway. He finally got his ring.
NEUMAN: The ring. That's what it's all about, isn't it?
NEUMAN: And Terrell Davis -- wow. Do you realize he broke one of your records?
SIMPSON: He did?
NEUMAN: Total yardage in a season -- including playoff games.
SIMPSON: Did I hold that? No, I think Eric Dickerson passed me...
NEUMAN: Wait -- you're right, he did. Anyway, Terrell Davis has a great future ahead of him, doesn't he?
SIMPSON: He's good. And durable. You have to be durable.
NEUMAN: And he's a winner. Bet you wish you had a ring -- am I right?
SIMPSON: Of course, but you know, you have to be lucky. Not everybody has one. Jim Brown, Gale Sayers...
NEUMAN: Walter Payton...
SIMPSON: Payton's got a ring.
NEUMAN: Oh, you're right. Of course. Well, still, you had a great, great career. Tell me, what was it like running for two thousand yards in a season? I mean, come on, you must have slept for a month after the last game?
SIMPSON: Oh, man, it takes its toll, let me tell you.
NEUMAN: What was it, '73?
SIMPSON: Yeah, '73. And this was in Buffalo. You know what it's like in Buffalo in late November, early December?
NEUMAN: I can imagine. How do you rehabilitate your body after taking such a pounding over a long season?
SIMPSON: Just rest. That's it. Rest. You know, I didn't offer you anything. Would you like some soda, or a beer?
NEUMAN: A beer would be great.
SIMPSON: I'll be right back.
NEUMAN: And some chips.
(Simpson goes to the kitchen, where I can still see him. He opens the refrigerator, pulls out a bottle of beer and a can of diet soda. Then he opens a cabinet and takes out a bag of chips, and returns to the living room.)
SIMPSON: Here you go.
NEUMAN: Is this a twist-off top?
SIMPSON: I'll do it...
NEUMAN: Thanks...I see you play a lot of golf.
SIMPSON: Yeah. I love golf. I'll play anywhere, anytime. You like golf?
NEUMAN: Only when there's a windmill on the course. But, seriously, I wondered: when you're out there on the golf course, trying to concentrate, what goes through your mind? I mean, in football, you hardly have any time to think, but in golf, you have lots of time.
SIMPSON: I try to blank out all distractions. I just focus on my swing, the ball, where I have to hit it, and that's it. Of course, it rarely works. (He laughs.)
NEUMAN: What's your handicap?
SIMPSON: I'm a twelve -- on my good days. But I've been known to blow up a few times. Good thing they weren't counting those rounds.
NEUMAN: Where's your strength? Woods? Irons? On the green?
SIMPSON: My game is in the woods -- literally! (He laughs.) But I guess I'm best from about 150 yards out. I like the short irons -- that's my distance.
NEUMAN: You ran for about 150 yards per game, too. (I laugh.)
SIMPSON: Yeah, right...
NEUMAN: If you don't mind, O.J., I'd like to take you back a few years...
SIMPSON: Sure, go ahead. Like I said, ask me anything, I have nothing to hide.
NEUMAN: Good...in 1991, you played Detective Nordberg in the movie, "Naked Gun 2 1/2"...
NEUMAN: And in 1994 you did "Naked Gun 33 1/3." I thought you were terrific in both films, by the way...
SIMPSON: Thanks. They were a lot of fun to do. The Zucker brothers.
NEUMAN: I worked with them once.
SIMPSON: Yeah? They're funny guys.
NEUMAN: They are, but let me get back to something that also happened in 1994...
SIMPSON: I know where you're going...
NEUMAN: The mascot?
NEUMAN: This happened in Kansas City when you were a sideline reporter for NBC.
SIMPSON: Oh, oh -- yeah.
NEUMAN: You bumped into the Chiefs mascot and sent him flying. It was hilarious.
SIMPSON: Right. That was a great one for the highlight shows.
NEUMAN: One of the best.
SIMPSON: Yeah, you still see it all the...well, you used to see it all the time.
NEUMAN: Have you ever heard from him?
SIMPSON: Who? The guy in the Indian outfit? No. No, I haven't.
NEUMAN: O.J., I have to ask you this, because...well, you're the only person in the entire world who can answer this question...
NEUMAN: Are these chips baked?
SIMPSON: Huh? Baked? I don't know. How would you know?
NEUMAN: It would say so on the bag.
SIMPSON: What does the bag say?
NEUMAN: I don't know, it's over by you.
SIMPSON: Oh...here. (He tosses the bag of chips over to me.)
NEUMAN: Thanks. Say, how about another beer?
SIMPSON: Sure -- you finished that one already?
(Simpson gets up and goes into the kitchen. He opens the refrigerator and pulls out a bottle of beer.)
NEUMAN: Any pretzels?
SIMPSON: I'll see...(He opens a cabinet.) No...no pretzels.
NEUMAN: How about some saltines?
NEUMAN: You know...cheese crackers.
SIMPSON: Cheese crackers...
(Simpson grabs a bag from the cabinet and returns to the living room and gives it to me.)
NEUMAN: Hey, these are Chee-tos.
SIMPSON: Yeah. You said "cheese crackers."
NEUMAN: I meant crackers that you eat with cheese. You can't eat cheese with Chee-tos.
SIMPSON: Why not?
NEUMAN: That's like eating peanuts with peanut butter.
SIMPSON: You never heard of "chunky style" peanut butter?
NEUMAN: That's different.
SIMPSON: How is it different? Besides, I don't have any cheese, so why should it matter?
NEUMAN: Okay, okay, never mind...tell me: how tough was it to close out your career in San Francisco, your hometown, with the Forty-niners, and have it end up such a disappointment?
SIMPSON: What do you mean? It wasn't a disappointment as far as I was concerned. I loved playing in my hometown.
NEUMAN: Well, you were hardly the main man in the offense anymore...what was the name of the guy who was the number one running back that year for the Niners?
SIMPSON: You mean Paul Hofer?
NEUMAN: Yeah. They seemed to go to him more often. You only averaged -- what? Three yards a carry?
SIMPSON: I think it was closer to four.
NEUMAN: And in those two years the Niners lost twenty-eight games. They were two and fourteen each season you played for them. Do you think about that? Does that still bother you?
SIMPSON: Bother me? No. I had a great career. But I was coming off a knee injury in '78 when the Niners traded for me, and I was getting older...
NEUMAN: You were only thirty. The Forty-niners were hoping you'd revitalize a team that had gotten old. They traded a ton of draft choices for you.
SIMPSON: Hey, I was hurt. Listen, you know, you're getting into an area here...
NEUMAN: You said I could ask you anything.
SIMPSON: I know, I know...
NEUMAN: Is it true your teammates resented you, that they blamed you for weakening a team that didn't recover until after you left and Bill Walsh arrived and brought in Joe Montana and a whole new offense built around the passing game?
SIMPSON: Are you done? Because, first of all, Bill Walsh was already there for my final year. No one's blaming him for going two and fourteen. And, like I said, I had a knee injury. It's very difficult coming back from an ACL (arterial cruciate ligament). You never really get back the strength in the knee.
NEUMAN: I know. I had arthroscopic four years ago. Guess what? I'm playing the best basketball of my life.
SIMPSON: Well, that's you. I'm talking about returning to the National Football League. There's a bit of a difference here, okay?
NEUMAN: You got another beer in there?
NEUMAN: Do you have another beer?
SIMPSON: I'll look.
(Simpson gets up and starts for the kitchen.)
NEUMAN: And some more Chee-tos.
SIMPSON: There are no more Chee-tos.
NEUMAN: How do you know? You haven't looked yet.
(Simpson opens the refrigerator, takes out a bottle of beer, then opens the cabinet.)
SIMPSON: No more Chee-tos, no more chips, no pretzels, no saltines.
(Simpson returns from the kitchen and hands me the beer and sits down.)
NEUMAN: Now, O.J., if I could, I'd like to touch on some subject matter that might be a bit sensitive...
SIMPSON: Look...I've said it before and, if you want, go ahead, but...
NEUMAN: Here it is: did it ever bother you when they accused you of being practically unintelligible when you were doing so-called "expert" analysis on football games?
NEUMAN: Some people said they couldn't understand a word you were saying, that your pronunciation was awful, that you needed diction lessons...
SIMPSON: Hey, I've heard that, okay, I've heard all of that, and no, I never got offended if people wanted to criticize me for it. But I worked on it, I got better, a lot better, I thought...
NEUMAN: Honestly, O.J., I understood you, I'm just repeating a common criticism of your speaking talents. There were some who said the criticism was racially motivated. What do you think?
SIMPSON: I don't think so, but -- you know what? I've got to get going pretty soon. Can we wrap this thing up?
NEUMAN: Sure, sure...one more question?
NEUMAN: It's a big question, actually it's the big question. I was going to open the interview with this one...
NEUMAN: Well, I want to know, and I bet all of America wants to know...
SIMPSON: What? Did I kill my wife? No. I did not kill my wife.
NEUMAN: What? What do you mean, you didn't kill your wife?
SIMPSON: That's what I said. I did not kill my wife. I did not kill Nicole.
NEUMAN: Nicole? Who's Nicole? What the hell are you talking about?
SIMPSON: Huh? What do you mean?
NEUMAN: Who is Nicole? Is that your wife?
SIMPSON: Are you trying to be funny?
NEUMAN: No. Are you? What's all this stuff about killing your wife? And who's Nicole? I never asked you anything about that? Are you all right?
SIMPSON: If you're trying to be funny, you're not. Look, man, I've got to go...
(Simpson stands up, and so do I.)
NEUMAN: Okay, then I guess I'll be going, too...I'll let you know where and when this thing'll run...
(He walks me to the door.)
SIMPSON: I want a tape of this. And I want final approval on any article.
NEUMAN: That wasn't what we agreed on. Just the tape.
SIMPSON: I don't care. I didn't like some of the things you said.
NEUMAN: What did I say? Did I say anything bad?
SIMPSON: I'll be the judge of that.
(Simpson extends his hand.)
SIMPSON: Good bye.
NEUMAN: Nice meeting you, O.J.
(We shake hands and I head for the door.)
SIMPSON: Don't cross me on this.
NEUMAN: I don't know what you mean, but, sure, whatever you say.
(I walk out as Simpson closes the door behind me.)