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Here’s a look at O.J. Simpson’s career highlights in football and athletics

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Before he became a polarizing figure accused in a double murder case that gripped the nation, O.J. Simpson was a star in sports.

Simpson’s athletic gifts were on display early in his life. Born in San Francisco in July 1947, he excelled at Galileo High School in the Russian Hill section of the city, playing both running back and defensive back for the football team, while also starring in track and field. He would go on to become one of the most dynamic running backs in college football and NFL history, following an 11-year career with the Buffalo Bills and San Francisco 49ers.

Simpson died Wednesday of prostate cancer at the age of 76, according to a post on social media attributed to the Simpson family.

Here’s a look at O.J. Simpson’s career highlights in football and athletics.

Simpson stars in track and field for USC

Simpson played the first two years of his college career at City College of San Francisco, before transferring to the University of Southern California in 1967. Immediately, Simpson became a two-sport star, excelling in football and track and field. The spring of his first year at USC, Simpson recorded a sixth-place finish at the NCAA outdoor track and field championships in the 100-meter dash, with a time of 9.53 seconds.

Simpson also was part of a relay team in the 4 x 110 that set a then-world record time of 38.6 seconds. Simpson ran the third leg of the relay, and helped USC to an overall NCAA championship that year.

Record-setting season lands Simpson the Heisman

Given to the most outstanding player in college football, the Heisman Memorial Trophy went to UCLA’s Gary Beban in 1967, even though Simpson led the nation with 1,543 rushing yards, while adding 13 touchdowns. USC went 10-1 en route to winning the national title that year while Simpson finished second in Heisman voting.

He would go on to win the award the following season when he not only led the country with 1,709 rushing yards, but also set an NCAA single-season record. He established a new mark for carries in a single season (334) and added 22 rushing touchdowns. Simpson won the Heisman by a then-record 1,750 points, topped only by LSU quarterback Joe Burrow’s margin of 1,846 in 2019. Simpson still holds the Heisman record for most first-place votes, with 855. He was a unanimous All-American.

In 1985, the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame enshrined Simpson in their Class of 1985.

O.J. makes history with 2,000-yard season

In 1973, the year he won the AP Most Valuable Player award, Simpson became the first player in NFL history to rush for at least 2,000 yards in a season. Though the Bills did not make the playoffs, he helped lead Buffalo to a 9-5 record . Simpson finished the season with 2,003 yards, which now ranks eighth all-time. In the process, he surpassed Browns Hall of Famer and former running back Jim Brown’s previous mark of 1,863 yards.

Remarkably, Simpson did it in 14 games, the length of the NFL regular season then. He averaged 143.1 yards per game, a single-season record that still stands by an average of 10 yards per game. Brown is second on the list at 133.1 yards per game.

To get to 2,000 yards, Simpson had to endure cold and blustery conditions in Buffalo’s season finale against the New York Jets at Shea Stadium, rushing for 200 yards on 34 carries.

All-purpose role redefines Simpson’s style in ’75

Although he is most celebrated for his 2,000-yard season in 1972, Simpson arguably did even more in 1975. That was the season Simpson recorded career highs in rushing touchdowns (16), receiving touchdowns (seven), yards from scrimmage (2,243), receiving yards (426) and touches (357). His 23 total touchdowns was an NFL record that stood alone until 1987, when Jerry Rice also recorded 23 touchdowns.

O.J. Simpson’s dominant years from 1972-76

No other player came close to Simpson’s proficiency during the mid-1970s. In that five-year span, Simpson led the league in rushing four times. He totaled 7,699 rushing yards. In fact, no other player came within 2,500 rushing yards of Simpson’s combined total over that stretch. He also gained 8,841 yards from scrimmage. He scored 54 total touchdowns in those five seasons.

In each of those five seasons, he was named to both the Pro Bowl and to the first-team All-Pro. Simpson was also later named to the NFL All-Decade Team of the 1970s.

O.J. Simpson’s Hall of Fame career

In 135 career games, Simpson gained 11,236 rushing yards, 2,142 receiving yards and 990 kick return yards. He scored 76 total touchdowns and was selected to six Pro Bowls and five first-team All-Pro teams. He was named to the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team and the NFL 100 All-Time Team. The Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrined Simpson in its Class of 1985.

Contributing: Josh Peter

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