If you look back at old footage of O.J. Simpson on the football field, either at USC or for the Buffalo Bills, nobody could catch him. He was free to do as he pleased as he forced his will on the game.

It’s not too difficult to imagine that he may have carried this philosophy further than he ever carried the ball. But life has more than 100 yards.

When you look back at those old Naked Gun movies, there’s something indescribably good and punchy about O.J. as Detective Nordberg, a self-awareness of his celebrity and an absurdity that translates so terrifically into the simple realm of idiot cops and scheming, lamebrain crooks. You end up wondering what kind of detective O.J. might have made, what his life might have been like as a comedian, or at least on the other side of holding cell bars.

As that white Ford Bronco drove down the abandoned L.A. freeways, the world watched. They watched because they had to see O.J. in the car with their own eyes. It was nearly unthinkable that “The Juice,” that Det. Nordberg, would get out of the back and put on handcuffs to be booked.

In his subsequent “Trial of the Century,” questions of guilt and innocence became infamously problematic to discuss, as they were so often wrapped in questions of race, class and perspective. Depending on what street you lived on, who you talked to and where you came from, the not guilty verdict was either justice served or justice miscarried.

Yet what we can say is that each and every spectator’s conception of O.J. changed forever. Now all of his previous accomplishments were tinted through the lens of a double-murder, and a man we thought we knew from a televised, Heisman-ized persona revealed a depth and character beyond our understanding.

What were we to make of O.J. when a civil jury found him liable for the assault of Nicole Brown Simpson and death of Ron Goldman to the tune of $33.5 million? Was he any more or less guilty then?

And what of O.J.’s ill-fated memoir, If I Did It, later repurposed as part of the Goldman settlement and brusquely re-titled, If I Did It: Confessions of the Killer? Between the Goldman family attempting to recoup some part of their award and O.J.’s bizarre willingness to continue to associate his name with the murders, in the collective memory of the world O.J.’s greatest run never occurred on any field but came on a slow-moving crawl on the sun-drenched freeways of Los Angeles.

Years later, it is somehow fitting that things may end with a football again. It’s a signed football this time, a collectible along with many others forcibly removed from a Las Vegas hotel room in a crime that may send O.J. to jail for the rest of his life.

Take this turn of events as you will, whether it be karmic (what life giveth it so taketh), redemptive (justice served) or just plain circumstantial (in the wrong places at the wrong times). I personally like to think it’s a little of all three, with O.J. at the center of this shadowy triptych, fading like a fallen Icarus who flew too close to the sun.

And as much as I don’t want to believe it, I think it’s also about fate. Maybe whatever we do, try as we might, we can’t shake off the will of time.

Suppose God has it in for me while you’re Chosen and Saved. Maybe the cosmos aligned perfectly on the day she was born while someone put a hex on him in third grade that still hasn’t quite worn off…

I’m fascinated by O.J. because it seems to me that his life balanced so precariously on the precipice between stunning success and spectacular failure. I think there was one singular moment in his life where he truly held his fate in his hands and felt the weight of all that is good and all that is evil – Nordberg and a Heisman on one side, a pair of bloody gloves and a signed football on the other.

The Juice suggests to me that we might not be predestinate and that we might just get one chance to judge ourselves. If we all have our singular moment, the gut-check through which our fate will be unalterably written, let us take a page from O.J.’s tragic tale and tread carefully and think deeply, lest we fall headlong into the abyss. —Joe Horton

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