Growing up in the 1970’s, I loved to play and watch sports. Football was my favorite sport, and the Pittsburgh Steelers were my favorite team. I live in Maine and we were supposed to like the Patriots, but the Patriots stunk and the Steelers were the greatest dynasty of the Super Bowl era. If you were a 10-year-old kid, who would you root for?
My favorite Steeler was Jack Lambert. Mean, tough – what a football player should be, and what so many are not now. I loved Terry Bradshaw and Franco Harris and all the rest, of course, but I always favored Jack Lambert and Mean Joe Greene.
I still love the Steelers. Still hate the Patriots, too. But my favorite football player wasn’t a Steeler. The NFL player I admired most was O.J. Simpson. It’s probably because O.J. was so famous when I was 6 or 7, around the age when I began watching football on TV. He was the first running back to run for 2,000 (2,003) yards in a season. In fact, he’s still the only person to reach 2,000 yards within the first 14 games of a season.
I read every book I could about O.J. I knew that O.J. was short for Orenthal James, I knew about his career at USC, about his first tough years in the NFL. Everything a kid could know. O.J. was nice, personable, and a great athlete. A man to be admired.
Another of my favorite athletes at the time was not a football player. It was the Olympic decathlon winner, Bruce Jenner. His decathlon win took place in 1976, during our country’s bicentennial. To an impressionable 8-year-old patriotic American, Bruce Jenner was the greatest athlete of all time. And is there a more famous cereal box than the Wheaties box with Bruce Jenner on the front?
But it’s interesting how things change. I never would have imagined that, about 40 years later, O.J. Simpson would have been at the center of a murder trial, never mind receiving parole after spending nine years in prison for armed robbery, while Bruce Jenner became a Kardashian and then a Caitlyn.
This just shows that you never really know your heroes. I wonder if today’s kids will grow up to see LeBron James stealing identities online or Tom Brady become a gangsta rapper. Sounds ridiculous, but I never thought I’d see the Juice in prison blues or Bruce Jenner wearing a dress.