Miami For the first time in more than eight years, O.J. Simpson attended a USC football practice Saturday, mingling and chatting with players, giving some of them autographs and posing for pictures with others.
"I never thought I would be watching SC practice here on New Year's. Never, never," said Simpson, who was a star for the Trojans in the 1960s and won the 1968 Heisman Trophy.
Simpson, 55, now lives in Miami, and he's had little contact with the school since a Los Angeles jury acquitted him in 1995 of murder charges in the deaths of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman.
Simpson seemed in high spirits at the USC practice, pumping coach Pete Carroll's hand and smiling. He hugged many of the coaches and players, including this year's Heisman winner, quarterback Carson Palmer.
Simpson congratulated Palmer, saying, "It's great to finally have another Heisman winner at SC."
He chuckled and added, "But a quarterback?"
Palmer said, "Yeah, I know, it's strange. This has always been 'Tailback U."' The Trojans' other Heisman winners were tailbacks Mike Garrett (1965), Charles White (1979) and Marcus Allen (1981).
Carroll seemed pleased to have Simpson visit the team.
"It's a little different out here today," Carroll said, grinning. "It's his school, and the guys were excited to see him. He's a legend. At SC, our guys hold a Heisman Trophy winner in high regard."
Tailback Justin Fargas was especially happy to talk with Simpson, a Hall of Famer who set a then-record of 2,003 yards rushing with Buffalo in 1973.
"I've always admired his running style," Fargas said. "The first time I got a football uniform, I wanted No. 32 to be like 'The Juice.' I feel great just being part of the tailback tradition here.
Simpson is happy to see the No. 5 Trojans, who face No. 3 Iowa in the Orange Bowl on Thursday, back in the national limelight.
"I love this team. They're so aggressive, beating up teams, taking over the game in the fourth quarter. That's the way we used to play. And it just disappeared for the last 15-to-20 years," he said. "It was tough to take and turned some of us off."
Simpson, who has some difficulty getting around on his gimpy knees and is going to have knee replacement surgery, wasn't sure whether he would attend the Orange Bowl.
"I've got about eight people wanting me to go with them, but I don't go to games; there are just too many people," he said.
The USC players, gathered at the far end of the field when Simpson first walked onto the sideline, immediately knew it was him, Palmer said.
"I think everybody recognized him even from that far away. I think everybody noticed," said Palmer, who had not met Simpson before. "It's cool."
Carroll thought Simpson's presence might have added spark to the practice, which was the Trojans' second in Florida.
"It was a great practice. The energy surprised me a little bit. Maybe that (Simpson's visit) had something to do with it," the coach said.
Simpson, meanwhile, would like to have seen the top-ranked Miami Hurricanes and USC meet in a bowl.
"I thought that would be the best game, since right now I think they are the best two teams," he said. "I hope they (the Trojans) prove me right against Iowa."