James Simmons couldn't stop himself. He had to make yet another pilgrimage to the shrine of his boyhood hero, O.J. Simpson.
As Simpson fell from football hero to murder suspect to fugitive Friday, Simmons and others went to Heritage Hall at the heart of the red-brick campus of the University of Southern California.It is here that the relics of USC's sporting gods are enshrined. Prominent among the bronze busts and displays are Simpson's cardinal-and-gold jersey with the famous "32" and his 1968 Heisman Trophy.
"I used to sign my school papers `O.J. Simmons,"' said Simmons, a nursing student who wore No. 32 himself as a tailback in high school in East Palo Alto.
While in the Marine Corps at Camp Pendleton, Simmons came here regularly to push the well-worn button on the video display and watch his hero make another loping touchdown run.
"It was just the speed and charisma he had," Simmons said.
Simpson's jersey and Heisman were temporarily removed Friday night by an assistant football coach who feared the items would be stolen.
"It has nothing to do with shame," Jeff Kearin said Saturday. "He's still a great Trojan and a great football player, a huge part of the heritage of USC football."
Many of the students at USC weren't even born when The Juice was running his way to glory, but they're aware of his exploits.
"We all know about O.J. It's legacy," said junior Chris Riley, standing near the bronze statue of the school mascot, Tommy Trojan.
"You just don't want to believe it," said his friend, Matt Sussman. "He was a hero, you know?"
James Johnson, who will be a graduate student here in the fall, brought his brother to see Simpson's jersey and Heisman on Friday.
"We put people on a pedestal and project them into our lives," said Johnson, who played linebacker in high school in New Jersey. "We all looked at O.J. as a fabulous person. He's kind of the friend we all had, whether we knew him or not.
"We're all hoping," he added, "that by some stroke of luck all this evidence pointing to him is not true."