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Scott Wapner: The night I shared a limousine with OJ Simpson

O.J. Simpson tries on a leather glove allegedly used in the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman during testimony in Simpson's murder trial on June 15, 1995 in Los Angeles.
Lee Celano | WireImage | Getty Images
O.J. Simpson tries on a leather glove allegedly used in the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman during testimony in Simpson's murder trial on June 15, 1995 in Los Angeles.

I guess it's just time — time to tell the story of one unbelievable night more than 30 years ago, when a fresh-faced and wide-eyed teenager sat in the back of a limousine with one of the most beloved athletes on the planet.

Famous wasn't yet infamous.

Legend wasn't yet pariah.

I've thought a lot about that night through the decades, but just couldn't bring myself to tell people about it. Sure, I've shared it with a few close friends over that time, but never a wider audience. It was just too awkward — too embarrassing.

I mean, think about it. How do you tell people you rode in a limo with one of the greatest football players ever who'd later become an accused murderer? How do you tell people you "hung" with O.J Simpson?

Sounds crazy, right? But it's true.

And it was incredible.

I was only 16.

It was Oct. 7, 1985 in the Nation's Capital and Monday Night Football was in town. I lived in nearby Maryland.

It was a big deal.

The Washington Redskins were playing host to the then St. Louis Cardinals and O.J., along with Frank Gifford would call the game for ABC along with, I think, Joe Namath.

My friend, Michael had invited me to the game. His family had season tickets at the time and I was lucky to get a look.

There was only one issue.

My parents wouldn't let me drive to the game and Michael didn't even have his driver's license yet. I'd only had mine for a few months, if that, and there was no way in hell Mom and Dad were letting me drive to RFK at that time of night, on a school night, no less.

We needed a ride.

Luckily, a couple of friends, a few years older and self-proclaimed autograph hounds, were driving to DC that night anyway, hoping to meet the MNF legends and get some signatures. Michael and I would tag along and then they'd drop us at the game. Seemed like a good plan. I can't even remember how we were supposed to get home. Imagine that happening today.

Those friends, Ralph and Chuck had perfected the art of the autograph. They'd drive all over town, no matter the event, and "bag" some of the greatest athletes ever. Bird, Magic, Dr. J, EVERYONE!

Their stories were amazing. I was captivated.

Somehow these guys knew where to be and when — the hotels that the teams, players and superstars would stay in. Remember, this was pre-9/11, when security wasn't nearly as tight as it is now. You could literally wait for your favorite athlete in the lobby of a hotel for hours and not get shooed away by the cops. It was a moment in time that no longer exists and never will again.

Watergate

O.J. Simpson sits in Superior Court in Los Angeles, Dec. 8, 1994.
AFP | Getty Images
O.J. Simpson sits in Superior Court in Los Angeles, Dec. 8, 1994.

I guess by 16, I knew what Watergate was, but on this night, it was the hotel on the same site, by the same name as the infamous towers, where we'd go, hoping to hit pay dirt.

I remember waiting outside for O.J. and Frank. Sure enough, they came out, signed our autograph books, and got in awaiting cars, separately, and headed off to the game.

O.J. was last.

I don't think I was nervous when "The Juice" finally came out of the hotel and approached the limo. I can't remember why I even thought to ask the question that would lead to one of the most amazing nights of my young life. But there was O.J. — the guy I'd seen on TV blaze past defenses and run through airports — so I blurted it out.

"O.J., my friend and I have tickets to the game tonight, can we ride with you?"

"Sure, get in," said O.J.

It was that simple  —  that easy. That's all he said. "Sure, get in."

So that's what we did.

At first we didn't speak. We were in shock.

Here were two kids in the back of a limousine, on either side of one of the most famous athletes on Earth  —  an NFL Hall of Famer  —  The Juice! Was this really happening?

I don't remember everything about that 20 minute ride to the stadium that night, but I do recall O.J. being the coolest, asking us questions about where we lived and what sports we liked. We answered of course and talked pretty much the whole time, though at this point, much of what we actually said is a blur.

Upon reaching RFK, we pulled up to the media entrance and a crowd gathered outside the limo. We got out with O.J. We felt like rock stars. People snapped photos. It was surreal.

We said thanks and that was it.

We went inside, ran to the nearest pay phone and called our parents to tell them of what had just happened.

They were stunned. So were we.

Later that night, inside RFK, we actually ran into the limo driver again, and shared some laughs and high-fives.

I never saw O.J. in person again.

June 17th, 1994

AP

On June 17, 1994, I was watching the Knicks and Rockets in the NBA Finals at Tony and Joe's Restaurant down on the DC Waterfront when, like the rest of America, I was transfixed.

Out in LA, a white Ford Bronco was on a slow-speed chase. O.J. was on the run and the NBC local affiliate in Washington cut to a split-screen of the unfolding. drama.

I couldn't believe it. Who could?

Less than nine years after my brush with O.J. Simpson, he was now being sought in the investigation of the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman.

The world stopped.

That night started coming back.

I thought many times of telling my story back then thinking people would find it interesting, but I was either too shy or too embarrassed. I just kept it to myself.

That is until now.

The recent FX series brought a ton of memories back. This Saturday's premiere of "O.J.: Made in America" is why I'm telling this story now. Not to self-aggrandize or draw attention, but just because.

I guess it's just time.

I wish I could tell you that I could have seen it coming  — that I could have sensed something "off" about a man who nearly a decade later would be accused of such a heinous act. But he was the best ever. A sweetheart.

And maybe that's why I've never been able to come clean about the night I spent with someone who was simply known as one of the greatest who ever played the game and nothing more.

The narrative has obviously changed since that mid-fall evening 31 years ago, but the memories of that unforgettable night can never be altered.