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Chasing a Legend Named Dad : Army and Navy's Jason Simpson Is Making O.J. Proud

October 10, 1986|MARC APPLEMAN | Times Staff Writer

CARLSBAD — The first time Jason Simpson saw his father O.J. play football, he was surprised how bad he was. And that's bad, as in not good.

"What's funny is that I only saw my father play once," said Jason, 16. "He was with the 49ers and he didn't get to play until the third quarter. He fumbled the ball. From then on, I thought he was a bad football player. Everyone was saying how great he was. I just thought they were saying it to make me feel good."

Last year, when Jason began to play organized football, he started watching films of his dad's glory years with the Buffalo Bills rather than his final days with the 49ers. The films had always been around the Simpson house in Brentwood, but when Jason became a starting halfback for the Army and Navy Academy in Carlsbad, his interest in anything connected with football increased.

"I couldn't believe that all that time I thought he was bad and he was really that good," Jason said. "I saw some plays that I couldn't believe. I don't really think of him as a football player. He doesn't look like he could run that fast."

The first time O.J. saw Jason play organized football for Army and Navy, he was surprised how good he was. Actually, he was surprised Jason had decided to play for the team.

"Sports was something Jason never really gravitated to and I never pushed him," O.J. said. "His interest was more into rock music and entertainment and he's a pretty good artist. I was pleasantly surprised when he called to say he went out for football."

And O.J. was so proud that Jason returned a kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown that he told millions of people about it during his next telecast as a network sports broadcaster.

It came on a Sunday Night Football Game of the Week. Jason and his friends were watching television when a friend yelled out: "Jason, did you hear what your dad said on TV?"

Said Jason: "I heard a lot after that. I didn't know news traveled so fast. It made me feel pretty good."

But it also was pretty strange having your father compliment you in front of TV viewers, but not to your face.

"He won't say it to you, but he does it in his way," Jason said. "If I do something to make him proud, he'll have his nod. I'll hear about what he thought about it when he's talking to someone else. I haven't really figured it out."

What about it, O.J.?

"I don't want him to get the big head," Simpson said. "I want him to know I'm proud of him, but also want him to know there is another game next week. I don't want to go overboard. It's like with me and Marcus (Allen). I'll talk to Marcus one way, and to others about Marcus another way."

Yet, when O.J. sits in the bleachers at the quaint football field across the street from the Army and Navy campus, he admits he has a sense of pride.

"I always had a lot of pride in Jason," O.J. said. "I always got compliments on how well he handles himself. Watching him on the field is a different kind of pride. You could see that when he got the ball, the other team had prepared all week to stop him. And that he picked his teammates up."

There was one time when O.J. said his emotions got the best of him. That was when he and Allen went to see Jason compete in the Mountain-Desert league track championships last spring.

"It was hard for me to hold back," O.J. said. "I wasn't hiding too much of my pride. Jason won the 100, the 200 and anchored the 400 (meters) . And then in the mile relay, he went from being 11 yards back to 11 yards in front. Jason really did a hell of a job."

How did Jason end up at an all-boys military school where the majority of the students live on campus and all the students wear uniforms?

As a parent, O.J. thought it was time to change his game plan two summers ago.

During the summer between Jason's freshman and sophomore years in high school, O.J. decided to introduce discipline into Jason's life. Studies would be added to the playbook. And if athletics--particularly football--also became a part of Jason's life, all the better.

"Despite what people might think," O.J. said, "West L.A. is not the easiest place to raise a kid. And Jason is well liked, which means he has more distractions. I felt it was time for him to learn the merit system. I wanted to get him in an environment where school was the focal point. Jason needs that structure."

And so it was that Jason Simpson came to become first a student and later an athlete.

"I was kind of hesitant because it was a military school," Jason said. "After all, I grew up in Los Angeles. When you think of a military schools, you think of guns."

And restrictions which might cramp one's style.

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