June 24, 1995
From Don Knapp, Correspondent
(CNN) -- O.J. Simpson traveled a rough road in his journey out of the projects of San Francisco's Petrero Hill. There were few opportunities for poor black kids.
A Petrero resident said, "Black kids were welcome at that gym and that's where most spent their time."
Simpson's athletic talent was apparent at the Petrero Hills Recreation Center. "O.J.'s formative years, his first 15 years, were spent in the projects and at the gym playing sports."
He played sports well and he learned from stars like baseball great Willie Mays. Mays stepped in to help O.J. out after the teen football star spent a weekend in juvenile hall. But friends say Simpson's mother Eunice gave him the best home life she could.
Practically everyone knew O.J. Simpson after he got to Galileo High School. His football jersey still hangs above the trophy case. In high school, Simpson married his high school sweet heart Marguerite Whitley, and there was an outpouring of sympathy for the athlete after he lost a child in a drowning accident.
O.J. had a difficult time dealing with the loss: "I don't know how long it will take me to get over, but I know I need to keep busy."
Despite such tragedies, a former teammate at San Francisco City College remembers O.J. as a great athlete and a great guy. "I never thought he was a roughneck or a bad guy from the projects. Some guys project that persona, but O.J. was never like that."
Simpson spent most of his professional career with the Buffalo Bills, but finished 15 years ago with the San Francisco 49ers.
Throughout his career, O.J. maintained a close relationship with Eunice. Friend Michelle Metcalf says everyone knew the special bond between O.J. and his mother.
"He would say 'My mama. My mama would inspire us to stay in school' and this and that. He had a wonderful love for his mother."
People in Petrero Hill have a hard time grasping what's happened to their local hero. A resident of the community said, "When you've been touched so positively by a man of his stature and see all the warmth that resided in him over the years, it's hard to think of him as anything else."
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