You never know what’s going to drop in your lap when covering general assignment at a newspaper and, at times, you don’t have a moment to prepare.
That’s how I ended up talking to O.J. Simpson.
It was 7:30 a.m. on Oct. 29, 2005, a Saturday, when I arrived at work and saw my editor, Stan Evans, standing in the middle of an otherwise deserted newsroom with a telephone to his ear and vigorously motioning me to come over.
“I’ve got O.J. on the phone,” he said in an excited whisper. “O.J. The O.J. He’s on the phone.”
“OK,” I thought and braced myself for what I knew was about to come.
“What’s your extension?” Evans asked. “Talk to him.”
“About what?” I asked, as he transferred the call to my desk.
“The story,” Evans said.
“What story?” I asked.
“The story in the paper,” Evans said.
I stood frozen for a moment. This couldn’t be about the murders, or could it? Was he in legal trouble again? Was I out of the loop about something that everyone else who followed celebrity news knew about?
My phone was ringing, O.J. Simpson was on the other line, and I had no idea what he wanted.
“Hello, Henry Davis,” I said.
“Hey, it’s O.J. Good morning,” said Simpson in his deep voice. “Can I call you Hank?
My grandmother called me Hank, and that was about it with a few brief exceptions here and there. It seemed strangely casual to start our conversation that way, but I wasn’t going to make an issue of it.
I took a sip of coffee and said, “Sure.”
Simpson told me he was calling from his home in Miami, Fla., and he wanted to set the record straight.
While Simpson talked, I hurriedly paged through the newspaper and ran across the headline: “O.J. looking for house to buy near Lockport.”
A real estate source who asked not to be identified, citing a confidentiality agreement, had told The Buffalo News in the story that Simpson was looking for a house in eastern Niagara County because he had a girlfriend from Lockport.
On the phone, he explained how he had made a trip to the Buffalo area earlier in the month, and attended Bills football games. He said he also visited the Lockport home belonging to parents of a friend of his, and dined in the former Basket Factory restaurant in Middleport.
“It doesn’t bother me. It’s no big deal. But it’s not true,” he said about house-hunting for a girlfriend.
“Lockport is a nice place, and the food at that restaurant is terrific. But I never looked at a house there and never spoke to a realtor,” he said.
Even though Simpson was affable and talked breezily, I couldn’t help but think about the murder of his ex-wife, Nicole, and her acquaintance, Ronald Goldman. Maybe I was mistaken, but he seemed at one point to refer to the $33.5 million the Goldman family won in a civil judgment against him when he said, “I couldn’t buy a house in New York if I wanted to.”
We spoke for a few more minutes, and The News published a short story based on the conversation. It was mundane stuff. Still, every time I recall the encounter it reminds me of the mystery of Simpson, the ugliness of the famous trial, and the deaths and misery that surrounded it.