Made in America: When the USMNT Recorded a Song with O.J. Simpson

Written By Salvatore Bono

The title of this story may sound like a Saturday Night Live spoof or a parody of an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary but in 1990, O.J. Simpson recorded a song with the American soccer team as they headed to Italy for the World Cup.

England had New Order, one of the biggest bands of the 1980s craft the club-favorite track “World In Motion” to get their country ready for the 1990 World Cup. America turned to one of biggest music genres to break out of the 80s and a former NFL icon to help gain attention.

The result? Well, needless to say, there may be a reason why after 27 years you are hearing of it now for the first time.

The idea was to try and drum up support and hype as the U.S. men’s team went to their first World Cup in 40 years. The results were awful rapping, bad acid wash jeans, mullets, O.J. Simpson pretending to sing, and the team rubbing each other on a beach like Rocky and Apollo in Rocky III.

Finding the Right Notes

Following America’s qualification into Italia ’90, the team’s then-star Paul Caligiuri met Shelli Azoff, the wife of the music-industry mogul Irving Azoff. She introduced him to many high profile people including lawyers and talent agents so that he and the team could start earning money for their passion of playing.

“I thought, for the United States to get into the World Cup for the first time in forever would be a great opportunity—especially with these guys who were all gorgeous and articulate and represented the best of America,” She told the New Yorker in 2014. “It was unfortunate that it was in soccer! Because trying to get some interest was really, really difficult.”

After trying to find promotional outlets for the team, they turned to music. ABC, who was airing the World Cup, did the best they could to help push for Team USA but interest among American households at that time was very low. In fact, many Americans didn’t even know USMNT qualified for the 1990 World Cup.

Someone along the way got the idea to create a “Super Bowl Shuffle”-style song and video to get publicity and people talking about the team heading to Italy. Using the rising hip-hop genre of the time and rapper Def Jef, who would be the equivalent of Desiigner today, to pen and produce the tune.

The song “Victory” was born.

When it came time to shoot the video, they made the men’s team get down to their short shorts and frolic on a California beach. They also shot footage and the big “We Are The World”-style chorus at the end with none other than the Juice himself – O.J. Simpson.

At the time, getting Simpson’s endorsement was about as high profile as getting one from Michael Strahan today. He was long retired but constantly in front of the camera and loved by everyone.

Simpson wasn’t the only one to embarrass himself, I mean, proudly give his seal of approval in the video, celebrities of the era like Nitro from American Gladiators, Marcus Allen and Cathy Lee Crosby all show up in the clip.

“As we were recording in the studio, they just kept popping up,” goalie Tony Meola, told the New Yorker. “It was one after another. I certainly hadn’t done anything like that before.”

Read: Jack of All Trades, Master of Some: Tony Meola’s Career

The ‘Victory’ That Lost

It wasn’t the first time that soccer used a shameless plug to draw attention. In the 1970s, before Pele arrived, New York Cosmos goalkeeper Shep Messing posed nude in Playgirl to get attention to the newly formed NASL soccer league. The magazine may have not been the P.R. the club wanted but it gained attention.

Read: Thrice in a Lifetime: New York Cosmos Out of This World Lifespan

After the “Victory” video was edited and ready to go, it went to MTV where the VJs pushed the track and the clip like no other — one would have thought that Prince was releasing a new song exclusively to the platform — but “Victory” failed to catch on.

Radio hardly played it as well. The rap / soccer cross over fell on deaf ears.

It was a stark contrast to New Order’s World Cup single that reached No. 1 in the U.K singles chart, No. 7 in Ireland’s singles charts, and No. 5 on the U.S. club chart and modern rock chart, according to Billboard. New Order’s single also featured Three Lions player John Barnes rapping in the track. Maybe if the USMNT took notes and someone from the team rapped, their song could have gotten more attention.

 

New Order bassist, Peter Hook told Officially A Yuppie in February: “It struck me that New Order were an absolute product of the Eighties, beginning in May 1980 and then finishing in June 1990 with the England World Cup single. Ten absolutely fantastic, wonderful years. It was action packed, it really was an intense period of time.”

The U.S. crashed out of the 1990 World Cup in the group stages and returned home with as much fanfare as when they left.

The Juice is On the Loose

Following the 1990 World Cup, four years later America hosted the tournament for the very first time.

Just four years prior to hosting the games, O.J. Simpson was the crown jewel of American pop culture and celebrity. He transcended sport, race, class, and showed that if you work hard you can do anything. For Team USA, it must have been a thrill and honor to work with him on the “Victory” single in 1990.

As the 1994 World Cup kicked off in Chicago with the opening ceremonies, O.J. Simpson would find himself in the most notorious police chase of all time as he sat in the back of his Ford Bronco with a gun in his hand while his friend Al “AC” Cowlings was behind the wheel. Simpson was a suspect in the double murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ronald Goldman, which occurred at her Brentwood, California, home days prior.

In what was dubbed “The Trial of the Century,” Simpson was found not guilty of the murders in 1995. Two years later, he was found guilty in a civil suit brought on by the Brown and Goldman families.

Simpson currently sits behind bars in a Nevada prison for a 2009 armed robbery conviction; he is up for parole later this year when he will be 70 years old.

In the years that followed the disastrous “Victory” music video staring Simpson, soccer in America has risen exponentially in popularity.

 

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