The magazine ad tacked to the door showed a big glass of orange juice with the caption "O.J. on the rocks." Inside the dormitory room O.J. Simpson, sprinter, football player and exuberant unofficial spokesman for the University of Southern California track team, was the host at a small game of seven-card stud. O.J. was not doing well, and his money kept sliding across the table toward the other three players, but when the game was over he stood up and smiled. "Don't worry about me, man," he said, "I been taking these guys for weeks. The only time I'll worry about luck is tonight, and I don't really sweat about that either. We are ready."
The USC trackmen had been ready for last weekend's NCAA championships since May 6. On that day the Trojans, who have more individual talent than any other team in the country, were upset in a dual meet by their arch rivals from UCLA. "People really let us have it after that one," said USC Coach Vern Wolfe. "We've been anxious to prove ourselves since."
The NCAA could hardly have chosen a sterner proving ground for its athletes. Brigham Young University, a complex of shiny new buildings sprawled across the base of a mountain in Provo, Utah, holds all the temptations of a monastery. Mormon regulations forbid drinking and smoking, a list to which BYU adds Bermuda shorts and sandals. Even sipping such stimulants as coffee and Coke is taboo on campus. So coaches and competitors relaxed, knowing that in this setting there could be no excuses for losers. The best team would win.
USC had the best team, not because it had the best pole vaulter and hurdler and 440-yard relay squad, but because it had the best team. The near-stars did their part, picking up points for lower placings under the 10-8-6-4-2-1 system of awards to the first six finishers. "We're all running for our points," said O. J. "Long as we all do our part we'll win."
Very early in the meet the USC sprinters showed that they would be far too good for their opponents as they all but wrapped up the title in two quick bursts on Friday night. The 120-yard-high-hurdle final Friday set the pattern for the entire USC rout.
Earl McCullouch, winner of his semifinal in 13.5, lined up alongside Tennessee's Richmond Flowers, who was favored after a meet-record 13.4 in his semifinal. The starter said, "Set," and the eight runners waited for the gun. Flowers described what happened next:
"I looked down at the ground ready to go. I heard the gun, started and looked up. Then I just said, 'Oh, no, he's gone....' " With uncanny anticipation, McCullouch had shot into a full stride lead. "I didn't think anyone could catch him after that," said Flowers.
He was right, but he made a gallant effort and seemed ready to overhaul McCullouch until he brushed the ninth hurdle and dropped back. After the finish, Flowers shook McCullouch's hand.
"That was some start," he said. McCullouch smiled. "They didn't call it back, did they?" he asked.
Behind McCullouch, teammate Paul Kerry grabbed sixth place, so USC had 11 points. Fifteen minutes later, in the 100-yard-dash final, sophomore Lennox Miller hoped to match McCullouch's feat and take another first place. Teammates Simpson and Fred Kuller were also there, looking for additional points. But Miller was up against Charlie Greene who the night before had tied a world record of 9.1. And to make things worse, Greene was mad. "I lost one race to Jim Hines, and now nobody talks about me anymore," he said. "The papers didn't even mention me being in this meet. I think I'll have to correct that situation."