Since the holdout sometimes seems to be as much of a promotional device as anything else, it should be pointed out that the publicity has not exactly harmed Buffalo, either. It is traditional that an unsigned rookie does not play in the Chicago All-Star Game (Aug. 1 against the Jets), and the Bills stand to profit further if the full impact of Simpson's debut comes in Buffalo blue. Optimistic students of the negotiations suggest that this may be the real reason for Wilson's infinite patience.
There is a good chance, though, that Simpson will play at Chicago, whatever his status. "I've wanted to play in that game all my life," he says. "I've been meaning to call up Keyes and Kwalick and find out what they're thinking, too." Leroy Keyes, Philadelphia's first draft choice, and Ted Kwalick, San Francisco's, are the two other outstanding rookies still unsigned. With Joe Namath in his self-imposed purgatory, O.J. and the others become doubly vital to the success of the Chicago game. Selling $10 tickets to the Namath-less Jets vs. the Some-Stars is larceny.
If Simpson is to play in Chicago, however, he wants to be insured for at least $500,000 instead of the reportedly standard $25,000. The promoters of the Atlanta All-Star bust that was played last month tried to save the show by buying half a million dollars worth of special insurance for Simpson, but the firm offer came too late for O.J. to get in shape.
With Simpson, the Bills stand to get very fat off their exhibition schedule alone. Last year, even before they proved on record to be the worst team in pro football, the Bills were able to schedule only three exhibition games outside the Buffalo city limits. They drew a mighty 11,200 to a 15,000-seat stadium just down the road in Rochester, 20,000 to a 28,000-seat stadium in Cincinnati and 21,500 in the 40,000-seat Tulsa stadium—53,000 for the three games.
This summer, after drafting O.J., Buffalo filled out a much nicer dance card. Last year's worst team is suddenly booked for the Astrodome, Detroit's Tiger Stadium, the Cleveland doubleheader in 80,000-seat Municipal Stadium and the L.A. Coliseum. Capacity of these four stadiums is 287,000, and it is quite possible that the O.J. Bills could fill 250,000 seats, up 197,000 customers from last summer's road show. Assuming—arbitrarily but modestly—that the Bills' share would average $2 a head for these dates, they would be almost $400,000 ahead of last year's pace before the season begins. How can Wilson turn him down?
The answer is that Simpson is, essentially, stranded with a take it or leave it in a city, a region and a league he did not want—although, as O.J. points out, he has never visited Buffalo and has never made a nasty remark about the city. "O.J. would obviously be the perfect case to challenge the draft," Barnes says, "but the more we think about it, the more we're afraid that it'll end up making him sound as if he's challenging church, mother and home. All of a sudden we might have O.J. the bad guy, which is ridiculous, but which is also a risk probably not worth taking."
Having been drafted by Buffalo, Simpson is actually barred from the NFL for another year, when interleague trading will at last suit the convenience of the owners. This is Simpson's only hole card.
If he does not sign with the Bills, he will sit out the year. The Indianapolis Capitols of the Continental League (where Barnes lives) made an offer of $100,000 and a $250,000 loan for one season, but an early decision was necessary so that the league could set up scheduling in larger stadiums for O.J., and Simpson preferred to wait on Wilson.
Acting is a serious future possibility. The natural comparison is with Jimmy Brown, who as a film hero has been generally dismissed as just another pretty face—but who has been hitting the box offices pretty hard. Simpson seems to be a better—loose and natural—rookie actor. "The thing is, he never gets in his own way," one MGM executive says, an appraisal that seems particularly apt, even if the man never saw O.J. play football.
Al C. Ward, the producer of Medical Center, came upon Simpson lounging between takes last week and could not contain himself. "I just heard from the studio," Ward cried effusively, patting O.J., "and you're going to be A STAR! The dailies were marvelous; they're all raving about you down there. Now the only thing that scares me is that you'll become temperamental."