- ART BRILESON RECRUITING AND WHY THE BEARS ARE MOVING ON UPLAKEN LITMAN | August 12, 2011
- THE round tableJune 28, 2012
- SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSEBen Reiter | June 06, 2011
The holdout athlete is, classically, to be found waiting in his small home town, passing the anxious hours by whittling and playing dominoes and bantering with the other hard-core unemployed, listening for the phone with the other ear. At first bold with management, then hedging, at last downright obsequious, he finally gives in and rushes to sign the pact. By contrast, O. J. Simpson (see cover) is not so much a holdout from the Buffalo Bills as he is a government in exile. He has so many varied responsibilities to attend to and checks to deposit that, when he recently had a day to spend at home with his wife and infant daughter, he said the leisure time "felt weird."
O. J. can afford to rest on his bank account—for one season, at least—and the prospect becomes increasingly likely that this young man, whom many consider potentially the greatest runner in the history of pro football, will not play this fall. Simpson and his manager, Chuck Barnes, have not met with Buffalo Owner Ralph Wilson Jr. in six weeks. Barnes says he is waiting for Wilson to call; Wilson says he has no plans to call. In any event O. J. is occupied. He is already participating in a $250,000 deal endorsing General Motors cars. He has to decide which orange juice venture to back and which of two or three other products to endorse. Macmillan will publish his autobiography, and he has finished filming a small featured role in a movie, The Dream of Hamish Mose. Only last week he completed a long guest star part in a new CBS-TV series with the stirring title of Medical Center. O.J. is so big that Howard Cosell tells him all the time that, just as Cosell made Simpson, so can he break him—the supreme accolade.
On the other hand Buffalo, the city where Millard Fillmore spent his reclining years, waits for its next chance at reflected glory. Buffalo is still a holdout, though, because Wilson absolutely has not budged from his original offer to Simpson of a $250,000 five-year contract—except for one prodigal moment when he agreed to give O.J. "an extra five or ten thousand" if he should be named Rookie of the Year and make the All-Pro team as well.
Uncharacteristically exasperated and genuinely angry at this show of largesse, Simpson ended the third and last contract meeting on May 26 by snapping: "All right, we're not getting anywhere. I'd like to be traded."
"I'll consider that," Wilson replied.
The owner honored the request. "I spoke with four or five clubs in our league, including the two California teams," Wilson says, "but not once did we even get around to discussing the possible personnel we might get for Simpson. It's just that nobody will meet his price."
What Simpson has asked for is $650,000 for five years, plus a $500,000 loan for investment purposes. Even this is something of a compromise, since Simpson would prefer a three-year contract and might now even settle for a one-year deal.
"I don't like to be pushed," O.J. says. "The last time with Mr. Wilson, it was me, not Chuck, who really got mad. We were negotiating, we were discussing giving up on the loan stuff, but Mr. Wilson wouldn't change his offer at all. Well, I can wait if he can wait.
"You see, when Chuck and I first got into this, we thought there would be some difficulty in signing. He told me we were going to get backed up against the wall, and there would be times when we would get mad at each other, but we had to stick together. I know other rookies who have signed for about $50,000 a year, which is what I'm being offered. I just know Wilson must have a better figure in mind and, though I don't want to, I'll wait out the season if I have to."
Simpson's potential is nearly limitless. He is not only charming and good-looking, but still unaffected. His appeal is established, almost as if his career had been programmed by a market research agency. He grew up in Northern California, grew famous in Southern California and will (if he goes to Buffalo) establish still another metropolitan popularity base in the East.