At the motel O.J. changed clothes. He came back to the country club to speak at the banquet. There was an empty chair at the table beside him. The name card said: MRS. SIMPSON. "Marguerite's about had it with all this traveling," O.J. said. "I think she's going back to L.A. in the morning."
Then he was on his feet in front of a microphone. After many years of receiving awards and attending banquets, stretching back into high school, Simpson has become a smooth, confident public speaker, and his physical presence is impressive. He talked about how great he thinks the offensive team at Buffalo is. He said he thinks with any luck he can break last year's rushing record. He said he felt very low a couple of years ago, but now he wants to play until Buffalo gets into the Super Bowl. He held up an O. J. Simpson See Action Football Game so the buyers could look at the box with the picture of O.J. on it. "The better I do my job on the field, the easier it will be for you to do your jobs in your field," he said. The toy people cheered.
Later he posed for dozens of photographs with the toy people. O.J. moved a lot of football games that day.
In this last off-season O.J. Simpson probably made more public appearances and possibly more money than any other athlete ever. Exactly how many appearances is lost somewhere in a maze of credit-card bills, but O.J. seldom visited his big Bel Air home, above the smog line in Los Angeles. During this period O.J. also worked in two to-be-released films—The Klansman with Richard Burton and Lee Marvin and The Towering Inferno with Paul Newman, Steve McQueen and Fred Astaire—and has commuted weekends to New York for his job as a commentator on ABC-TV's Wide World of Sports. "Getting from Oroville, Calif. [where The Klansman was shot] to New York on Friday night and back to Oroville by Monday morning was crazy. It was practically suicide," O.J. says. He did it eight times.
Although O.J. now pays his own bills and handles his own business affairs for O. J. Simpson Enterprises with the help of an accountant and an attorney, and has a movie agent named Jack Gilardi, his off-season schedule is still arranged by his original agent, Chuck Barnes, and by Marilyn O'Brien, vice-president of Sports Headliners, Inc.
Sports Headliners, Inc. has an office that opens onto a swimming pool in Marina del Rey, a condominium city on the ocean near the Los Angeles airport. In a time when star athletes are packaged and sold like Baby Ruth bars, their names stuck on everything from cologne to cricket bats, with Rotary Clubs and the U.S. Congress requesting their appearances, Chuck Barnes has done very well for himself and most of his clients.
"I'd been working with automobile-racing people for 15 years," Barnes said, sitting on a couch in the living room of his office, with paintings of O. J. Simpson and Calvin Hill on the walls, one of O.J.'s trophies on the coffee table and a Franco Harris cushion on the floor. "I'd see racing people get accustomed to going first class and then find out it was all over for them. It's a tough adjustment to make. So I got into the business of trying to expand their incomes and get them something for the future."
Thirty days after O.J. got out of USC, Barnes arranged for him to sign a personal service contract to promote Chevrolets. Next came a contract with RC Cola, which was then considering marketing an orange drink. Simpson meanwhile had been offered $200,000 to sign a one-year contract to play for Indianapolis in the old Continental League, and Barnes was negotiating a $300,000 four-year contract with Buffalo and trying to persuade Bills' Owner Ralph Wilson to trade O.J. to Los Angeles or San Francisco, where he could have sold a lot of season tickets.
"Frankly, we were afraid O.J. would be buried at Buffalo," Barnes said. "We knew the personnel they had then and figured O.J. didn't have much of a chance to do anything except get hurt. So I went to work at once on a network TV deal to keep him visible. ABC said they'd film O.J.'s Continental League games to use on Wide World of Sports, but Chevrolet and RC Cola didn't want O.J. to play in the Continental League, and in the end he signed with Buffalo."
A $300,000 four-year contract doesn't sound like quite so much now (Barnes' client Calvin Hill signed earlier this year with Hawaii of the World Football League for more than $1 million) but $300,000 was only part of what O.J. was earning. Buffalo had a 46,000-seat stadium in those days; O.J.'s commercial value to the Bills was what he could draw on the road. His presence enabled the Bills, a weak team then, to schedule exhibition games in big stadiums. Now Buffalo has an 80,000-seat stadium and last year led the NFL in attendance. O.J. signed a new contract at midseason that runs through 1977, and is reportedly worth a lot more than $300,000.