"Right!" they yell.
"What do you have to do first?"
"School!" they yell.
"And how do you stay in school?"
"Good grades," a few mumble.
The hipper kids have seen O.J. check his watch, and they're jockeying for field position for autographs. He signs a couple of dozen. He checks his watch again. More kids have arrived.
"I'm supposed to go to the airport now," O.J. says, "so for the rest of you, in lieu of autographs, I'm going to give you pictures."
"Can you sign 'em?" a kid yells. O.J. signs. No one gets stiffed. Finally, he is on his way to the airport, 15 minutes late.
It is Saturday, the day before the 49ers are to face the Denver Broncos in Candlestick Park. The 49ers are 1-10, and Simpson's place in the starting lineup has been taken by Paul Hofer, a compact, baby-faced 195-pounder out of Mississippi, a fourth-year pro who was drafted in the 11th round in 1976 and was almost cut two years later. O.J. is 32, and he is playing on a tired left leg that has felt the surgeon's knife three times in the last two years. Hofer's elevation to No. 1 came following the Oakland game on Nov. 4, when O.J. left in the first quarter after gaining eight yards on three carries. Hofer picked up 106. The following week Coach Bill Walsh kept O.J. out of the New Orleans game, played on the rock-hard Superdome Astro Turf, and Hofer picked up 147 yards.
On Sunday O.J. did not play in the 49ers' 38-28 loss to Denver. Hofer was banged up and had to leave the game twice, but both times he was replaced by Lenvil Elliott, not Simpson. "Sure, I'd like to play O.J.," said Walsh, "but not in a game like this. You don't showcase a guy by sending him smack into the middle of the line, one foot sticking out here, another one there. It's like going out with a knockout."