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Trading on Misfortune? : Dealers Are Offering Football Cards Autographed by Simpson While in Jail

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Derrick (DJ) Johnson glanced down at the four plastic-encased trading cards on his coffee table and briefly, happily, considered their worth.

“They’re $1,000 right now, easily,” Johnson said, grinning. “By the time the trial actually starts, $1,600 to $2,000. And once they’re all gone and the trial’s over, you set the price.”

At least that’s what Johnson is betting. The card collector and dealer will not disclose exactly what he paid for the four O.J. Simpson trading cards he received from a Washington state dealer Tuesday, but says it was well over $700 apiece. And he hopes to sell them for much, much more.

The cards are among the first made available from a group of 300 cards recently signed by the Hall of Famer as he awaited trial in the June murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and Ronald Lyle Goldman. Another 2,500 cards, also signed by Simpson in jail, are being marketed by a Fleetville, Pa., trading card company and are expected to be sold later this summer.

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Johnson’s cards, though, along with the other 296 distributed by dealer Darren Adams of Washington, are special, they say. Not only were the cards signed by Simpson while in custody, they were dated by him and numbered in two groups of 150 by his agent, Mike Gilbert, and come with a letter of authenticity signed by Gilbert.

The 2,500 cards in the other set are also numbered and dated, a company official said, but do not come with a letter of authenticity.

The two groups of 150 display different photographs of Simpson--one from his USC days, the other from when he played for the Buffalo Bills--and the dealers predict that many collectors will want one of each.

Requests--sparked by an ad in a trading card collectors digest--are already pouring into Adams’ office in Federal Way, Wash., about 15 miles south of Seattle. And many are requesting specific numbers of the run, Adams said.

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“We’ve been offered $4,000 for the pair of No. 1 or No. 32 (Simpson’s jersey number),” Adams said. Other people want No. 61, reflecting Simpson’s career touchdown total, or other numbers correlating to years he broke NFL rushing records, won the Heisman Trophy or was inducted into the Hall of Fame.

“One guy was so fanatical,” Adams said. “He said he had every article he’d read on O.J. from the ‘60s. He wanted No. 68,” the year Simpson won the Heisman.

Johnson, 35, said he expects criticism from people who believe he is capitalizing on Simpson’s situation. To a certain extent, he acknowledges he is. But he said, “People want to buy this stuff right now, and you can bet they’re going to find a place to get it.”

He draws a distinction, though, between what he is doing and the vendors hawking T-shirts, bumper stickers, POGs and other Simpson memorabilia outside the courthouse where another preliminary hearing in the case was held Tuesday.

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In this instance, Johnson said, Simpson is profiting too, probably getting at least $50,000--or $200 a signature. Adams would not disclose the amount of the deal.

Gilbert, Simpson’s agent, and Leroy Taft, the sports star’s personal attorney, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.


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