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Auction's Biggest Player Claims His Trophy

Sports: His $255,500 bought Simpson's Heisman, touched with triumph and tragedy.

February 19, 1999|SEEMA MEHTA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

He had the usual reasons: Investment. Love of football. Sheer novelty.

But what really sparked Tom Kriessman to spend more than a quarter of a million dollars on O.J. Simpson's Heisman Trophy was elemental:

"You always have to keep impressing your girl," Kriessman, the co-owner of a sheet-metal wholesale business in Philadelphia, said at a Los Angeles news conference Thursday.

Kriessman, 47, flew in to announce that he was the previously anonymous soul who bought the Heisman--awarded to Simpson for being the nation's top college football player in 1968 while at USC--for $255,500 on Tuesday night.

The Heisman was the most valuable item auctioned by Butterfield & Butterfield to satisfy part of a civil court judgment against Simpson stemming from the 1994 killings of his ex-wife and her friend.

"It represents the story of a man with tremendous ability and athleticism and charisma and how he rose to become a superstar in the greatest country of the world and lost it overnight," Kriessman told reporters. "I bought it for everything it represents: The trial of the century, O.J.'s whole career, what happened--you know, the tragedy that was his life."

When he found out his telephone bid was accepted, Kriessman said, "I kind of felt like I just won the Heisman."

It was his first foray into sports memorabilia. "Pretty good start, huh?" he said.

Of the 64 existing Heisman trophies, Simpson's is the first to be sold. A misspelling on the plaque (the letter H is missing from the word "athletic") makes it more valuable, Kriessman said. As does, of course, the notoriety of anything associated with Simpson, who was acquitted of killing Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman but later found liable for the deaths in civil court.

"I don't really want to get into the guilty or not guilty," Kriessman said, adding that he had not received any negative reactions for buying the Heisman. "I'm an investor and I bought the piece. It's an icon of pop culture."

And, for at least one day, so was Kriessman. Dozens of camera crews and reporters surrounded him at the auction house, where he obliged photographers by mimicking the right-arm-outstretched pose of the trophy.

Kriessman admits with downcast eyes and a sigh that his favorite team is the NFL's lowly Philadelphia Eagles. He said he played a little football in his younger days, and was fast enough to earn Simpson's old football nickname, "Juice."

To prove it, Kriessman brought out the metal plaque from a trophy he won as most valuable player in 1979. It read: "Tom 'Juice' Kriessman, 1979 Lackman League."

"My trophy's plastic," Kriessman said as he jokingly affixed his metal plaque over Simpson's name on the Heisman. "Now, it's really my trophy."

After the trophy is shipped east, he will show it off on his mantel at home and then take it into the office at Triad Steel Inc.

"It's like the Liberty Bell. Everyone wants to touch it," he said. "Everyone wants to get their picture taken with it."

Then the trophy will go straight to a bank vault, where Kriessman plans to keep it until he sells it. He said he believes it will eventually fetch more than $1 million.

Tuesday's court-ordered auction, which raised $430,000, barely put a dent in the $33.5-million civil judgment against Simpson. Goldman's and Nicole Brown Simpson's families will receive $382,075, with the rest going to pay the auctioneer's commission.

Reporters asked Kriessman if he felt he was depriving Simpson or his children.

"I didn't take it away from O.J.," he said. Besides, "if he wanted to buy it [back], I don't think he has the money."

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