Curiosity about O.J. Simpson's future as the best running back of his time mounted sharply yesterday when the Buffalo Bills announced he will undergo further tests Monday at the Wilmer Eye Clinic at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center in Baltimore.
Simpson was excused from practice Tuesday after reporting he had blurred vision in his left eye. A spokesman for the Bills said Simpson had been struck over eye and stitches were required to close the wound in a game against the New York Jets in October.
Simpson reportedly said his vision had bothered him periodically since the injury but became worse during training camp. A club spokesman said the running back would make the trip to Pittsburgh for an exhibition game against the Steelers tonight.
Simpson underwent tests in Buffalo and was reported saying he did not want to discuss the results until examinations are concluded in Baltimore.
An area ophthalmologist not involved in the Simpson case was solicited for comment and expressed the opinion. "They (the physicians involved) must suspect something and that's why they are sending Simpson down here from Buffalo. "He asked that his name be witheld.
Dr. Frank O'Donnell of the Wilmer Clinic, who is expected to participate in the examination of Simpson, said tests should show what the player's problem is, "because the eye is so readily accessible for viewing by instrument, unlike other organs."
O'Donnell said Simpson will be subjected to a routine "baseline" examination.
He said he expects Simpson to bring preliminary notes from the tests in Buffalo. First there will be a check of the athlete's visual acuity to determine if the condition can be corrected with lenses. Then an external examination will be made to see if the eye is "quite" or inflamed, to check the movement of the whole globe and the pupillary reaction to light. A look throuht the pupil should see if the lens is clouded.
Further steps will entail taking the pressure of the eye to determine if there might be glaucoma, which O'Donnell said can be caused by injury. He noted that cataracts also can be caused by injury.
A visual field test should reveal whether the optic nerve or the retina is abnormal, which could result from the injury.
An opthalmoscope might provide the answer that there is an injury to the retina, either like a bruise or more serious, a tear.
O'Donnell said that if a satisfactory answer is not obtained from the baseline tests, there are several other sophhisticated tests that can be made.
A fluorescein anglogram could determine injury to blood vessels in the eye after a dye is injected into the arm and watched flowing through the vessels of the eye, he explained.
If Simpson is pronounced fit to play again, he might want to consider wearing "lensless" goggles, which the ophtalmologist is recommending to tennis players who had eye injuries.
O'Donnell described the goggles as a wrap-around type developed by the Army. There is no lens, only frames with openings too small for a tennis ball to touch the eyeball.
"We see all kinds of injuries to the eyes from tennis balls," O'Donnell said. "It's like getting hit with a fist."
The Bill's spokeman said his organization did not want to "underemphasize or overemphasize the blurred vision. We are not scared but we are concered O. J. may need glasses; he is a prolific reader . . . books like Roots and Ragtime, and move scrips. He just finished two pictures - Capricorn I, a space fantasy, and DHQ, for detective headquarters. He is always being sent scripts to approve or disapprove."
Simpson was 30 years old July 9 and has been with the Bills for eight season. He missed half of the 1970 season with a knee injury and some exhibition games in 1973, when he set a National Football League rusing record of 2,002 yards.
He has two years to go on a contract signed last year at a salary estimade from $600,000 to $700,000 annually.
He would collect his salary for the remainder of this season if the eye injury ended his career now, because he passed his physical at the beginning of training camp. He may have a clause in his contract that also would require the Bills to pay him for the 1978 season.
The Simpsons have two children are expecting another.