O.J. Simpson's 1968 Heisman Trophy was thought to still be locked away in a Philadelphia bank vault, because the man who bought it at auction in 1999 had continued to say so. But ESPN has learned it is likely now in Reno, Nevada, as that same man has now identified another as the trophy's true owner.
Tom Kriessman, the Philadelphia sheet-metal wholesaler who purchased that trophy at auction for $255,000, reneged his previous account published as part of an ESPN story on the subject and says the trophy is now in the hands of 53-year-old Rick Reviglio, president and general manager of a successful construction wholesale supplier and one of Reno's highest-profile citizens. Reviglio and Kriessman say Simpson's trophy was purchased in secret nearly one year ago and is now on display as the centerpiece of Reviglio's expansive, private, sports memorabilia collection.
The news is merely the latest detour to the winding road traveled by the two O.J. Simpson Heisman Trophies over the past five-plus decades. On Dec. 12, ESPN's story detailed those fascinating paths; now, that story has become a part of their story.
On Dec. 4, 1968, the Downtown Athletic Club of New York City presented a pair of Heisman Trophies, the first to Simpson and the second to his alma mater, USC. The university's statue was stolen from its lobby display case on July 28, 1994, only to be returned two decades later. Simpson's Heisman was in his possession until it was auctioned off on Feb. 17, 1999, after he was forced to sell his belongings to pay $33.5 million in compensatory and punitive damages after losing a 1997 wrongful death civil suit tied to the murders of ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.
In 1999, Kriessman said he planned to show it off to friends and then lock it away in a bank vault until he was ready to sell it. During a handful of media interviews over the past six years, he reiterated that plan.
Beginning this past summer, ESPN attempted to set up an interview with Kriessman to talk about his Simpson Heisman and perhaps convince him to finally pull the trophy from its Philadelphia safety deposit box to be viewed. When he finally responded to those requests, he did so with polite refusals. The last communication between ESPN and Kriessman was on Dec. 2, when he was sent an email asking one final question before the story of the Simpson Heisman Trophy's whereabouts was written.
Was O.J. Simpson's 1968 Heisman Trophy still in Kriessman's possession?
The following day, he wrote back: "Yes -- no further comments."
By Kriessman's later admission, that was not true.
ESPN's initial story published last week ended with a description of Kriessman's trophy still being in his possession, as he had originally confirmed. But by midday of that publishing date, multiple people reached out to multiple ESPN employees via social media, claiming they had recently seen Simpson's Heisman on display at a private home in Reno. One of those tipsters, communicating on condition of anonymity, supplied a photograph they said was taken within Reviglio's home of a Heisman Trophy sitting atop a podium, adorned with a photo of Simpson at the 1968 ceremony.
On the eve of Saturday's 2019 Heisman Trophy presentation in New York, the photo was sent to the executives of the Heisman Trust to see if they could authenticate the 1968 trophy. As of Monday evening, they had not yet responded to ESPN's requests. On the surface, the trophy in the photograph does feature multiple tell-tale signs of the Simpson 1968 trophy. The nameplate includes the "Downtown Atletic Club" misspelling, and the wooden base shows worn, white scuffs along its bottom front edge -- the same ones visible in the February 1999 photos of Kriessman holding aloft his auction purchase, the last time the trophy had been seen in public. Two significant scratches in the brass plaque are also visible, crossing over the engraving of Simpson's name. (The original ESPN story includes former Simpson marketing manager Mike Gilbert's recollection of his then-client attempting to deface the nameplate with a kitchen knife before they handed it over to be auctioned.)
All of the social media contacts who reached out to ESPN last week identified the trophy's new owner as Reviglio, a widely recognized Reno resident and one of the biggest financial supporters of Nevada Wolf Pack athletics. ESPN reached out to Reviglio on Thursday, via phone and email.
ESPN received a quick response, but not from Reviglio; it was an email from Kriessman, who changed his account. The email in its entirety: "Rick just called and told me you contacted him. I can confirm that I sold the trophy to Rick about a year ago. When I told you I still had it, it was because I told you I didn't want a story, and I was protecting Rick. Rick will be contacting you. No further comments."
On Friday, Reviglio sent an email of his own, confirming he is the owner of O.J. Simpson's 1968 Heisman Trophy, writing, "I will confirm for you that I am the owner of the 1968 Heisman Trophy #1," and explaining it was kept in a "secure environment along with many other historically important memorabilia I own." Those who have seen Reviglio's collection describe that "secure environment" as a personal, custom-built sports museum covering several thousand square feet and including artifacts such as the chair thrown by Bobby Knight in 1985, a stick used by a USA Hockey player to score against the USSR in the 1980 "Miracle On Ice" game and a baseball signed by a pope.
But those close to Reviglio say a Heisman Trophy had always been his white whale. In 1999, he watched the Simpson auction closely and remembered the name Tom Kriessman since watching the Philadelphian striking a stiff-arm pose for cameras and leaving with the statue. They both said they connected years later. In late 2018, they did the deal for an undisclosed amount of money.
Reviglio managed to keep his new prize secret for a while. After hosting a few fundraisers, whispers about the Simpson Heisman being in Reno started making the rounds in town. When the ESPN story was published on Dec. 12, those whispers caught fire. When Reviglio read the story that morning, he said he was relieved because it ended with the trophy still being in Kriessman's bank vault. Then, the phone started ringing.
"I have spent my entire life pursuing my dream of preserving the rich history of American sports and this piece certainly belongs among that collection," Reviglio wrote in his email to ESPN. "I have no interest in selling the Heisman and it is my express goal to continue adding to my collection so that someday my children's children and their children have one of the finest American sports memorabilia collections ever known. Going forward, I would request that my privacy be respected and I intend for this statement to serve as my only public comment on this matter."
Now, for the first time in 20 years, it appears O.J. Simpson's 1968 Heisman Trophy and Simpson himself reside in the same state. Simpson has lived in the Las Vegas suburbs since his release from prison on Oct. 1, 2017, after serving nine years for a botched hotel-room heist. Reviglio said he didn't think Simpson is aware of their being in the same state.