Preparing for his second Super Bowl in six years, Bart Oates says he's not decided whether it will be his last.
"After the game Sunday," he says, "I'm going to sit down with my wife and try and figure all this out."Oates' problem is too many jobs. the New York Giants would certainly like to have him back for the 1991 season. As the Giants' starting center the past six years, he has played in all 99 of the team's games, regular season and playoffs, since he arrived in the fall of 1985, and has started in the past 97 straight.
Then, too, the law firm of Ribis, Graham and Curtin would like to have Oates working for them as well.
Ribis, Graham and Curtin is a 50-man firm located in Morristown, N.J. They have offered Oates an office with a view of downtown Morristown. They have told him they'd like to see him in court.
Oates' quandary after the Bills-Giants Super Bowl is over: Hit the books, or hit the noseguard? Actually, he could hit both. He has already accepted the position at Ribis, Graham and Curtin. He could be a full-time attorney from February through July, and then fit in whatever legal business he could while playing for the Giants during the NFL season. He could prepare briefs on team flights. He could become the first player in NFL history to make $120 an hour while flying to Oakland.
"But I know that clients want you to be accessible," says Oates. "If you're working on their case, they don't want you unavailable because you're off playing a football game."
Oates got himself in this situation of his own accord. Six years ago, when he came out of a three-year season with the now-defunct United States Football League as a free agent nobody might want, he signed up for law school at his alma mater, Brigham Young.
When the Giants signed him forthwith in the fall of '85, he nonetheless stuck with his law school plans. For geographical reasons, he switched from BYU to Seton Hall, and kept at it in the offseasons until he had his degree in hand last summer.
He took, and passed, the New Jersey bar exam just before the 1990 season began.
The former BYU All-American - he graduated in 1982 - turned 32 last month, and knows that offensive linemen don't last forever.
He knows he's got his health. He knows he's got a rather fabulous 9-year pro career that not only included a championship in the USFL (with the Philadelphia Stars) but the 1986 Super Bowl championship in his rookie season with the Giants and now this repeat Super Bowl appearance. And he knows he's got his law degree.He knows that lawyers don't need to have great knees, they don't have to run wind sprints, they don't have to block Lawrence Taylor, and they don't have to worry every July about some 315-pound phenom coming out of Murray State who wants their job.
Then again, lawyers don't get half the year off, they don't have Chevrolet dealers asking them to advertise their trucks, they don't get paid to play a football game every Sunday afternoon, and they don't get these semiannual tours that wind up in the biggest game of the season.
"I really appreciate being here," says Oates, referring to his second Super Bowl trip in six years. "More than the first one, I realize how rare of an opportunity this can be.
"We went out to dinner last night, just the offensive line," he continued. "I realized I'm the only guy left from '86. We're younger than we were - other than myself. There's a lot of good football left for this offensive line.
"Whether that will include me, I honestly don't know. There's a chance this could be my last pro game. There's a chance it won't be. For the last six years I've had blinders on. I've played football and I've gone to (law) school. I never looked beyond the blinders. After Sunday, I'll have to."
Will a win or a loss Sunday make any difference? "I don't know that either," says Oates.
He smiles as he says it. His indecision obviously agrees with him. Everyone should have such choices. Does he play in the NFL next season, or does he tell the firm in Morristown he wants a corner office, a BMW, that you spell Oates with an "e," and he doesn't do divorces? "What I do know is that the last four months have been something for me," says Oates. "The culmination of all my goals and aspirations." Making the decision may not be easy, living with it should be no problem.