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KATO AND HIS WHIZ-BANG PUBLICIST

Names in the tickler file that rate attention belong to . . .

Kato Kaelin. The witness in the O.J. Simpson case has been sneered at as a nerd, but on Friday I saw an item in USA Today that causes me to predict that Kaelin will be the next cult hero.

The item read: "Others find him cute in a vulnerable, puppy dog way. 'I received 10 phone calls Wednesday from people who want to start Kato Kaelin fan clubs,' says his big-time publicist, Lee Solters."

Now, I wasn't overwhelmed by the news about the fan clubs. Many years ago I met a stunning blond woman who had fallen in love with Sam Shepherd, the alleged wife-killer. Put enough of her sort of groupie together (she later married and divorced Shepherd) and you have more than enough people for 12 Kato Kaelin fan clubs.

No, what impressed me was the name of his "big-time publicist." I have known Lee Solters for many years, and the last time I looked, he was the "spokesman" for one Frank Sinatra.

An old show business joke had it that "pneumonia is a cold handled by the William Morris Agency." Today it could be "a cold handled by Lee Solters." And so Kato Kaelin will be heard from again very soon.

Joe Foss. The World War II ace and American Football League commissioner got into the Simpson case inadvertently when lawyer F. Lee Bailey said the name "Joe Foss" was an honored name in the U.S. Marine Corps.

I winced when Bailey identified Foss as a North Dakota man. And I called the News office from the Big Apple to say that Foss had been governor of South, not North, Dakota.

The mistake had already been caught.

In my call I had stressed that Joe Foss was known to many Buffalonians because he was the commissioner of the American Football League when the Ralph Wilson-owned Bills started here.

Earlier it had been expected that the first commissioner would be Frank Leahy, the former Notre Dame coach. But Leahy carried a lot of bad baggage and the media would have eaten him alive.

Foss knew little about football, but he was the perfect choice for commissioner. Some of the media were still angry with Lamar Hunt of Texas for founding a new league without getting their permission. And they could show their derision for the late and vulnerable Harry Wismer, owner of the New York Titans.

But there was no way even the most embittered critic would knock a Medal of Honor winner. And Foss held the job until the AFL decided to raid the other league and wanted a gutter fighter, Al Davis, as commissioner.

In case you missed the follow-up: Sgt. Joe Foss, the Marine recruiter in the Simpson case, is not related to Joe Foss, the World War II hero.

Ralph Wilson. The Bills owner's large gift to Canisius College did not surprise me. Every three years or so I give chapter and verse on generous moves Wilson has made. He always says my efforts are a waste of time because fans want to believe he's a cheapskate.

But I do get upset when someone who knows little about the Bills' past says that Wilson only recently "took the rubber band off his bankroll." That canard is obviously here to stay, but I'll be happy to give examples to anyone interested in the truth.

What did surprise me was the reaction to the rumor that the Bills might leave town. Will McDonough of the Boston Globe and NBC Sports warned about that when he addressed a Monday Quarterback Club meeting here five years ago. He told the members at a luncheon that, because of what football-hungry cities were offering defectors, Buffalo could very well lose the Bills.

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