Thursday, June 16, 2011

June 17th, 1994

(I actually wrote this last year on this date, but didn't finish it... so I had to wait an entire year for this to be relevant again...)

I'm sitting and watching one of the most fascinating documentaries I've ever seen, and its something I didn't think about today until I saw it... "June 17th, 1994" is the name of show, part of ESPN's 30 for 30 series--that's 30 documentaries by 30 filmmakers celebrating the last 30 years of sports stories...

Anyway, this particular show is directed by Brett Miller, and it chronicles one of the most famous (infamous?) days in sports history, Friday, June 17, 1994... here's what happened on that one single day:

Arnold Palmer, one of the legends of golf, one of the pioneers of the game as we know it today (I don't follow golf, yet I know about Arnold Palmer) played his final round of major golf on June 17th, 1994.  Clips show him moving slowly, as he misses a three foot putt near the end of the round (he played on the senior tour until 2005, which he retired from pro golf altogether)

Ken Griffey Jr hit his 30th home run of the 1994 baseball season, a shot over the right field wall off of Kansas City's David Cone, tying the record for most home runs before the end of June set by Babe Ruth.  Griffey had potential to become one of the greatest of all time, before injuries slowed his career.  He retired last season as an almost surefire Hall-of-Famer.  The 1994 season ended in a baseball strike.

The New York Rangers had their Stanley Cup Parade on June 17th, 1994.  They had defeated the Vancouver Canucks (who, incidentally just lost to Boston in the only other finals they were in) in a seven game series to win their first Stanley Cup in their until-then 54 year history.  It remains their only one to date.

The World Cup's opening ceremonies were on June 17th, 1994, at Soldier Field in Chicago, IL.  It was the first, and to this day, only World Cup to be held in America.  Germany beat Bolivia 1-0 in the first game, but Brazil defeated Italy in the finals to become the first country to win four World Cups.

Tied 2-2, the Houston Rockets and New York Knicks had Game Five of their seven game final series on June 17th, 1994, and for anyone who is a fan of the NBA, it was a monumental series.  Patrick Ewing, in his first NBA finals, looking to get the Knicks their first trophy since 1973, while Hakeem Olajuwon was in his prime.  The Rockets won this series 4-3, and would go on to sweep Shaq's Orlando Magic the following season for back-to-back titles.

And... there's OJ Simpson.

On my previous 9/11 posts, I've mentioned that there are certain moments in time, in the world of entertainment, history and the like, that you'll always remember where you were.  I'm too young to remember JFK's assassination, or even Reagan's assassination attempt (the former being 12 years before my time, the latter happening when I was only 4 or 5), two "Where Were You When...?" moments in history, but I remember four major events...

  • I was in Mrs. Wikel's class when the Challenger exploded in January 1986 (and I was driving back from my very first day at Starbucks when the Columbia exploded in 2003, though that's not talked about a lot)
  • I was at the beach with Darlene Bledsoe, Eddie Hamner and Margaret Dorman when Princess Diana was killed.
  • I was working at WBPT, 106.9 The Point, with Rob & Shannon, when we discovered the World Trade Center was on Fire
  • And, finally, I was working as a waiter between the summers of my freshman and sophomore year in college at The Wright Place in Samson, AL, set to turn on Game 5 of the NBA finals to play in the background while the diners ate, when CNN Headline News (my news channel of choice being a young Democrat at that time), announced that NFL Hall of Famer, Heisman Trophy Winner and movie personality Orenthal James Simpson was in the back of a white Bronco, being driven by who is thought to be friend and teammate Al Cowlins, and is on the verge of suicide--a warrant had been issued for his arrest that morning for the murders of his wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman. 
In this TMZ influenced, interweb crazy, know-anything-about-anyone-the-instant-it-happens Twitter kind of society that we live in, people who are say, 25 and under, don't get it.  They only know of OJ Simpson by what the interweb and Wiki tells them happened, but back on June 17th, 1994, when there was no interweb accessable, when there was no Facebook and Twitter to immediately let you know things as they occurred, what happened that evening with OJ was... surreal.  Unthinkable.  And like an overturned 18 wheeler burning on the side of the road, you couldn't not watch it, even though you know you had so many other things to do.  Let me tell ya, this was crazy stuff. 

Now, OJ Simpson is a punchline.  Everything from "Yeah, he's searching every golf course in this country for Nicole's killers!" to "I hope he knows how to do that Hertz airport thing in prison" is what you hear when OJ's name is brought up, but back then?  He was beloved.  No kidding.  Its kinda like the difference in Michael Jackson then (biggest pop star in the entire world) and now (freak of nature, not to mention dead). 

For today's culture, it would be like hearing the news that Kobe Bryant had committed rape and... wait, what?  Okay, um... it would be like hearing the news that Tom Brady had committed two homicides... golden boy, talented, loved and adored, and completely shocked that he'd do that.  (Had I written this post two years ago, on June 17th, 2009, "Tiger Woods" would have been the easy choice in that analogy, but now, not so much).  OJ played at USC, then was drafted by the Buffalo Bills, and later played for the San Francisco 49ers.  In addition to becoming the first player to ever run for 2,000 yards in a single season (finished with 2,003 in 1973) he did it in a 14 game season, as opposed to the 16 game season we have now.  OJ is also the only player to rush for over 200 yards in six different games in his career.  Because his nickname was "The Juice", the Bills offensive line was known as "The Electric Company".  They weren't very good, but that's a cool, cool nickname.  And in 1985, he was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame... the same year he married his second wife, Nicole Brown (they divorced in 1992)

He started his entertainment career even before he was done with the NFL, starring in such movies as "The Towering Inferno" and "Capricorn One", and in the miniseries "Roots", he hosted Saturday Night Live once, he was in a memorable and legendary spot for Hertz Rent-a-Car, and of course, he was the one and only Nordberg in all three The Naked Gun films.   Bottom line is, this guy was awesome.  OJ was the man.

And then, June 17th, 1994 happened. 

A few days before Nicole Brown and her friend Ron Goldman were found guilty outside of Brown's condo, apparently stabbed to death.  Police suspected OJ Simpson, and gave him until 11am, Friday, June 17th, to turn himself in.  By 2pm, the police had issued at APB for OJ, and at 5pm, Robert Kardashian...

(remember the days when Kardashian was somewhat of a respectable name?  At least it meant "lawyer".  And yes, he is the biological father of Khloe, Kim and Kourtney, with ex-wife Kris Jenner.  Where was I?)

Oh yeah.. Kardashian read a rambling letter issue by OJ, which sounded like a suicide note to many people.  At 645pm, police spotted OJ's white Ford Bronco traveling down I-405, but when they tried to pull it over, the driver--Al Cowlings--yelled that OJ had a gun to his own head.   They backed off, but continue to follow at around 35 miles per hour.  And so began this slow chase across Southern California, one that was picked up by just about every network, and cut in on all programming.   So here I am, 18, going on 19, waiting tables at a small, podunk restaurant, and every eye in the cafe are glued to the television.

The white Bronco continues, and people began gathering along the side streets and bridges, waving, cheering and holding up signs.  There were phone calls made from the SUV claiming there were guns, claiming there were death threats, and OJ yelling that he didn't do it.  The Bronco stopped in front of his Brentwood, CA, home where we watched it sit there for 45 minutes, we watched OJ go inside for an hour (and apparently spoke to his mother and actually drank a glass of orange juice), then come out and surrender to police.  Inside the Bronco, the police recovered $8,000 cash, some clothes, a passport, some pictures.... and a loaded .357 magnum and a fake moustache and gotee.   Thus ended a news story and low-speed chase that was watched by NINETY FIVE MILLION PEOPLE.  That's almost the amount of people who came to the first DeuceFest!

If you don't remember the results, the trial captivated the country a few years later, mostly because it was a ridiculous circus type event that Judge Lance Ito lost control over within the first few days.  And then on October 3rd, around 10am, the verdict came... I remember this day vividly too, because I was hanging out in the BCM when Joey Hinson, who lived in the apartment downstairs with Tad Roose, came out and yelled to no one in particular, "Hey!  The OJ verdict is about to be announced!" 

Several of us ran downstairs to hear the verdict, and all of us groaned.  Not guilty.  He got away with it.  I won't go into it here, but there is a mountain of evidence that was never even presented in the trial for one reason or another (like the contents of the Bronco), plus a whole lot of goofs by both sides.  Some years later, he was sued by the Goldman family, and a verdict of guilty was returned, with a penalty of $33,500,000 against OJ, but California law prevents pensions, like the his from the NFL, to be used in judgements, so all the Goldmans got was about $500K from the sale of OJ's estate and belongings.

When doing the cover art, The Goldman Family
had the "IF" reduced, so "I DID IT" would be
the only words you'd see clearly
After a 2000 Rolling Stone article was released revealing how much money OJ was making from signing autographs, he moved from California to Florida--where the law prevents an estate from being taken to collect a debt... OJ gets away again.

He skirted another judgement in January 2007 when a restraining order was dismissed, one that would have prevented him from spending any advance money from a cancelled book deal... one that had its rights auctioned off later that year, and was then awarded to the Goldman Family... the book was called "If I Did It: Confessions of the Killer". 

After all the skirting and escaping he had done legally, you'd think OJ would buy a house on the beach somewhere and settle down, maybe just be quiet.  But OJ strikes again--in September of 2007, a group of men led by OJ stormed into a Vegas hotel room and robbed the occupants at gunpoint.  He was arrested, and after all the other defendants turned on OJ and confessed against him for reduced sentences, OJ was convicted in September of 2008.

And in a huge "MY BAD, DAWG... HERE'S THE MAKE UP" from the United States Justice System, OJ Simpson was sentenced to 33 years in prison, with the possibility of parole in 9 years (2015).  He's in the Locklove Correctional Center in Nevada... inmate #1027820.

And thus ends the long, strange saga of OJ Simpson.  I'm afraid that nowadays, there are people out there who probably think he was railroaded, and completely innocent, not because of their beliefs in the evidence and trial, but because... well, so much time has gone by, its becoming a faded memory.

But not for me.  I'll remember June 17th, 1994. 

The Summer of Blogging, Day Seventeen


  1. Replies
    1. Absolutely--but common sense prevailed around 1996

  2. Wasn't there a World Cup held at Giants Stadium in the late 90's?

    1. There were a number of World Cup Matches held at Giants Stadium, but it was part of the 94 games


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