Joseph R. Villarin/AP
A white Ford Bronco, driven by Al Cowlings and carrying O.J. Simpson, is trailed by police cars as it travels on a southern California freeway on June 17, 1994, in Los Angeles.
You see a lot of unbelievable stuff on TV, but this – this set the bar for bizarre. Ridiculous. Horrible. And real. It made all the scriptwriters in Hollywood look lame.
Here's this middling celebrity, a football star emeritus, a passable comic movie sidekick, a gung ho pitchman and now — maybe — a double murderer, rolling down the freeway in Friday night traffic, with a gun to his head.
O.J. Simpson had said he'd surrender that morning, avoid all the cameras and the hoopla, get the gentleman's treatment at Parker Center, but then he cut and ran and for hours, it was a game of where's O.J.?
He was with his friend, in a white Ford Bronco, but a different white Bronco, not his, not the one with the bloodstains that police had seized as evidence of murder.
He had left three notes behind – one to his mother, one to his kids, and one to the public whose glow had warmed him for so long, a note everyone took for a suicide note, all about him. Don't feel sorry for me. I've had a great life. And he signed it O.J., with a happy face instead of an O.
Wherever you were for the nearly two hours that O.J. was on the run on the air, that's where you stayed. Whatever was going to happen, you didn't want to miss it.
Twenty cop cars in a flying wedge formation — was it a police chase or an escort? Nine TV stations in New York City dumped their programming to show it. The NBA finals got squeezed into a corner of the TV screen.
North on the 5 they went, west on the 91, north again on the 405. The crowds mashing themselves onto the freeway overpasses like the crowds that had cheered him at the Coliseum: go, OJ, go. The last time I saw him cheered like that, it was 1984, and he was carrying the Olympic torch.
Along Sunset, along Rockingham, people surged toward the Bronco until it stopped on the cobblestones of Simpson's house, and for 50 minutes, crouched in the back seat, he talked to the cops. He talked on a cell phone, so new back then that only six percent of Americans owned one, and the reporters kept calling it a "cellular telephone" to make sure people understood.
Ten hours after the LAPD expected Simpson's surrender, he stumbled into their grasp. He went into his house, drank some juice, called his mom and then he went to jail.
We would watch him for another 15 months, through the trial of the century, until another trial of the century came along.
Somewhere, I've still got the best of all the souvenirs that came out of that long, strange trip … it's a watch. On its face, a picture of O.J., and around and around, a couple of little police cars chase a tiny white Bronco, circling the face of time.