Unlike many people, I don't remember where I was when OJ Simpson took off on that infamous Bronco ride back in 1994. It was summer, so I was probably at my folks' house asking my mom to buy me lots of Killian's Irish Red for freshman year. I remember watching the sheriff on ESPN say that police were "actively" looking for Mr. Simpson and hearing the reporters in the room gasp (reporters should gasp in press conferences far more often). And I remember where I was when OJ got off (in a college dorm common room missing the first five minutes of class to hear the verdict read aloud, and then muttering "That's bullshit" before trudging off to a lecture).
But the chase itself has been left to the more creative parts of my memory, and I am free to do with the circumstances of it as I please. I was probably in the kitchen. Or was I upstairs? Did I watch it at all? I definitely watched SOME of it. I think. Memories don't always have to be accurate to be enjoyable. Sometimes it's nice to inflate them and deflate them as you see fit, which is what I have done with this Bronco chase for the past twenty years.
However, since yesterday marked a random and probably meaningless two-decade stretch since the chase happened, it's time for me to go back and watch the drama unfold in real time, to see if the bits and pieces floating around in my mental ether line up at all with what really happened. Here now is the full OJ Bronco chase video, as covered by the major media outlets at the time. It's an hour long. AN HOUR. Jesus Al Cowlings, drive faster next time. What a dick.
0:15: The chase interrupted Game 5 of the 1994 NBA Finals between the Knicks and Rockets, and thank God for that because the 1994 NBA Finals were fucking BRUTAL. As slow as Cowlings drove, I assure you Patrick Ewing's turnaround jumper was even slower. FUN FACT: Patrick Ewing never actually dribbled a basketball once in his career.
0:47: Tom Brokaw cuts into the broadcast to explain why we're watching Al Cowlings' white Bronco head down the interstate. He uses the words "shocking" and "bizarre" to describe the situation, and back then those words actually had heft when a news anchor used them. CNN now deploys the SHOCKING NEWS graphic anytime someone trips over a soup can.
1:40: I don't quite understand how an entire LA freeway cleared out so quickly to accommodate a single vehicle. There's no other car anywhere near the Bronco. It's like Andre Johnson running a go route back in his U-Miami days. There aren't even any cars pulled over to the side. Where did they all go? I'm not saying the chase was staged, but it was TOTALLY staged. I'm surprised there aren't more OJ chase truthers out there. They could really make a killing.
2:48: Brokaw describes the apparent suicide note that OJ left, and in retrospect that suicide note probably represents the only open display of shame in the next twenty years of OJ Simpson's life.
3:00: Oh God, the Knicks and Rockets again. PULL A GUN, AL.
3:25: We go to the ABC feed, which features a wide shot of the Bronco being tailed by a platoon of squad cars. If there were a fantasy camp where you could speed down a highway with a bunch of five-oh hot on your tail, I would gladly pay three dollars to experience it.
4:18: And now we go to Larry King, who has probably brunched with OJ Simpson 50 times and will gladly vouch for him being a class act. "Saw him at the Beverly Wilshire last week. WHAT A CUTUP."
5:00: I do remember wondering why the cops never shot out OJ's tires. Isn't that a cop move? If you want to stop a criminal but not kill him, you shoot his tires or his legs. That's the humane way of getting your collar, right? Is that not actually done? Surely hitting a tire square on, while perched outside the window of a police cruiser going 60mph, requires only remedial marksmanship.
5:10: People on an overpass watch the Bronco pass under. I wonder if they spat on the car. If I had been there, I would have totally spat on it. I was 17. I was in just the right age range for spitting on cars from a bridge.
6:30: You will notice, as we go through this video, that the networks start bringing people on the air to analyze the situation. This OJ chase wasn't the first time news anchors have tried to gather information live on national television, but it was probably one of the first times that they, in an effort to create new information, brought on someone to give a developing hot take on it. In this video, those hot take providers include law enforcement officials and friends of OJ. They're actually useful! As we moved into the 21st century, that analysis morphed into paid shitheads like Mark Schlereth and Donna Brazille hopping on the air to talk about what this all MEANS, and how this might impact the midterm elections and shit. By the end of this video, you will hear Tom Brokaw straining to find any tidbit of useless garbage to fill the gaping void of nothing actually happening. He is inventing the new media age in front of your eyes.
6:50: The surrounding roads are now choked with stopped cars and people standing by to gawk, making this potentially the greatest gawker's block in traffic history. Only a car on fire does a better job of drawing eyeballs.
7:17: King mentions that OJ is holding a gun to his head for the first time. HOLY SHIT!
8:08: You'll notice that the Ford Bronco used to be a basic pickup truck with a covered back. This is what the 2015 Ford Bronco looks like. It's like someone took an H3 and a Jeep Wrangler and had them fuck to make the perfect dipshit car. If you see any lax bro driving this car, stay away.
10:30: Here is something I didn't remember: former Raiders QB Vince Evans getting on the phone on live, crying his eyes out, begging OJ to pull over. "We love you, man." It's genuinely disturbing to hear. This Bronco chase is the stuff of parody now… a pop culture relic. But you listen to Evans and you remember that, back then, this was a terribly serious tragedy in which two people were killed and many, many, many adjacent lives were destroyed.
11:43: Tom Brokaw confirming that OJ wants to go see his mom. Perhaps have some pie.
12:28: The crowds on the freeway continue to grow. And as you watch, you begin to realize that this Bronco chase represents arguably the perfect news media event. It's all happening slowly enough for people to GO to the location of the event and make it into a spectator sport, which in itself changes the circumstances of the event into a tragedy that is 100% self-aware. Even Al Cowlings is able to recognize the infamy in its creation in time to shout out, "You know who I am, god dammit!" on the phone. It's a self-made parade, and it's surprising (and reassuring) that no wannabe celebrity has managed to precisely duplicate this kind of slow-growing, on-camera meltdown. Feels like this would have been a PR strategy by now.
13:30: Vince says OJ is a "class guy", which actually qualifies OJ to be a member of the St. Louis Cardinals. He killed people the RIGHT way.
14:00: News anchors note that spectators are waving and blowing kisses. And somewhere, Oliver Stone gets a brilliant idea.
15:55: I know OJ was found not guilty of murder, but shouldn't he have been found guilty of THIS? Of blocking traffic and resisting arrest and wasting MILLIONS in law enforcement resources? Did you know that Al Cowlings was charged with aiding a fugitive but was never formally charged due to a "lack of evidence"? HE AIDED A FUGITIVE ON EVERY FUCKING TV CHANNEL. How was there no evidence?
17:15: OJ wrote three suicide notes, and said he didn't kill Nicole Simpson but if they ever had a problem, "it was because I loved her so much." And so you see the seeds being planted for the next two decades of OJ Simpson trolling the general public. He was the original troll.
17:35: Cowling puts the blinkers on, which is considerate.
19:06: CNN has a shrink on saying OJ is in the "acute stage" of multiple personality disorder, which was shockingly not used as a formal defense. "OJ didn't kill her! Furby Jackson did!"
20:00: Listen as Brokaw struggles with all his might to not call Al Cowlings OWL COWLINGS. It sounds just like Owl Cowlings. Even I have a hard time not pronouncing it Owl Cowlings.
21:00: It's possible that NBC started MSNBC simply because of this chase, because they had two major events to cover (the chase and the NBA Finals) and no way of splitting them up.
22:03: Reader Grant11955: "Came home and found babysitter and one year old son fixed to TV. Favorite moment was when Dan Rather said he thought he saw a dark figure crouching on the back of the Ford Bronco in the driveway as darkness fell.. His coanchor, a sports person I think , said – 'Dan, I believe that's the spare tire'. It was. Dan Rather did not speak the rest of the night."
23:34: None of the news anchors openly say they're hoping for a shootout or for OJ to step out of the car to blow his fucking head off, but I bet they were thinking it. I definitely remember, somewhere in the back of my mind, getting primed to see that. When the anchor tells you over and over again that OJ has a gun to his head, and that they're just waiting to see how this all plays out, you come to expect suicide as the end result.
25:18: Look how poorly both the cars and the onscreen graphics have aged. I can't believe we drove cars with such sharp angles. How did we live?
25:28: News anchors now openly speculating on which exit OJ will use. They're almost annoyed that they Cowlings isn't taking their directions for the best way to get to Brentwood. "No no no, you get off at Waterford! WHY ARE YOU STILL IN THE LEFT LANE?!"
26:49: Cowlings gets off at Sunset Boulevard and you see the mess of cars and spectators immediately surrounding the Bronco like a golf tournament gallery following the leader to the final putting green, openly running in the street to see the Bronco. And it's amazing how haphazard the arrangement of cars can get when chaos is introduced. One second they're all parked in a straight line and driving dutifully behind one another, the next: JUST LEAVE THIS CAR ANY FUCKING PLACE. This was 1994, so no one got a selfie with the Bronco. But oh… oh, if this had happened now. So many Bronco selfies. In retrospect, the fact that Cowilings never hit another car or a pedestrian remains a pretty impressive feat of driving for a Californian.
28:22: Shockingly, police never set up a barricade to keep the Bronco from moving forward. Is that just a movie thing? Why wouldn't they just BLOCK the car? Perhaps because it would have forced some kind of violent standoff? Or because THE FREEMASONS FORBID IT?
28:48: One thing I remember clearly is that I learned far more about LA geography from this case than I needed. Rockingham and Ashford Rockingham and Ashford Rockingham and Ashford Rockingham and Ashford Rockingham and Ashford Rockingham and Ashford! I remember being deeply jealous of how big all of those houses were. Look at all these fine murder houses you'll never afford!
30:20: OWL COWLINGS.
30:50: Brokaw: "Many people are sobbing, others are saying GO OJ, GO! There's an enormous amount of affection for this man, but it must be remembered: he has been charged with two brutal murders." I think we've all kept that in mind, Tom.
32:00: Someone greets the Bronco in the driveway and is apparently arguing with the driver. I'd like to think it was an OJ lackey asking why AC didn't pick up any sandwiches on the way home. The weird guy gets taken away by the cops.
32:12: Again, you can watch this chase in real time and marvel as televised news morphs into stupid people telling you useless things. "This is a critical time… you can hear the sirens in the background." Someone actually says that.
32:38: Cops draw their guns on the Bronco, which seems like an aggressive move given how NOT aggressive they've been for the past half an hour. "Ground crews were asked to leave." Hey Manny the landscaper, PISS OFF. You can trim these hedges tomorrow.
33:00: Local NBC affiliate anchor: "Can the chopper please try to swing back the other way so we can get a view of this?" There you go: an anchor bossing around a helicopter pilot like a complete asshole. I hope that pilot strafed the dude's house later that night.
33:38: OJ's roof is in rough shape. That'll need to be replaced.
33:50: NBC's George Lewis saying he did not see OJ with a gun to his head. Well, you can't keep the gun there forever. Your arm gets tired. Eventually, the thrill of openly threatening suicide wanes.
37:15: "For those of you watching the game, the third quarter has just ended: 61 to 61." Sounds about right for the '94 Finals. Jesus.
37:25: Brokaw now openly selling the drama with the whole "no screenwriter could make this up!" spiel. Meanwhile, we are staring at a parked car outside a house, with nothing happening. There are many trees.
38:24: In OJ's suicide note, he said that he couldn't go on because from here on out, people would always stop and point. And you know what? They did. OJ was eventually acquitted, of course, but the general public made every effort to make him pay for it anyway. You'll be hard-pressed to find anyone who has been a pariah for as long as this man, and with obvious reason. It's an example of how punishment takes many forms, and how a jail cell is not the definitive form of retribution that we always think or hope it will be. You can bring someone down in many other ways if you try hard enough.
39:06: There's a dog just chilling in the grass in the center of the circle driveway outside of the house. He looks like he gives absolutely no fucks about any of this. That dog, man… That dog had it all figured out.
40:30: Owl Cowlings gets out of the Bronco at long last. OJ is supposedly in a yellow golf shirt. Jim Nantz is shocked anyone would suspect a man in a golf shirt.
41:25: Brokaw reports that OJ's speech was slurred as he was talking to the dispatcher, because when you're accused of murder and you're gonna lead authorities on an eight-hour car chase while threatening to kill yourself, you're gonna need whiskey.
41:45: NBC field correspondent says OJ was driving the car (wrong) and then gets into a fight with cops about where he's standing. I bet 80% of reporters spend their time arguing with people about where they can stand. I HAVE A PASS! "I'm on the air right now, sir…" he says to the cop. Now don't you feel like a prick, cop? THIS MAN IS ON TV AND IS IMPORTANT! Brokaw forgives the guy for mixing up OJ and Owl Cowlings. "They're both the same age and they both played football so under the circumstances that's understandable." RACIST.
43:58: Ground mics pick up someone screaming "DAD! DAD! DAD!" OJ is apparently out of the car now, but the trees are blocking everything. Kill all the trees.
45:01: Cowlings appears to be in front of the Bronco, telling people to back off, which seems like something he doesn't have the right to demand at this point. This is all happening in standard definition, so I can't really see anything. Again, I don't know how we lived like this. I'm gonna need a full remaster DVD of this chase. Michael Mann should direct all LA car chases.
47:31: Brokaw: "It appears that Owl Cowlings is talking to the car." That's a good car. Who's a good car?! Is it you?
48:07: Brokaw: "If you can read the body language of what I'm able to see…" I am looking at a tree.
48:30: You can hear a crowd off to the side chanting JUICE JUICE JUICE JUICE JUICE!, but it dies down quickly. I'd like to meet the honorary Fireman Ed who tried to keep that chant going.
48:56: By the way, the above video doesn't include the infamous prank call to Peter Jennings by a Howard Stern listener, but you can hear that right here:
And a Baba Booey to y'all. Totally farcical call.
49:16: Brokaw: "And we can only imagine the torment of so many young people in America who have had OJ as their role model all this time, and as they watch this being played out on television in Los Angeles and across the nation, what must they be thinking about where we are as a society and the values of our culture." You see? The Dawn of Bullshit.
50:15: NBC analyst notes that in California, running from the police can be used against you as a "flight charge" in a trial, often to your detriment. Unless, you know, you were OJ Simpson. In his case… HERE PUT THIS DRIED AND SHRUNK GLOVE ON I'M SURE THIS'LL WORK.
53:00: Brokaw promises he'll be back with a resolution before cutting back to that shitty Finals game, and our video comes to an end the only way a bloated news story possibly can: poorly lit and without any satisfying conclusion. Always fun to see the exact moment when networks realize nothing interesting is going to happen and they should cut away. Since this day, TV news has pretty much been an endless loop of trailing people and cars around and hoping for the worst. I know I probably was annoyed that there was no suicide or Mexican standoff at the end. It's what TV and movies conditioned me to expect, and what news outlets now try to match on a daily basis. But the truth is that real life is usually never as explosive, and when it is, like on 9/11, it's something you never ever want to see again. The news business is caught between the spectacle of potential violence and the sickening reality of it. There's no graceful way to walk that line, and there never will be. Right, Nancy Grace?
Drew Magary writes for Deadspin. He's also a correspondent for GQ. Follow him on Twitter @drewmagary and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also order Drew's book, Someone Could Get Hurt, through his homepage.