25 years ago today, America stopped to watch the cops chase O.J. in a white Ford Bronco

Motorists stop and wave as police cars pursue the white Ford Bronco on June 17, 1994.
FILE - In this June 17, 1994, file photo, a white Ford Bronco, driven by Al Cowlings carrying O.J. Simpson, is trailed by Los Angeles police cars as it travels on a freeway in Los Angeles. Simpson’s ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ron Goldman were found stabbed to death outside her LA home. Simpson is later arrested after a widely televised freeway chase in the vehicle. (AP Photo/Joseph Villarin, File)
Members of the news media watch live television coverage of the O.J. Simpson driving on Los Angeles freeways during game five of the NBA finals Friday night, June 17, 1994, at New York's Madison Square Garden. (AP Photo/Ron Frehm)
O.J. Simpson's close friend Al Cowlings, at the wheel of a Ford Bronco with Simpson hiding, leads police on a two-county chase northbound 405 Freeway towards Simpson's home, June 17, 1994, in Los Angeles. Simpson later surrendered to police and charged with two counts of murder in connection with the slayings of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman. (AP Photo/Lois Bernstein)
O.J. Simpson, center of rear seat, rides into Parker Center, the Los Angeles Police Department headquarters, Friday night, June 17, 1994 after his arrest following a low-speed freeway chase which ended in the drive of his Brentwood estate in Los Angeles. Simpson was charged with two counts of murder in connection with the slaying of his ex-wife Nicole, and Ron Goldman. (AP Photo/Bob Galbraith)
O.J. Simpson, accompanied by two Los Angeles police detectives, is driven away after his arrest.
Thomas Johnson, from San Diego, Calif., autographs one of many signs in support of O.J. Simpson at the front gate, of ex- football hall of famer's, house in Brentwood section of Los Angeles, Tuesday June 21, 1994. Curious on-lookers and tourists keep visiting the house where Simpson surrendered to police after a two-county car chase. Simpson was charged with two-counts of murder for slaying his ex-wife, Nicole, and Ron Goldman. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)
Robert Kardashian, a friend of O.J. Simpson, reads a letter Simpson wrote before disappearing, June 17, 1994 during a news conference in Los Angeles. Simpson was declared a fugitive and eluded police for several hours before a freeway chase ended in his arrest. Simpson faces two counts of murder. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
FILE - In this Oct. 3, 1995, file photo, O.J. Simpson, center, clenches his fists in victory after the jury said he was not guilty in the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman in a Los Angeles courtroom as attorneys F. Lee Bailey, left, and Robert Shapiro, right, look on. During an appearance on Fox's "Megyn Kelly Presents" on May 17, 2016, Shapiro said there's a “strong possibility” that the person who killed Simpson’s ex-wife, Nicole Brown-Simpson, and Ronald Goldman has never faced trial. (AP Photo/Los Angeles Daily News, Myung Chun, Pool, File)
FILE - In this June 13, 1994, file photo, O.J. Simpson sits in his attorney's car after being questioned by Los Angeles police into the death of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ron Goldman. Investigators quickly focused their attention on the former football great, leading to the slow-speed chase that was carried live on national television and, later, the “Trial of the Century,” which ended in Simpson’s acquittal. (AP Photo/Nick Ut, File)
FILE - This June 17, 1994, file photo shows the first page of a four-page letter written by O.J. Simpson concerning charges against him in connection with the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson, and Ron Goldman. Investigators quickly focused their attention on the former football great, leading to the slow-speed chase that was carried live on national television and, later, the “Trial of the Century,” which ended in Simpson’s acquittal. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)
Blood-stained sheets are strewn along the entryway of the Los Angeles-area condominium of Nicole Brown Simpson Sunday, June 12, 1994, the day after she and Ronald Goldman were murdered there late Saturday night. Final DNA tests show O.J. Simpson was source of at least two blood drops leading from the bodies of his ex-wife and her friend a source close to the case said Thursday Sept 15, 1994.(AP Photo/Eric Draper)

June 17, 1994, was supposed to be a big sports night. Viewers around the nation settled in front of their TV screens to watch the New York Knicks take on the Houston Rockets in Game 5 of the NBA Finals.

But instead, another sports figure dominated television in an unforgettable way on that night 25 years ago. O.J. Simpson hopped into a white Ford Bronco, rode down a Los Angeles interstate and sparked one of the most-watched events in TV history.

A man called ‘The Juice’

It’s hard to think of him this way now, but going into the summer of 1994, Simpson was simply “The Juice.” The seemingly always smiling, affable ex-football legend had morphed into a movie star and popular TV pitchman. His transformation from that into one of the most divisive figures in American history really started on that Friday evening a quarter century ago.

That was the day Simpson was charged with two counts of murder in the deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. He was supposed to have turned himself in to face the charges but didn’t. He was declared a fugitive, and a warrant was put out for his arrest.

At about 6:45 p.m. police saw Simpson on the expressway in a white Ford Bronco driven by his best friend and former teammate, Al Cowlings. Simpson was riding in the back, and he reportedly had a gun. And with that the 60-mile, two-hour, low-speed pursuit through Southern California was on.

A cavalcade of police cars followed in pursuit. TV helicopters swooped in to join the chase. As the Bronco traveled under highway overpasses, crowds of people cheered Simpson on with shouts and signs.

A split screen for the ages

On TV, the chase was simply inescapable. All of the broadcast networks and CNN carried every bit of it live. Even non-news cable channels broke into their regular programming to show portions of it. On NBC, the chase produced the most bizarre split screen ever. On one side of the screen the Knicks and the Rockets battled for NBA supremacy at Madison Square Garden; on the other, the white Bronco inched down a Los Angeles freeway with police in non-hot pursuit.

Some 95 million people watched the chase that night, and they watched it in a way that we don’t watch events now. People stood in large groups in front of televisions in their homes, bars, restaurants and other public places and just gawked at the spectacle.

That’s how the nation took in big televised events in the era before the internet, smartphones and social media.

Simpson and Cowlings eventually made their way back to Simpson’s mansion in L.A.’s Brentwood neighborhood later that night. Negotiations with police started. Then, just before 9 p.m., Simpson surrendered, clutching a family photo. He was arrested and jailed.

The chase was over, but the media spectacle that would become the O.J. Simpson trial was just beginning.

This content was republished with permission from CNN.

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up