June 17, 1994.
One would have a very difficult time finding a crazier day in the history of sports. While most remember the O.J. Simpson chase as the “highlight” of the day, that certainly wasn’t the only big event that occurred that day. June 17, 1994, was a big day for so many reasons. Soccer took center stage for a short time that day as the World Cup began in the United States for the first time.
Arnold Palmer played the final round of his historic U.S. Open career. The New York Rangers celebrated their first Stanley Cup in 54 years. The New York Knicks and Houston Rockets played a crucial Game 5 in the NBA Finals. Ken Griffey Jr. matched a longtime MLB record set by Babe Ruth. And then, of course, there was Simpson.
So let’s take a quick look back on June 17, 1994, a day that will go down as the craziest in sports history.
Arnold Palmer played his final U.S. Open round
On June 17, 1994, 64-year-old Arnold Palmer shot a round of 81 in the second round of the U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club in Pennsylvania. Normally, a professional golfer shooting 81 in a tournament would be crucified. But that day was different. Palmer hadn’t played the U.S. Open in 11 years but was given a special exemption by the USGA to appear one last time in his home state, his 32nd appearance at America’s national championship. The King obviously wasn’t making the weekend so that Friday was his swan song and 81 never looked so beautiful.
Ken Griffey Jr. tied a Babe Ruth record
More than 850 miles from Oakmont, Pennsylvania, Ken Griffey, Jr. and the Seattle Mariners were in Kansas City, Missouri for a date with the Royals on June 17, 1994. In a 5-1 Mariners win, Griffey belted his 26th home run of the season, tying him with Babe Ruth for the most homers before June 30th, a record he would break five days later. Many thought Griffey had a real shot at Roger Maris’ then-record of 61 long balls in a season but the infamous strike shut down the season on August 11 with Junior sitting at 40.
The World Cup begins in the U.S. for the first time
For the first time in history, the World Cup, the biggest sporting event in the world, was hosted by the United States and, as luck would have it, the festivities began on June 17, 1994. The opening ceremony, emceed by Oprah Winfrey, took place at Chicago’s Soldier Field, also included a musical performance by Diana Ross and was attended by then-President Bill Clinton. The ceremony was followed by a matchup between Germany and Bolivia, which Germany won 1-0. Spain and South Korea also met at the Cotton Bowl that day, playing to a 2-2 tie.
The New York Knicks and the Houston Rockets met in Game 5 of the NBA Finals
June 17, 1994, was a huge night in the NBA Finals as the Houston Rockets and New York Knicks were playing a crucial Game 5 at Madison Square Garden. Earlier in the day, the New York Rangers had celebrated their 1994 Stanley Cup title, the franchise’s first in 54 years, with a massive ticker-tape parade in the Big Apple. The Rockets and Knicks were tied at two games apiece and it was actually a very competitive game, which the Knicks won 91-84, but it’s a game that will always be best remembered for the interruption that came during the broadcast.
The O.J. Simpson chase
No matter what else happened that day, June 17, 1994, will always be remembered as the day of the famous (or infamous) low-speed chase involving former Heisman Trophy winner and Pro Football Hall of Famer O.J. Simpson. Five days earlier, Simpson’s ex-wife, Nicole Brown, and 25-year-old Ron Goldman had been brutally murdered and O.J. was a person of interest. He was supposed to surrender himself to police the morning of June 17 but obviously didn’t do so.
In a white Ford Bronco owned and driven by his longtime friend and former teammate Al Cowlings, Simpson led authorities on perhaps the slowest chase in history through Southern California for more hours as 95 million people in the U.S. alone watched on television, according to the New York Times. Just imagine had social media been around back then. When the white Bronco finally arrived at Simpson’s home in Brentwood, he and Cowlings were both taken into custody, which actually took another hour, and the “Trial of the Century” ensued.
It was a crazy end to a crazy day that will certainly never be forgotten.