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September 19, 2007

Return of the Bronco

In the fourth quarter of Monday night's Redskins-Eagles game, ESPN commenter Tony Kornheiser remarked, "The Packers are 2-0, the 49ers are 2-0, the Cowboys are 2-0, and O.J. is back in jail. It's like we're back in the mid-'90s again." The flashbacks didn't stop there. In the same week, Hillary Clinton unveiled her new health-care proposal; an earlier, failed effort defined her role in the early years of her husband's presidency. With the recent opening of the New York Times's archive to the general public, Gelf takes a look back at how the stories have changed—and remained the same—since that memorable low-speed chase.

When O.J. Simpson was arrested on June 17, 1994, he led California police and legions of press on a chase in that infamous Ford Bronco. Over the next few days the Times breathlessly covered the event with a dedicated news heading entitled "THE SIMPSON CASE," which featured stories devoted to "The Victims," "The Law," "The News Media," "The Inmate," "The Pursuit," "The Fugitive," and many others. Reading the Times coverage today provides a telling glimpse into how exciting and bewildering the first few days of the case were, before it consumed the media interest of the nation for over a year.

This time around, O.J. willingly turned himself in to Las Vegas police for his involvement in a bizarre sports memorabilia armed robbery. Bail was set at $125,000 and Simpson has since been released. The memorabilia, like the rights to Simpson's impending book and much of his other assets, have been claimed by the family of Ronald Goldman. There is no word yet from O.J. on whether it was harder for him to run for 2,000 yards in one season or kill two people in one night (YouTube).

Back to 1994: On August 29, the Times printed an extensive report on "THE HEALTH CARE DEBATE: What Went Wrong? How the Health Care Campaign Collapsed." The writers conclude that the Clintons failed in their effort to reform healthcare because of bitter partisan politics; intense resistance from special-interest groups, notably small business and health-care lobbyists; a misleading advertising campaign financed by the pharmaceutical industry, bogged-down congressional committees, and plain old bad timing. Many of these problems stemmed from the plan's call to rearrange up to one-seventh of the world's largest economy and the creation of a large bureaucratic agency without specifying how to pay for it.

In her new health-care plan announced this week, Hillary Clinton tries to steer clear of the aspects of the original plan that caused the biggest problems. According to this week's New York Times, the new plan "promises to cover everyone without big new bureaucracies, without a complicated reorganization of one-seventh of the American economy." Clinton is even using her previous failings as evidence of her experience in the field of health care.

Like the Clinton health plan, the '90s NFC powerhouses are different this time around. As "Stat Boy" would be quick to point out, Kornheiser's statement about the Cowboys, 49ers, and Packers was incorrect. At no point in the 1990s did those teams all go 2-0 to open the same season (although they did win every Super Bowl between 1993 and 1997). The closest they came was in 1994, when all three teams won their opener, but only Dallas went on to win its next game. The three teams then were led by the performances of their star quarterbacks Troy Aikman, Steve Young, and Brett Favre, all in their respective primes. The teams' quarterbacks today—Tony Romo, Alex Smith, and the 2007 version of Brett Favre—are a far cry from the three Hall of Fame-caliber QBs of the '90s.

The most unlikely story in this batch may be Kornheiser's. A long-time Washington Post columnist with a self-described face for radio, Kornheiser has become one of the defining personalities of ESPN for his show Pardon the Interruption. Although he now provides color commentary for Monday Night Football, in 1995 he was writing in the Post's Style pages, crafting an imaginary response from Ann Landers to Hillary Clinton:

Dear Demonized in D.C.:

When all around you seems so bleak
Give that fat goober hubby of yours a peck on the cheek.

I suppose some things really do change.

Related on the web: Jason Kottke digs into the Times archive for some gems from the past 156 years.

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