Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Proud to be an American

This weekend, we as Americans will celebrate the 234th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, a moment that officially put this country on the map and began the dream that is America.

Over the year, sports have become part of that American landscape and over the years, they have played a major role in bringing this country together, no matter your political, religious or whatever leanings.

So here in chronological order, more or less, are some of those moments.

-- 1936: Adolf Hitler is on the march in Germany and the rest of Europe, and back in the U.S., racism still rears its ugly head. Jesse Owens goes to Berlin for the 1936 Olympics, which Hitler had intended to be a showcase for the "superior" white race. Instead, Owens kills that notion, winning the gold medal in the long jump, 200 meters and the 4x100-meter relay and the 100 meters:

-- April 25, 1976: This country is in a tailspin. The Vietnam War had just ended. The economy is on its way down, and the dissension among the ranks is high. During the Cubs' game against the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium, two guys rush on the field, pull out an American flag and begin fumbling with a lighter. Cubs outfield Rick Monday, however, saves the day, by swiping the flag before flame hit cloth, drawing cheers from the crowd.

-- February 22, 1980: We're still in that tailspin, and this time, the odds are stacked even higher. The U.S. considers stopping the games in lieu of the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan in November 1979, and eventually leads to the U.S. boycotting the Summer Olympics in Moscow. But the Winter Games at Lake Placid, N.Y., went on, and the U.S. men's hockey team, essentially a bunch of college kids, went up in the semifinal against the mighty Soviet machine, who seemed to never lose. But they pulled off what has become known as the "Miracle on Ice," and brought this country together as hadn't been done in recent years.

-- January 21, 1991: The U.S. and other nations had just gone to war against Iraq, and patriotism is on the rise as Americans come out to support the troops. Sports leagues debate whether to cancel events, including the NHL with the All-Star Game at the Chicago Stadium. They decide to go through with the game, and it's a good thing, as Wayne Messmer and the fans produce one of the most spine-tingling, hair on the arm-raising moments I personally have experienced.

-- January 27, 1991: The NFL had had the same discussions as the NHL in debating whether to play Super Bowl XXV in Tampa. They ultimately decided to do it, and good thing, because it not only produced one of the better Super Bowls in history (The Giants beat the Bills 20-19 after Buffalo's Scott Norwood misses a game-winning kick as time expired), but it had this singing of the national anthem by Whitney Houston:

-- 1992: Ever since the U.S. men's basketball team got robbed at the 1972 Olympics in Munich in their gold medal game against the Soviet Union, we had floundered in subsequent Olympics. In 1992, we decided to finally allow our pros to play, much like other countries had been able to do. We send guys like Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley to Barcelona, and destroy everyone in our path, including poor Angola:

-- September 2001: On September 11, 2001, 19 terrorists commandeered four planes, crashing them into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and a field in Pennsylvania (some believe that plane was headed for the Capitol or White House in Washington). Sports stopped, with the NFL and college football postponing their games, and Major League Baseball stopping for a few days as well. When they did come back, there were tributes galore at every park, including this poem by Cardinals broadcaster Jack Buck:

-- October 30, 2001: The Yankees have made it to the World Series, and President George W. Bush is called upon to throw the first pitch at Game 3 at Yankee Stadium. He throws a perfect strike from the mound, to the cheers of the crowd:

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