When you think of the Fourth of July, the first things that come to mind are probably barbecue, beer, and fireworks. (Well, you know, after the Declaration of Independence and Freedom.) However, sports also tend to play a significant part of our July 4th celebrations. Every year millions of Americans go to baseball games to see their favorite teams wear special edition camo hats, and when the calendar lines up, there are sometimes other major sporting events on the holiday. In fact, over the years, some pretty special sports moments have occurred on American Independence Day.
Today, in honor of the USA’s 238th birthday, we’re going to take a look back at some of the most memorable Fourth of July sports moments of all time. So come on, be a patriot and read the list. If you don’t, the terrorists win.
Sure, a 40-game hitting streak may not seem like such a big deal compared to Joe DiMaggio's unbeatable 56-game hitting streak. But the record at the time, set by Willie Keeler in 1897, was 44 games, which means Cobb was only a few days away from breaking that when he failed to get a hit on July 4, 1911. And to this day, Cobb's 40-game streak is still the sixth-best of all time. So yeah, the end of a 40-game hitting streak was a big deal.
9. Ty Cobb’s 40-Game Hit Streak Ends (1911)
On July 4, 1934, a 20-year-old Joseph Louis Barrow, a.k.a. Joe Louis, a.k.a. the Brown Bomber, made his professional boxing debut at the Bacon Casino on the south side of Chicago. His opponent was some guy named Jack Kracken, and Louis made $59 by knocking him out in the first round.
Of course, Louis would go on to become heavyweight champion of the world in 1937, a title he successfully defended 25 times over the next twelve years while establishing himself as the first national black sports hero in American history.
How fitting that it all began on Independence Day.
8. Joe Louis Makes Pro Debut (1934)
On July 4th 1983, the winningest driver in NASCAR history earned his 200th and final victory at the Firecracker 400 at Daytona. That right there is pretty memorable, but this one gets even better.
You see, Presdient Ronald Reagan was in attendance that day. In fact, he was the first sitting president to attend a NASCAR race. So when Petty won, instead of going to victory lane, he immediately went up to the press both to meet the Commander in Chief.
It made for a pretty memorable photo.
7. Richard Petty Wins His Last Race (1983)
On July 4, 1980, MLB's strikeout king Nolan Ryan became just the fourth pitcher in MLB history to record 3,000 career strikeouts, joining Walter Johnson, Bob Gibson, and Gaylord Perry in the ultra-exclusive club.
Interestingly, knuckleballer Phil Niekro became the ninth member of the 3,000 K club exactly four years later, while Roger Clemens became number 11 on the fifth of July, 1998.
6. Nolan Ryan Records 3,000th K (1980)
Before there was Joe Louis there was Jack Johnson. And on July 4, 1910, in Reno, Nevada, Jack Johnson defended his heavyweight boxing title against James Jeffries in a bout billed as the "Fight of the Century."
Of course, it was pretty presumptuous to call a bought the Fight of the Century just ten years in. However, this was a pretty significant fight given the extreme racial tensions. You see Johnson was the first black heavyweight champion, and racist assholes across our great land looked to Jeffries, the retired white champion, to rectify this great injustice.
Fortunately he didn't. Johnson beat Jeffries handily...sparking race riots across the country.
5. The Fight of the Century (1910)
If you always thought Tim McCarver was a boneheaded color analyst, you will be happy to know that, on occasion, he was also a boneheaded (but still very good) player.
His most boneheaded moment as a player? That came on America's Bicentennial in 1976, when he hit one of the few "grand slam singles" in baseball history.
What is a grand slam single? It's when a player hits a home run with the bases loaded but does something stupid like miss a bag or pass one of his teammates on the base paths.
McCarver did the latter. He hit a grand slam against the Pirates on the Fourth of July, 1976, but while running the bases he passed a teammate. So the umpires had to nullify one of the runs and award McCarver a single.
4. The Grand Slam Single (1976)
The 1994 FIFA World Cup probably would have changed the American soccer landscape no matter how the USMNT performed. However, the fact that they managed to defeat Colombia and advance to the knockout stage, and the fact that their Round of 16 game against mighty Brazil took place on America's birthday really, really helped.
A whopping 13.7 million Americans tuned in to watch the outmatched U.S. squad put up a valiant but losing effort. That remained the most-watched soccer game in U.S. history until the 2010 World Cup.
3. USMNT Plays Brazil at Rose Bowl in World Cup (1994)
The Wimbledon Finals frequently fall on the Fourth of July, and in recent years Americans haven't much cared because American players haven't been in them. However, we've actually seen a number of classic all-American duals in the Wimbledon Finals take place on American Independence Day. Jimmy Connors beat John McEnroe for the title on July 4, 1982. Pete Samprass beat Jim Courier for the title on July 4, 1993. And then Pete Samprass beat Andre Agassi for the title on July 4, 1999.
That being said, the greatest Wimbledon Fourth of July moment involved only one American. On July 4, 1981, All-American smart-ass John McEnroe ended Bjorn Borg's five-year reign at Wimbledon, winning his first title at the All England Club. USA!
2. McEnroe Ends Borgs Wimbledon Reign (1981)
Without a doubt, the absolute greatest Fourth of July sports moment of all-time belongs to Lou Gehrig. On July 4, 1939, the Iron Horse made his famous "Luckiest Man" retirement speech at Yankee Stadium upon being diagnosed with ALS—a.k.a. Lou Gehrig's Disease.
Of course, it just so happens that July 4, 2014, marks the 75th anniversary of that speech. So as a tribute, Major League Baseball put together the amazing video you see here with first basemen from all 30 teams speaking parts of Gehrig's moving address.
If you can watch that video without getting goose bumps, you've got a cold, cold heart, my friend. That is some good stuff, and a hell of a way to celebrate America's birthday.