Sports are just another strand in the American fabric that makes up the greatness of our beloved country. Sports are a form of patriotism in their own right — a form of civic pride. Sports allow us to come together as one community, one region, one nation to celebrate our way of life, our freedoms, and truly our great country on a large scale. Throughout our nation’s history sport has been part of our national conversation, often leading the cause for change, and helping us heal.
Here is a list of the most patriotic moments in American sports history.
1936 Berlin Olympics
Amid the turmoil of the times, both at home and abroad, Jesse Owens dominated the track and field events during the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Adolf Hitler had been planning to use the games as a showcase for his “master race,” but the dictator could only watch in disgust as the man from Oakville, Ala. won four gold medals in the 100 meters, 200 meters, long jump, and 4x100 meter relay.
Derek Jeter is “Mr. November”
Baseball is the nation’s favorite past time, and that was perfectly evidenced after the 9/11 terrorist attacks as the nation finally began the healing process with a little help from the New York Yankees.
Typically, the Yankees are one of the most disliked teams in America, but in 2001, the Bronx Bombers not only represented New York City, but the rest of the country as well.
The Yanks found themselves in a two games to nothing hole against the Arizona Diamondbacks, but clawed back to win Game 3. In Game 4, Tino Martinez erased a two-run deficit with one swing in the bottom of the ninth, sending the Yankee Stadium crowd into a frenzy and the game into extra innings.
In the bottom of the 10th, it was the great Derek Jeter who stepped into the box as the clock struck midnight on November 1, 2001, marking the first time in Major League history that a game had been played past October, due in part to a one week playing hiatus after 9/11. Jeter swung at the first pitch from D’backs close Byung-Hyun Kim and took it the opposite way, a line drive that just cleared the right field wall. That swing won Game 4 and tied the series for the Yankees and gave the entire nation something to cheer about.
Presidential First Pitch
Before the President made his way to the Yankee Stadium mound for his ceremonial first pitch before Game 3 of the 2001 World Series, he was warming up his throwing arm in the tunnel behind the dugout. The legend is told that Derek Jeter approached then President Bush and said, “Don’t bounce it, they’ll boo you.”
The country had finally began its healing process from the terrorist attacks a month previously. The war in Afghanistan had recently begun and emotions were very high in New York and around the country. President Bush threw a strike, right down the middle of the plate. Yankee Stadium erupted in cheers and pride. Politics aside, that moment before Game 3 was a unifying moment for our nation and now lives on in baseball lore.
1991 NHL All-Star Game National Anthem
Just days after the U.S. went to war with Iraq in 1991, the NHL held its annual All-Star game in Chicago. With pride swelling and emotions running high, the old Chicago Stadium crowd was on its feet in a fever pitch. Anthem singer Wayne Messmer began singing the National Anthem as the crowd was still roaring — thus a new tradition was born. As Messmer continued singing the roar of the crowd only began to grow louder and louder. Fans were cheering and clapping as flags waved and voices sang. It was truly a spontaneous moment of American pride that has lived on. Now, before every Blackhawks home game, tenor Jim Cornelison sings the National Anthem as the United Center crowd celebrates — truly an awesome tradition.
Jackie Robinson Breaks Baseball’s Color Barrier
Every year on April 15, all of Major League Baseball wears the number 42 to honor arguably the game’s greatest hero, Jackie Robinson. On April 15, 1947 Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier, becoming the first African-American to play in a major league game as he suited up for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson faced unspeakable threats and adversity from fans, opposing players, teams, and from within his own clubhouse. With the help of Dodgers’ owner and general manager Branch Rickey, Robinson was able to usher in a new era for professional sports and civil rights within America. Even after his playing days were over, Robinson remained active within the Civil Rights Movement until his death in 1972.
Boston, April 2013
On April 15, 2013, the city of Boston and the rest of the country were shaken after two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, three spectators and a police officer were killed that day as the city was left to mourn. But Boston did not mourn long, in fact, Boston rallied, and sports helped unite the #BostonStrong movement.
Days after the attack, the Bruins hosted the Buffalo Sabres in Boston. Before puck drop, anthem singer Rene Rancourt began to sing, and then invited the TD Garden crowd to take over. The result was absolutely beautiful. Over 17,000 fans singing the National Anthem in the wake of tragedy, as one voice.
In a more brash approach, long-time Red Sox slugger David Ortiz addressed the crowd at historic Fenway Park before the Sox took on the Kansas City Royals five days after the attack. His speech was short, but sweet. “This is our (expletive) city…stay strong.”
The Miracle on Ice
There is no greater moment in American sports history. The Miracle on Ice at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics was the boost that American desperately needed. The country had been fighting, as President Carter said, a “crisis of confidence.” The ultimate end in Vietnam, the Watergate scandal, an energy crisis, American hostages in Iran, the Cold War, Russia invading Afghanistan, and boycotting the Moscow Olympics had left many Americans feeling down and out. We needed a spark, and a bunch of college kids from Minnesota and Boston were able to provide that spark by doing the unthinkable, the impossible — beating the Russian national hockey team.
Just a week prior to the Olympics, Team USA lost to Russia 10 to 3 in front of a sold out crowd at Madison Square Garden. Russia was more talented, more seasoned, and more physical. Coming into the ’80 Games, the Russians had won the last four Olympic gold medals and over 40 straight international games. On paper, the Americans had no shot. But on the ice, the impossible happened. Thanks to two goals from Mark Johnson and the game winner from the captain, Mike Eruzione, the Americans were able to defeat the Russians 4-3.
Broadcaster Al Michaels, adding to the lore of the game, gave his most signature line as the clock began to wind down, “Five seconds left, four…Do you believe in Miracles? YES!”
One game later, the miracle was complete as Team USA defeated Finland 4-2 to win the gold medal.