July 4th of every year is a time to celebrate America, and what better way is there to enjoy the day than with sports? So let's take a look at some of the best sports-related moments that have occurred on this special day in American history (listed chronologically):
1939 — Lou Gehrig's Farewell Speech
In one of the most famous speeches of all-time, Lou Gehrig stated, “Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth.” The resonating quote came just weeks after finding out that he was diagnosed with ALS. The Yankees retired his number that day, and fans celebrated his accomplishments as he braced for a fight against the disease that took his life less than two years later. He became the first player to have his number retired in baseball, starting a trend for the league’s best players.
1975 — Billie Jean King Wins Wimbledon for the Sixth and Final Time
Billie Jean King, one of the most influential women’s athletes of all time, battled through Wimbledon and defeated Australian Evonne Goolagong in straight sets, 6-0, 6-1. The match would prove more significant than being her sixth title there in singles, as she essentially retired from tournament singles events following the match. It became her 12th and final Grand Slam title in singles, in addition to 16 women’s doubles titles and 11 mixed doubles titles. She was a pioneer for women’s’ rights, and that alone makes her worthy of a spot on any patriotic list.
1977 — Red Sox Bats Provide Fireworks at Fenway
There’s no doubt about it: baseball fans dig the long ball as much as anything. Thus, the Red Sox’s eight-home run performance on July 4th certainly is worthy of a spot on this list. With a roster stacked with several future Hall of Famers, six players hit home runs, including Red Sox legends Jim Rice and Carl Yastrzemski. All but one of the home runs were solo blasts, as the Red Sox beat the Toronto Blue Jays, 9-6 at Fenway Park. What's better than fireworks? Moonshots.
1980, 1984 — Ryan, Niekro Join the 3,000-K Club
Nolan Ryan joined the 3,000 Strikeout Club on his way to eventually setting the Major League record for career strikeouts with 5,714. On the same day four years later, knuckleballer Phil Niekro recorded his 3000th strikeout. They are both part of an elite club of sixteen MLB pitchers, who have recorded this impressive feat.
1981— McEnroe Finally Beats Borg at Wimbledon
With apologies to Roger Federer and Rafael, arguably the greatest men’s tennis rivalry in the sports history is the one between American star John McEnroe and Sweden's Bjorn Borg. In their careers, they officially met 14 times, splitting the series right down the middle. Entering the 1981 tournament at Wimbledon, Borg had dominated there, winning five straight titles and was eyes a sixth. However, McEnroe rallied down one set and took three straight for his first championship on the famed grass court. He became the first American to win in England since 1975, rocking the Red, White, and Blue as he hoisted the trophy.
1984 — The King Reaches Victory Lane for the 200th Time
Richard Petty was as dominant in NASCAR as any athlete was in their respective sport. Fittingly on Independence Day in 1984, he claimed the Firecracker 400 at Daytona for his 200th career victory. The win also ended up being his final one in such a storied career. Ronald Reagan delivered the infamous “Start your engine” line, and what can be more patriotic than that?
1994 — The World Cup Comes to the United States
Even though soccer may not be near as popular in the United State as it is overseas, it was even less so prior to our nation hosting the World Cup in 1994, an event that changed the landscape for the sport. Headed into this prestigious event, observers weren't quite sure how the World Cup would be received, considering the U.S. Men's National Team's ranking compared to other countries. Yet, the tournament on home soil not only set attendance records, the U.S. team also shattered expectations. The U.S. tied Switzerland and defeated Colombia, sending the team into the Round of 16 against eventual champion Brazil. The game, fittingly on July 4, saw the Americans put up a strong fight, before falling 1-0. However, this World Cup helped skyrocket interest in soccer, which can be seen today.
2007 — Joey Chestnut Ends Kobayashi's Reign Over Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest
In what has become a July 4th tradition, each year millions of Americans tune onto ESPN to watch as over a dozen men and women compete in the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest on Coney Island. The U.S. had not produced a winner since 1999, mostly due to the utter domination by Takeru Kobayashi, who won six straight titles. However, an American, Joey Chestnut, was slowly making a name for himself. In 2006, he lost by less than two hot dogs. However, everything would change in 2007, when Chestnut downed a world record 66 hot dogs and took the title for the red, white and blue. From then on, he has won every year, bringing his total to eight championships. Nothing is more American than this.