Skip to main content

5 Most Memorable Fourth of July Sports Moments

5 Most Memorable Fourth of July Sports Moments

Notable sporting events on Independence Day go back well over a century

After the coronavirus pandemic forced everyone's plans to change in 2020, sports fans will once again have a packed sports calendar this 4th of July. All but two MLB teams will be playing, the WNBA has a prime-time game, and, of course, there's the Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest, among other events. Sports ranging from baseball to tennis to auto racing have been a staple of Independence Day through the years and have produced many thrilling events. Here are five of the most memorable sports moments on our nation's birthday. (Note: The events are listed chronologically.)

Jack Johnson vs. James J. Jeffries (1910)

Many significant events in boxing have occurred on Independence Day, including Joe Louis' debut and Jack Dempsey's knockout of Jess Willard to win the heavyweight title. However, neither was as big as Johnson vs. Jeffries. Johnson became the first African-American to win the heavyweight title in 1908 and Jeffries answered white America's racists call to come out of retirement and face him in Las Vegas. Since Jeffries had retired undefeated in 1905 as the champ, the country had its first "Fight of the Century." Like many with that billing, it did not live up to the hype. Johnson overmatched Jeffries under the hot New Mexico sun and knocked him out in the 15th round.

Lou Gehrig's Speech (1939)

"The Iron Horse" was forced to retire in June of 1939 after being diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). The New York Yankees wanted to make sure that Gehrig, who played in 2,130 straight games for the club, was appropriately honored and held a special day for him on July 4. He responded by giving the most famous speech in baseball history in front of a sold-out crowd at Yankee Stadium. It can be read in full here, but contains the famous quote: "Fans, for the past two weeks, you've been reading about a bad break. Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for 17 years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans." It was a fitting farewell for one of baseball's all-time greats, who passed away in June 1941.

John McEnroe Beats Bjorn Borg to Win Wimbledon (1981)

McEnroe/Borg is one of the greatest rivalries in tennis history and the two legends' 1980 showdown in the Wimbledon Men's Singles final is considered the best in the history of the tournament. They met again on the grass court a year later and McEnroe got revenge and ended the Swede's run of five straight Wimbledon championships.

Richard Petty Wins 200th Race (1984)

Petty won his 200th race in front of President Ronald Reagan, who became the first commander-in-chief to attend a NASCAR race. Reagan gave the "Start Your Engine" call of Daytona's Firecracker 400 from Air Force One and the plane landed next to the speedway during the race. The drama didn't end there. Doug Heveron wrecked on lap 158, which brought out the yellow caution flag, effectively making it the last of the 160-lap contest. Petty and Cale Yarborough fought for the lead with "The King" winning by a fender. It would be the last win of his career.

The World Cup (1994)

The United States defied expectations when it hosted the World Cup in nine different cities and set numerous attendance records in the process. Team USA also shocked the soccer world when they tied Switzerland and defeated Colombia to play in a Round of 16 match against Brazil on July 4. The U.S. put up a good fight before losing to the eventual champion 1-0 and interest in soccer in the United States skyrocketed.

— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.