I don’t know about the rest of you No-Coasters out there but this is my favorite holiday next to Christmas. Maybe it’s the warm weather or maybe it’s the food or maybe it is the loud and colorful fireworks that end the day but let’s be honest July 4th is just plain out awesome. Of course the day is the celebration of our Independence and I love the fact that I get to hear great music like our Star Spangled Banner or Lee Greenwood’s classic Proud to Be an American. And I will let you in on a little secret……I did wake up to Hulk Hogan’s entrance Real American this morning. This day is phenomenal for so many reasons but one thing I have always associated with this date is sports, from Nathans Hot Dog Eating Contest to legendary events like Lou Gehrig announcing his retirement or tragedies like Steve McNair’s murder. The sporting world plays a big part in our nation from January 1st to December 31st year after year so let me give you my 5 biggest moments in sports on July 4th Monday Morning Hangover style.
#5: Jack Johnson beats James Jeffries in 1910’s The Fight of the Century- I first learned of this match while taking The History of American Sports at Youngstown State University. The class was an amazing class taught by my favorite professor Dr. Jack Patrick who taught me such things as eye-goughing wrestling and cudgeling which in early America were the two most popular sports. The also make today’s sports look tame in comparison. One of my favorite stories however was that of Jack Johnson. Now many of you have heard of Jackie Robinson and his plight but did you know 37 years prior Jack Johnson would step into the ring with James Jeffries a former champion to defend his own championship. What made this a big deal was that Jack was the first African-American world heavyweight champion and this did not sit well in the pre-civil rights era. Many business men badgered Jeffries to come out of retirement and defeat Johnson. When Jeffries finally agreed the racial tensions skyrocketed in what would be the first bout between a white boxer and African-American boxer in a world title bout. The war of words was horrible from Jeffries who stated when he was asked why he came out of retirement to fight Johnson “I am going into this fight for the sole purpose of proving that a white man is better than a Negro.” The one thing that has always been proven in this nation is that ignorance never triumphs as Johnson destroyed Jeffries, who’s cornerman threw in the towel in the 15th so Jeffries would not be knocked out. This event would make Johnson the most famous African-American in the world.
#4: Martina Navratilova defeats Steffi Graf for 6th Wimbledon Crown- As I mentioned in my Hangover Guide to the Summer I am a huge fan of Wimbledon. I basically became a fan growing up in the 80’s in the Mahoning Valley in Northeast Ohio, which is known as the place with the fewest sunshine in the country. Ironically during Wimbledon each year all it does is rain for the first few rounds which caused me to be in doors watching the event. So on July 4th, 1987 I got to witness one of the greats of tennis take out an up and comer in Steffi Graf for her 6th consecutive Wimbledon championship. Martina would take the match 7-5 6-3 in what would be the first of three Wimbledon Finals matches. Graf would win 1988 and 1989’s matches but on this 4th of July Martina dominated.
#3: Joey Chestnut vs Kobayashi- Another event mentioned in Hangover Guide to the Summer is Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating competition. An event I do not miss on July 4th. The battle for the Mustard Belt is somewhat gross with a sprinkle of amazing. Of course every sporting event has legends that make the sport exciting and in this sport no names are bigger than six-time champion Tokeru Kobayashi from Japan and American Joey Chestnut who has won the last six Mustard belts himself. When the two met on July 4th 2007, Kobayashi was coming off his sixth straight title but Chestnut would end the champs reign by eating 66 dogs. The next year the two would finish tied at 59 forcing a “dog-off” where Chestnut again would be victorious by finishing a plate of five dogs first. Tune in tomorrow at 12:00 pm on ESPN2 to see if Chestnut can gain his seventh straight Mustard Belt.
#2: Dave Righetti takes down the Red Sox- It was only fitting that George Steinbrenner was born on the 4th of July and then went on to own the Yankees. It is also fitting that if you research the 4th of July you will find many events that involve the Yankees that would end up as front page news on July 5th. In 1983 Dave Righetti would allow the hated Boston Red Sox to join his Yankees on the front page as he would sit down 27 batters without surrendering a hit in the Yankees 4-0 victory over their rival. What makes this story even better is that Righetti went on to have a pretty good career as a closer after he replaced Yankee legend Goose Gossage in 1984. Righetti would finish his career with 252 saves but his biggest moment would always be the no-hitter on July 4th vs. the Red Sox.
#1: “The Luckiest Man”– As Lou Gehrig spoke the words that he was “the luckiest man on the face of the earth” the world took notice. This was the man known as the “Iron Horse,” a man who played in 2130 games, a man who had won a triple crown and a hero to many. Yet on this date Lou would deliver a farewell speech to the baseball world. A man who had been the “Iron Horse” would be gone just two years later but on this date he would cement his name in the minds of baseball fans forever. Lou who was faced with this disease known then as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS of course now known as Lou Gehrig’s disease still was upbeat in his speech. Stating twice he was the “luckiest man on the face of the earth” and at the end stating ‘i’ve got an awful lot to live for.” It is sad that the “Iron Horse” would suffer in death but also ironic that the only thing that could keep him away from the diamond was a degenerative disease. Gehrig would make news again on July 4th when his number 4 jersey became the first number retired by the Yankees. Pretty impressive for a guy who played alongside Babe Ruth and Joltin Joe DiMaggio.