BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - The following is a commentary blog from WBRC FOX6 Sports Director Rick Karle:
Here's a very happy 240th birthday to our great nation! As we take time to honor our country, I was thinking of how blessed we have been to have seen some of the most patriotic moments in the history of modern sports. What sports moments have given you chills? What sports moments have made you proud to be an American? Here are my picks for the 10 most patriotic moments in modern sports history (sorry, the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest didn't make the cut!).
10. Sweet Music: It was a scene at a hockey game that captured the hearts of Americans everywhere (no, not that hockey game). Two days after the April, 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, 17,565 fans gathered at TD Garden in Boston for the Bruins-Sabres game. Iconic anthem singer Rene Rancourt started singing the Star-Spangled Banner when he suddenly pulled the microphone away from his mouth. Suddenly, the fans joined in and belted out the national anthem. Long-time Bruins fan Brian Flynn of nearby Lynn, MA said it was the most emotional moment of his life. The 17,564 others who were on hand that night would agree.
9. The Big Apple Is Back: It was September 21, 2001, only 10 days after 911. The World Trade Towers were still smoldering, and just down the road, the New York Mets and the Atlanta Braves held the first sporting event in New York City since the tragedy. As fans watched nervously, looking for a sports hero to help unify the country, up to the plate stepped Mike Piazza. The Mets catcher cranked a two-run home run to give his team a 3-2 lead as the Big Apple erupted. Fans clapped, yelled, and cried. Baseball, and New York City, were back!
8. "Mr. November" comes through: The clock read four minutes after midnight. It was November 1, 2001 and the New York Yankees and Arizona Diamondbacks were tied at three in the 10th inning of World Series game four. Up to the plate strode "Mr. Cool", Derek Jeter. The Yankees star had
quite frankly been stinking it up the series, as he was 1-for-11 as he tried to prevent his team from going down 3-games-to-none. And then it happened. "Mr. October" turned into "Mr. November", as his walk-off solo home run won it for the Yankees 4-3 in 10 innings. Said the Yankees' Paul O'Neill, "This was a game that the 25 guys in the locker room will remember for a long time." So too will millions of others.
7. Alabama's own sends a message: The year was 1936, and the Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany, were about to be shaken up. As Adolph Hitler stood by, a 22-year-old from Oakville, Alabama named Jesse Owens was ready to do his thing. And man, did he. The young man would
steal the games, striking gold in the 100 meters, 200 meters, the long jump and the 4 x 100 relay. The myth of Aryan supremacy was crushed as one of the greatest athletes in history (who just happened to be African-American) was on the top of the world. Sadly, Owens wasn't on top of the world for long, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt never called Owens or sent him any kind of congratulatory message. And when a banquet honoring him was held when Owens returned to the states? The Olympic hero was forced to ride a separate freight elevator to the ballroom.
6. A tower of strength: If you drive through Atlanta with any frequency, it is there in full view just off I-20. Glance to your right as you are about to merge onto I-75 & I-85 and the tower that supported one of the great moments in sports is there to view. The opening ceremonies of the 1996 Summer Olympic games were going swimmingly, when the last person to take the cauldron, the surprise guest to light the Olympic torch, became none other than former Olympic gold medalist Muhammad Ali. Shaking from the effects from Parkinson's, Ali took the flame from Janet Evans in what became one of the most iconic moments in sports history. Said NBC Olympics producer Dick Ebersol, "When Ali appeared, it was the greatest collective gasp any of us had ever heard. I never told Bob Costas or Dick Enberg that it was going to be Ali. What came out of them was sheer awe."
5. The POTUS unifies the nation: It was 49 days after the horrific World Trade Center attacks. The nation was still struggling, still, shaken. But there he was, striding confidently to the pitcher's mound before Game 3 of the 2001 World Series. President George W. Bush wore a NYC firefighter fleece and a smile as he was about to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. Said Derek Jeter to the president, "Don't bounce it!", and he didn't. The POTUS threw a perfect strike as the crowd and the nation erupted. Never mind the bullet-proof vest the President was wearing under his fleece. The leader of the free world sent his message, "We are America."
4. When Sunday Became "Monday": It was an early-season baseball game on April 25, 1976. Chicago Cubs outfielder Rick Monday saw something out of the corner of his eye. He then saw what the world would see: Two protesters in center field interrupting the game, attempting to burn an American flag. It was then that Rick Monday ran to the protestors to quickly snatch away the flag. A man who spent six years in the U.S. Marine Corp Reserves wasn't messing around, and Americans everywhere were happy he wasn't. A Sunday afternoon turned into "Monday" afternoon, as the pride of Batesville, Arkansas became a hero at Dodger Stadium in the year of our bicentennial.
3. You go, gals: It looks like we have a tie for third, and who's arguing? The 1996 U.S. Olympic women's gymnastics team was in great shape for a gold medal, but the Russians were lurking. Then it happened: Kerri Strug was injured in her first vault attempt, as she suffered a third degree ankle sprain and tendon damage. But the Americans still needed a decent vault from Strug to win gold, and by golly they got it. Through the pain Strug completed her second vault, holding her landing long enough to put the Magnificent Seven over the top. As Strug was carried off the floor, the color of the day was gold.
Where were you when Team USA struck gold at the 1999 Women's World Cup? Team USA needed a win over China in front of over 90,000 soccer fans in Pasadena, and when the game went to a penalty kick shoot-out, man, did the nerves arrive. Never fear, America, as Brandi Chastain's goal would be the difference. No shirt? No problem for Chastain, as Team USA won the game 4-3, becoming the first U.S. soccer team to win a World Cup title on its own soil.
2. Whitney Houston Melts Our Hearts: The year was 1991. Tensions were high and nerves were frayed as 10 days earlier the United States had entered into the first Gulf War. With the possibility of a terrorist attack high, so too was security at Super Bowl XXV. The Goodyear blimp was grounded, the commissioner's annual gala canceled. Concrete and chain links surrounded Tampa Stadium as the Giants were about to face the Bills.
Out walked 27-year-old Whitney Houston. So what if we found out later than she sang into a dead microphone, the national anthem recorded? What Whitney Houston did that day was put a lump in the throat of every American. I still get emotional about the moment that unfolded 25 years ago. A few weeks back I watched my daughter swim at a big meet at Auburn. The national anthem that day? A recording of Whitney Houston's anthem. I cried in 1991 and I cried before the swim meet. I bet you cry, too.
1. Yes, I do believe in miracles: Just thinking about it still gives me chills. It was 1980, and I was a senior in college (yes, I'm old). I closely followed my college hockey team (University of New Hampshire) and those other teams in New England who sent players to the U.S. Olympic Hockey Team. What I watched that day on the TV in my off-campus apartment is something I will never forget. A bunch of college kids beat the big, bad Russians at the Olympic Games 4-3. And the images will never leave: Mike Eruzione scoring the winning goal, goalie Jim Craig, with a flag draped around his shoulders, looking for his father who was in the stands. Al Michaels "Do you believe in miracles?" call, and of course the team going on to beat Sweden in the gold medal game. I can watch the last 30 seconds of that game anytime, anywhere and still get emotional. If you are too young to remember the game? Please, go Google it and enjoy. Even the replays are the greatest.
So there you have them: My 10 (OK, 11) most patriotic moments in modern sports history. None of them will ever leave me. What are your favorites? Give me a shout!