It’s Independence Day in the United States of America, so that means it’s time to for cookouts and to celebrate the summer. On a holiday such as the Fourth of July, it allows people to reflect. There is no better time to talk about the great moments in America’s history. This may leave off Super Bowls and World Series matchups that were iconic because they weren’t necessarily important to America or sports teams affiliated with the country.
Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics
Jesse Owens had a great 1936 Olympics for himself and his country. Owens won gold in the following events: 100 meters, long jump, 200 meters, 4×100 relay. He dominated and even set some world records along the way. The performance was world-class, but what Owens had to go through to get to that point and what it symbolized, made it so much greater.
In the face of Hitler, who believed the Aryan race was supreme, Owens was able to go out and perform at the highest level. The environment was hostile with swastikas flying in the air around him. Some of his Jewish teammates were even reportedly asked not to compete. Owens helped prove that the Aryan race was no greater than any other race on the planet and his performance has lived in on in history books.
Michael Phelps’ eight gold medals
After six gold medals in the 2004 Olympic Games, Phelps had fans on the edge of their seats in 2008. The record for an American swimmer at an Olympics was seven gold medals set by Mark Spitz in 1972. Momentum built around Phelps as he was approaching that record in 2008.
Phelps was able to live up to the hype as he won gold medals in the following events: 200m freestyle, 100m butterfly, 200m butterfly, 200m medley, 400m medley, 4x100m freestyle, 4x200m freestyle, 4×100 medley. With his performance, Phelps became one of the best athletes in world history.
Super Bowl I
There can’t be a list of greatest American sports moments without mentioning America’s favorite sport, right? While there isn’t much competition on the international stage, football has become something Americans enjoy every weekend.
The first Super Bowl pitted the best team from the AFL against the best team in the NFL. In the first-ever installment, the Green Bay Packers were able to beat the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10. The game didn’t have as much drama as others, but started a tradition for Americans to enjoy to this day.
It has now become a de facto national holiday as people celebrate with parties and many take the next day off of school or work. The Super Bowl is the premier sports event in the country and brings people together every year.
Baseball after 9/11
This moment does not represent a national team of the United States, but rather Major League Baseball after the attacks on September 11, 2001.
The first instance of baseball uplifting people after 9/11 happened when baseball returned to New York 10 days after on September 21, 2001. In the bottom of the eighth inning, Mets’ catcher Mike Piazza hit a go-ahead home run to put the Mets up 3-2 over the Braves. Because it was the first game back in New York after the attacks it was very emotional.
A month and a half after the attacks, President George W. Bush was tasked with throwing out the first pitch before game three of the World Series. The matchup was between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the New York Yankees. Bush was adamant about wanting to throw out the first pitch in New York, to show the citizens some normalcy in their lives after the attacks. On October 30, 2001, Bush delivered what ended up being much more than just a pitch when he threw the ball across the plate.
While these moments were simple in a vacuum, they meant much more to the country at large.
USWNT 1999 World Cup
The USWNT in 1999 was loaded with talent that helped spark a great interest in women’s soccer. They advanced to the World Cup Final, which was held in the Rose Bowl. It was the most attended women’s sporting event in history, with over 90,000 fans in attendance.
The game did not disappoint and went to penalty kicks to decide the victor. Goalkeeper Brianna Scurry came up with a huge save and left it up to Brandi Chastain to nail the game-winning penalty kick. After she hit the shot, the rest was history. The USWNT had won their second World Cup (the 1991 World Championship was retroactively renamed the World Cup) and inspired future soccer players in the process.
1992 Dream Team
The 1992 Olympics changed the sport of basketball forever. After that point, the game appealed more to an international audience. A rule was changed which now allowed NBA players to compete in the Olympics. Previously, players had to be in college in order to compete.
Recruitment was started to put together the best of the best talent. Rivals would have to become somewhat friendly in order to come together and play on the same team. The team ended up consisting of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Clyde Drexler, Chris Mullen, Scottie Pippen, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson and Christian Laettner.
What happened after the team was assembled can be seen on highlight reels everywhere. They won six games in a row with the closest margin of defeat being 38 points in the semifinal against Puerto Rico. The Dream Team dominated the headlines and on the court becoming the most popular thing about the 1992 Olympics.
This may not have been the most dramatic sports display, but the dream team made America proud with their dominating showing in Barcelona.
Kerri Strug gets team gold on an injured ankle
Strug headed into the 1996 Olympics as a part of a team deemed the Magnificent Seven. The team competition was in doubt, as the Russians were within reach, even if it would take a total meltdown for the U.S. not to win gold. Strug was the last to vault for the U.S. and was not able to land properly, damaging her ankle.
Strug had to perform the second vault because the Russians still had to perform on the floor and with a great score, they could’ve stolen the medal from the Americans. She put it all out on the line to do the second vault and scored a 9.712, which sealed the gold medal for the United States.
The heart, desire and drama behind Strug’s performance leave it as one of the most unforgettable Olympic feats for American fans in history
Miracle on Ice
Without a doubt, the Miracle on Ice has to be on this list. The United States sent a squad of college players to go up against the world’s best. The Russians had won every gold medal in hockey at the Olympics dating back to 1964 and heading into the 1980 Olympic Games, they were the heavy favorite to win once again.
It has been dubbed the greatest upset in sports history, the Americans were able to upset the Russians in the semi-finals of the Olympics. The United States were trailing 3-2 in the final period, but scored two unanswered goals in the final period to take the lead. They were able to hold on for dear life and win the game 4-3.
With the Cold War raging on, this upset meant a lot more than what was going on in Lake Placid, New York. This has continued to be an inspiration to all those who believe anything is possible. The only thing left to say is, “Do you believe in miracles?”
While these are a few of the great moments in American sports history, there are certainly a lot more that were not mentioned. If you have a better sports moment for America, make sure to put it in the comments below. Happy Independence day to everyone!