By the time this reaches you, our nation’s 247th birthday celebration will be in the books, and attention focused ahead on the July vacation season. Whatever you may have chosen to mark the occasion, hopefully, it was done safely with a day filled with fun, food, and family.
Harking back on my long-ago childhood days, admittedly a time when our society treated the day with much more reverence than is the case today, picnics and fireworks topped the list of anticipated activities. But there were two ‘old wives tales’ talked about, which I still recall to this day. One was the adage, ‘the corn is knee-high on the 4th of July’. The second stated that the Major League Baseball teams in first place on July 4 would go on to make the World Series.
That axiom loses a bit of its predictive clout than it used to as today 12 teams make the expanded playoffs as opposed to just the first-place teams of old, but nevertheless, fans of those teams occupying the top of the standings at this time of the year hold both bragging rights and high hopes for the end of the season glory.
Even dating back to the colonial days, free time activities were popular ways of celebrating special occasions. Colonists settling in America had brought with them European games and sports such as bowling, cricket, quoits, and cards. Some activities, such as cricket and what they called football, fell out of use as they did not require the kinds of skills the colonists needed in their everyday lives.
While hunting and fishing were among the favored sports of the day, history reveals that gambling, horse racing, cockfighting, boxing, and a myriad of tavern activities provided popular diversions.
Whether it be backyard sports like horseshoes, badminton, croquet, or cornhole; or taking in organized team sports, the Fourth of July has long featured sporting events on its calendar. A recent survey listed the five best Independence Day sports moments.
5. Nolan Ryan’s 3,000th Strikeout – On July 4, 1980, Hall-of-Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan reached the milestone. At the time, he became only the fourth player in MLB history to do so. Pitching until he was 46, Ryan finished his career with 5,714 strikeouts, the most in MLB history.
4. Richard Petty’s Final Win – In 1984, Petty, the consensus greatest NASCAR driver of all time, crossed the finish line first for the last time in his career at the Daytona “Firecracker 400.” The race was also the first time a sitting president attended a NASCAR race, as Ronald Reagan was in attendance.
3. Dave Righetti’s No-Hitter – In 1983, the Yankees Righetti no-hit the Boston Red Sox snapping a franchise drought of 27 years. It was the first Yankees no-hitter since Don Larsen’s perfect game against the Dodgers in the 1956 World Series.
2. John McEnroe Wins First Wimbledon Title – In 1981, McEnroe upset five-time defending champion Bjorn Borg to earn his first career Wimbledon title. McEnroe’s matches against Borg are considered the greatest rivalries in tennis history.
1. Lou Gehrig’s Speech – In 1939, “The Iron Horse” was forced to retire after being diagnosed with ALS. The New York Yankees wanted to make sure Gehrig, who had played in 2,130 straight games, was appropriately honored. In front of a sold-out crowd at Yankee Stadium, Gehring delivered his famous speech, which included the 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.”
Despite those early activities of our founding fathers and the memorable moments above, likely the most amusing 4th of July spectacle is the annual Coney Island Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. Perhaps it could be known as ‘the Pepto Bismol Open’ as competitors scarf down enough hot dogs in 10 minutes to feed a family for weeks.
At press time, it was not known who ate their way to this year’s Mustard Yellow Belt, but perennial chomper Joey Chestnut is always the man to out-eat. The 39-year-old Chestnut won in 2022 and in 2021, consuming a record 76 hot dogs and buns.
The bizarre contest began in 1972 at the location of the first Nathan’s store in 1916. Each year roughly 20 contestants compete in the men’s and women’s divisions, including any past champion, winners of regional qualifying contests, wild cards, and special invitees.
If you are not familiar with the televised spectacle, the competitors try to eat as many dogs and buns as they can in the 10-minute limit. They also must keep them down because vomiting is an automatic disqualification.
The hot dogs must be eaten in a certain order, and competitors may not move on to a new plate until the previous one is wiped clean. Dipping their dogs in water to soften the bread is permissible, although they can only be soaked for a maximum of five seconds. Condiments are not permitted. Neither beer nor any other alcoholic beverage can be used to wash down the meal.
Hopefully, your backyard cookout did not include any of these rules; but at least in the home of the brave and land of the free, we can still celebrate our Independence!