Friday, we celebrate our nation’s 238th birthday — and what a 238 years it has been.
I studied communications, but also took as many history electives as I could in college for love of the subject.
One of my favorite classes was History of American Sports. Yes, I made an A in the class. And no, the class wasn’t all about baseball, football and basketball; but there was a healthy dose of those sports, too.
Long before Babe Ruth hit his first home run for the Boston Red Sox, or his last home run for the Boston Braves, or Knute Rockne challenged Notre Dame's football team to win one for the Gipper, sports dominated America's landscape.
Many of those sports — such as hunting and horseback riding — were used in everyday life. We Americans have always wanted to test our skills against the best to see how we measure up.
Before Abraham Lincoln became our nation’s 16th president, he was one of the best wrestlers in the Midwest. Abe wasn’t bad at splitting logs, either.
Many of our presidents were college athletes.
Dwight Eisenhower played football and baseball at West Point before having his athletic career cut short trying to tackle Jim Thorpe. Gerald Ford was a star center at Michigan. George H.W. Bush was captain of the Yale baseball team. John Kennedy was a swimmer at Harvard. Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan played small college football as well. And Reagan, who played the Gipper in the 1940 biopic "Knute Rockne, All American," also was a sportscaster before moving to acting and then politics.
Our sports heroes and our military heroes often are the same people. The Baseball Hall of Fame is filled with men who sacrificed years of their careers to defend the United States during World War II.
Boston Red Sox left fielder Ted Williams was a fighter pilot in World War II and the Korean Conflict. Yogi Berra, the great New York Yankee catcher, worked on a rocket launching boat during the D-Day invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. Cleveland Indian pitching great Bob Feller served as a gunner’s captain on the Battleship Alabama.
Dallas Cowboys Coach Tom Landry, an Army Air Corps pilot, flew 30 missions over Europe in a B-17. Chad Hennings, a Cowboys defensive lineman in the 1990s, is an Air Force Academy graduate who flew fighter jets before retiring from the military. Rocky Bleier almost lost his life in Vietnam, but came back to start at halfback on the great Pittsburgh Steeler teams of the 1970s.
Roger Staubach, who won the 1963 Heisman Trophy while playing quarterback at the Naval Academy, led the Dallas Cowboys to their first two Super Bowl wins.
David Robinson was 6-foot-8 when he entered the Naval Academy — 7-foot-1 when he graduated — and was the top pick in the 1987 National Basketball Association draft. He led the Spurs to two NBA championships.
Yes, many other brave men and women have entertained us on the athletic fields and served on the battlefield. Some, such as former Arizona Cardinal defensive back Pat Tillman, gave the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.
This weekend, as you celebrate all that is America, take time to remember the people behind the games who gave of themselves for our freedom.
Randy Dickson is the Crestview News Bulletin’s sports editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, tweet him @BigRandle, or call 682-6524.