Happy 244th, America - And That Many Sports Candles to Celebrate

Richie Whitt

Don’t look now, but American sports aren’t exactly prospering. More like red, white and boo.

It’s not just that these days we’re a Divided States of America, trying to put on a happy face for our 244 birthday amidst unruly protests and an unprecedented pandemic. It’s that in 2020 we’ve been locked inside, angered into the streets and served a heaping dose of humility with a side of a boring, bland, sports-less ho-hum.

Nationally and locally, even the recent memories of our sports success can no longer serve as a distraction.

A DFW team hasn’t flirted with a championship in more than 3,000 days – since the Texas Rangers’ Nelson Cruz failed to catch that fly ball in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series. The Dallas Cowboys haven’t been great in a quarter century. Since winning their NBA title nine summers ago, the Dallas Mavericks - readying now for another postseason run - are 5-16 in the playoffs without winning a single series. The Dallas Stars are 0-for-this-millenium.

Since 2011, our teams are a combined 25-42 in playoff games and 0-7 in second-round series. There are local third-graders who have experienced nothing more than a post-season cameo from their favorite team.

The bigger picture doesn’t exactly provide more positive results.

America used to dominate. But what once was Mike Tyson (boxing) and Lance Armstrong (cycling) and Pete Sampras (tennis) and Mike Modano (hockey) and Tiger Woods (golf) hogging championships has slowly deteriorated into first place being owned by a bunch of foreigners named Tyson Fury and Egan Bernal and Novak Djokovic and Nikita Kucherov and Rory McIlroy.

Not long ago we set our watches by the championship appearances of LeBron James and Serena Williams, but the basketball icon missed last year’s playoffs and the tennis queen hasn’t won a major since January 2017.

The NBA’s best player (Giannis Antetokounmpo) is Greek and its reigning champion (Toronto Raptors) resides in Canada. We lost the Ryder Cup. The Davis Cup. We won’t win the Tour de France. We’ve only won one World Baseball Classic. We never sniff advancing in the men’s World Cup. We’re not even a lock any longer to win sailing’s America’s Cup.

Of course, all is not lost.

The U.S. women’s World Cup team lifted our spirits last summer. And we still tout the best player in football (Lamar Jackson) and baseball (Mike Trout), and in hoops a rising star right here in Dallas named Luka Doncic.

From Slovenia. Oops.

If all else fails, we’ve won the last 13 July 4th Hot Dog Eating championships, thanks to Joey Chestnut.

In this uniquely challenging year we may have to squint a little harder to see them, but there are still countless reasons to be proud of American sports. On this Fourth of July – between the socially distanced burgers and bikinis accessorized with masks – take time to admire and appreciate each unique candle on this homemade, 244-candle cake.

Here’s hoping it reminds you how fortunate we are to have a variety of sports, and the freedom to choose which ones we love and/or loathe.

Happy Birthday, America’s sports! Celebrate with virtual fireworks, and by at least momentarily feeling better about your games, your teams, your country and, yes, even yourself.

Consume this list in one gulp. Or nibble all during the holiday. Whatever.

It is, after all, a free country.

244. Dak Prescott, somehow simultaneously underrated and overpaid.

243. Brett Hull’s “no goal” goal in the wee early morning hours in Buffalo.
242. Aaron Hernandez, Josh Brent, Tim Donaghy, Lance Armstrong, Terdema Ussery and Robert Kraft, each held accountable.
241. Cris Collinsworth’s insight and Tony Romo’s intuition.
240. Zion Williamson’s hops and hope.
239. Dirk Nowitzki (I know, I know. But he feels like one of us, yes?)
238. Joey Gallo’s exit velocity.
237. Johnny Football, fleeting as it was.
236. Wiffle Ball in the back yard.
235. Labor peace. Barely, baseball. Barely.
234. Kawhi Leonard’s humility.
233. The Colonial in Fort Worth, same as it ever was. (Except this year.)
232. Cowboys’ Super Bowl expectations. Every single year.
231. MLB’s Opening Day in July and the NBA Finals in October.

230. NASCAR bending with the times/supporting Bubba Wallace.
229. High school football championship week at AT&T Stadium.
228. The Triplets, inducted into the Ring of Honor on the same night.
227. Jordan Spieth’s past, Ezekiel Elliott’s present and CeeDee Lamb’s future.

226. The star on the helmet.
225. Yankees pinstripes.
224. The 18th at Pebble Beach.
223. Dollar Dog Night at Globe Life Field, better late than never.

222. Cotton Bowl, still immune to corporate namesakes after all these years.
221. “Hail Mary” and Touchdown Jesus.
220. The Ice Bowl, the Rose Bowl and the Beer ’n Bowl.
219. Amari Cooper’s tippy toes.
218. Cameron Crazies and Reunion Rowdies
217. Eldrick “Tiger” Woods.
216. Rick Carlisle’s set pieces.
215. Serena and Venus Williams.
214. Boston’s Green Monster and Augusta’s green jacket.
213. The 12th Man, six feet apart.
212. Brian’s Song.
211. Sammy Baugh, Doak Walker, Davey O’Brien and Kyler Murray, soaring over their size.

210. “H-O-R-S-E,” “Hot Box” and “Tackle the Man with the Football.”
209. Happy Valley and March Madness.
208. Vince Young in, around and through USC’s defense.
207. The 7th-inning stretch and “Down the stretch they come!”
206. Army-Navy.
205. The Southwest Conference.
204. Caddyshack.
203. “Gentlemen, start your engines!”
202. Rougned Odor’s fist and Nolan Ryan’s headlock.
201. Vince Lombardi.
200. Donnie Nelson, for discovering and delivering our favorite imports (Dirk and Luka).

199. Kobe Bryant.

198. The Manning Family.
197. The Three J’s, The Four Horsemen and The Fab Five.
196. “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”
195. Hawg hats, Fort Worth Cats and Minnesota Fats.
194. Mark Holtz’ “Hello, Win Column!” Yes, still.
193. A two-putt birdie.
192. Wide Right and Student Body Left.
191. Josh Hamilton’s power electrifying Yankee Stadium in the Home Run Derby.
190. The smell of fresh-cut grass on Opening Day.
189. SMU’s Pony Express ’82 and Dallas Carter ’88, our best teams to not lift the trophy.

188. Shane Buechele and the transfer portal.
187. Pizza delivered exactly five minutes before kickoff.
186. The hole in the roof so God can watch his favorite team.
185. “The Immaculate Reception.”
184. Jinxing a no-hitter.
183. Jimmy Connors at Flushing Meadows. At night.
182. Alligator arms, swim moves and The Shark. Kenny Gant, not Greg Norman.
181. Tom Dempsey’s long kick with a short foot.
180. The Silver Boot, the Iron Skillet and plain ol’ braggin’ rights.
179. Underdogs.
178. Hansen, Hitzges and Galloway. Throw in The Old Grey Wolf.
177. Fans who refuse to do “The Wave.”
176. Hat tricks via bicycle kicks.
175. Jerry Jones and his right to remain (deafeningly) silent.
174. NFL Films.
173. God’s gifts to Bo Jackson, Deion Sanders and Bob Hayes.
172. Bobby Knight’s sweaters. And trifecta bettors.
171. Sean Lee’s tenacity, transferred to Leighton Vander Esch.
170. Michael Young’s character.
169. Red Zone Channel.
168. Two points, three-peats and four-baggers through the five hole.
167. Robert Hughes.
166. Slap Shot.
165. Troy Aikman, Daryl Johnston and Michael Irvin on the other side of the camera.
164. John Wooden’s program, Jerry Tarkanian’s towel and Red Auerbach’s cigar.
163. Booing Roger Goodell. Admiring Adam Silver.
162. Taking your glove to the game.
161. Tatu. And tattoos.
160. “Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!”
159. Amen corner. And Death Valley.
158. Nike vs. Reebok vs. Adidas vs. Under Armor.
157. No. 16 over No. 1.
156. “Boomer Sooner”, “Rocky Top” and “wake up the echoes.”
155. Kindred spirits who also hate Joe Buck.
154. Phil Jackson’s Triangle and Dean Smith’s four corners.
153. The versatility and vision of Colin Kaepernick.
152. The Great One and The Greatest.
151. Instant replay.
150. Monday Night Football’s original theme music.
149. “Havlicek stole the ball!”
148. A-Roid.
147. The Ring of Honor.
146. Between the hedges.
145. Shutting up Spike Lee.
144. The Von Erichs at the old Sportatorium.
143. The chills + a hangover + the day off = the Cotton Bowl.
142. Two minutes for roughing.
141. 30 for 30 documentaries, especially during a pandemic.

140. The Cubs’ “Friendly Confines” vs. the Raiders’ “Black Hole.”
139. The Zamboni.
138. Yankees-Red Sox, Duke-North Carolina and Michigan-Ohio State.
137. ”He could … go … all .. the … way … !!!”
136. Jimmy Johnson, Canton-bound.
135. Tailgating, tickets or not.
134. Heisman hype.
133. A blue parking pass.
132. Eyeballs vs. analytics.
131. New Rangers’ pitcher Corey Kluber, pre-injury version.

130. Tim Duncan’s bank shot.
129. Rick Barry’s underhand free throw.
128. Goal-line stands and the Stanford band.
127. “Can I have your autograph?”
126. Tom Brady in the pocket and Patrick Mahomes out of it.
125. DeMarcus around the edge, both Ware and Lawrence.
124. Brad Sham, Eric Nadel and Chuck Cooperstein. Yes, we are blessed.
123. Lambeau Field, January.
122. Sports talk radio wars.
121. Then: Defense wins championships; Now: First one to 50.
120. “Steeeerriiiike Three!,” “Let’s play two!” and “We’re No. 1!”
119. Roger Staubach down 13 with 2:19 remaining.
118. Dropping the gloves. And catching big air.
117. Kareem’s “Sky Hook” and Errol Spence Jr.’s right hook.
116. “Coooold beeeeeer!!”
115. Robert Horry, Adam Vinatieri and Mariano Rivera, when it really matters.
114. Bobblehead night.
113. The fair pole.
112. Anyone who beats Nick Saban.
111. Doomsday Defense.
110. Your baseball cap in the dishwasher; shoestring around your glove.
109. Office pools.
108. “Pistol Pete”, Sampras and/or Maravich.
107. Day games.
106. “The Catch.”
105. No longer being a prisoner of Jason Garrett’s precious “process.”

104. “Hey, ump, you’re missing a great game!”
103. North Dallas Forty.
102. Soccer moms.
101. Michael Johnson’s golden shoes.
100. Bevo.
99. Shirts and skins.
98. “The Iceman.”
97. 17-0 in ’72.
96. Winners and losers. Not participation plaques.
95. Yellow cards, yellow flags and the yellow first-down line.
94. Gary Patterson hitchin’ up his britches.
93. 56-game hitting streak.
92. “Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk!”
91. Mulligans.
90. “You Cannot Be Serious!” and “Practice? We talkin’ ’bout practice?!”
89. J.J. Watt, American hero.
88. Skip Bayless, permanently muted.
87. The two-minute warning.
86. Emmitt Smith out the other end of the pile.
85. The Laker Girls and the Cowboys Cheerleaders.
84. Ryder Cup vs. Davis Cup vs. Stanley Cup.
83. “GOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLL!!!!”
82. Seeing your breath on a small-town Friday night in December, population
314.
81. Floyd “Money” Mayweather.
80. Vince Carter, way above the rim and deep in the corner.

79. “Phi Slamma Jamma.”
78. 6-4-3.
77. Nebraska’s I-back.
76. Montana to Rice. Stockton to Malone. Meredith to Cosell.

75. GEICO commercials.
74. “You are looking live … !”
73. Joe Torre’s stare, Steve Nash’s hair and the Golden Bear.
72. “Sweetness.”
71. Phyllis George and Erin Andrews.
70. “And one!”
69. Bull Durham.
68. “Pig-soooooiiiieee!”
67. Charlie Hustle. And Uncle Charlie.
66. The Aggie War Hymn vs. Texas Fight.
65. Cold dreary Sunday. Warm comfy couch. Big screen TV.
64. July jump-starts of the NBA’s Orlando bubble and MLB’s 60-game sprint.

63. Christian Laettner’s turnaround.
62. Elvis and Beltre, clowning over a popup.
61. Joe Burrow’s improbable ascension.

60. “The Curse of the Bambino.”
59. The Swamp, The Pit and The Big House.
58. Cal Ripken Jr. and Dale Earnhardt Sr.
57. Evel Knievel.
56. Wilt’s 100 points vs. Russell’s 11 rings.
55. High-school hurling phenoms: Clayton Kershaw (Highland Park), Kerry Wood (Grand Prairie) and Todd Van Poppel (Arlington Martin).

54. Eight seconds. And Title IX.
53. Sudden death.
52. Churchill Downs, first Saturday in May September.
51. Madison Square Garden.
50. Mixed doubles, stand-up doubles and triple-doubles.
49. $1 billion stadiums. $12-an-hour chain gangs.
48. Mike Modano speeding with his shirttail.

47. Bear Bryant.
46. Mississippi State’s cowbells, Atlanta’s Tomahawk Chop.
and Pittsburgh’s Terrible Towels.
45. Rocky, Rudy and Prefontaine.
44. “Larry Legend.”
43. Byron Nelson’s legacy, on and off the course.
42. Jackie Robinson. Duh.
41. Dr. J.
40. Mark Cuban’s passion. And wallet.
39. Michael Jordan and The Last Dance.
38. Strike zone, matchup zone and zone blitz.
37. Luka’s step-back.

36. Wrigley’s ivy.

35. “Showtime.”
34. Sha-sheff-ski, spelled K-r-z-y-z-e-w-s-k-i.
33. The Babes. Ruth and Didrikson Zaharias. Sorry, Laufenberg.
32. U.S. soccer, women’s version.
31. 73*.
30. The Fat Lady. And the skinny post.
29. Do It For Durrett.
28. Kyle Field.
27. Larry Brown, from 12-round afterthought to Super Bowl MVP.

26. Duncanville High School Pantherettes, 11 state championships.

25. Nacho cheese on your chin. Smile on your lips.
24. Fresh batteries in the remote control.
23. Charles Barkley.
22. Keith Jackson’s “Whoa, Nellie!” and Dick Enberg’s “Oh, my!”
21. The 7-10 split.
20. Crazy Ray, Zonk and inflatable Mavs Man.
19. Neftali Feliz striking out A-Rod looking. Hello, World Series!
18. LeBron James, indeed “The Chosen One.”
17. ESPN’s SportsCenter. TNT’s Inside The NBA and HBO’s Real Sports.
16. Phil Mickelson’s disposition.
15. Magic.
14. The checkered flag.
13. Pat Summerall, Chick Hearn and Vin Scully.
12. The bell, the buzzer, the horn, the gun and, especially, the organ.
11. Mavs over Heat, 2011.
10. Tom Landry.
9. Texas-OU Weekend.
8. Hoosiers.
7. High-fiving a complete stranger. (We’ll be back to normal someday, won’t we?)
6. Ben Bishop, big between the pipes.
5. Game 7.
4. “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!!”
3. Three Super Bowls in four years.
2. Our national anthem, before every single game. Kneeling or not.
1. The freedom to love America’s Team, and to always hate the Philadelphia Eagles.

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