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Happy Birthday, America's Sports: 246 Reasons to Love D.C.'s Games and Those Who Play Them

On this Fourth of July, let's celebrate every Commander from Ken Houston to Joe Theismann to Dexter Manley to Terry McLaurin.

Happy Birthday, America’s Sports!

From masks to guns to politics to Roe v. Wade and even Johnny Deep vs. Amber Heard, America finds itself fiercely divided.

Thankfully we have sports to keep us united, or at least from completely unraveling at the seams. Even apart, thanks to sports we stand together.

We may not love the same teams, but we do cherish the games, leagues, players and moments that provide respite from the larger issues threatening to crowbar us as a country.

Without sports, this Fourth of July would be all red, white and boo. It’s as though the victory cigars light the fireworks.

That said, we’re in a slump.

America once dominated around the globe. Don’t look now, but the world has closed the gap. In some cases, foreigners are even hogging hardware.

What once was Mike Tyson is now Tyson Fury (boxing), Lance Armstrong is now Tadej Pogačar (cycling), Pete Sampras now Rafael Nadal (tennis) and Tiger Woods (golf) now Jon Rahm and Matthew Fitzpatrick. Our last two U.S. Open golf championships have been won by a Spaniard and a Brit; last American to capture the U.S. Open men’s tennis title was Andy Roddick in 2003.

Canadian-born Cale Makar won Stanley Cup Finals MVP this month, and a handful of American stars are leaving the PGA Tour to play golf on the Saudi Arabian-backed LIV Tour.

Not long ago we set our watches by the championship appearances of LeBron James and Serena Williams. LeBron’s Lakers haven’t won a playoff series the last two seasons. Serena won her last major in 2017 and last week lost in the first round at Wimbledon to an unknown player ranked No. 115.

The NBA’s last four MVPs are from Serbia (Nikola Jokic) and Greece (Giannis Antetokounmpo). In the last 13 Ryder Cups we’re 4-9. The U.S. hasn’t won the Davis Cup since 2007. 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.

The most dynamic player in baseball? Japan’s Shohei Ohtani.

Thankfully, all is not lost.

The NFL – America’s real pastime – has never had an MVP born outside our borders. And if we really wanna go jingoistic, thanks to our most dominant “athlete” – Joey Chestnut – America has won the last 14 July 4th Hot Dog Eating championships.

We may need to squint a little harder to see them, but there are still countless reasons to be proud of American sports on the country’s 246th birthday. On this Fourth of July – between the burgers and bikinis – take time to admire and appreciate each unique flame on this homemade, sports-centric cake: 246 candles, 246 reminders why we love our games and the people who play them.

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!

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

It is, after all, a free country.

246. T.J. Oshie.

245. Face masks on sports helmets, not civilian heads.

244. Dick Motta’s warning about the opera’s “fat lady.”

243. Ryan Zimmerman’s 16-year loyalty to the Nats.

242. Aaron Hernandez, Josh Brent, Tim Donaghy, Lance Armstrong, Terdema Ussery, Robert Kraft, Dan Snyder and Deshaun Watson, each held accountable.

241. Cris Collinsworth’s insight and Tony Romo’s intuition.
240. Zion Williamson’s hops and hope.
239. Texas-OU Weekend, whether part of the Big 12 or SEC.

238. Aaron Judge’s exit velocity.
237. Johnny Football, fleeting as it was.
236. Wiffle Ball in the back yard.
235. Labor peace in baseball. But just barely.

234. Klay Thompson’s resilience.
233. Unretired: Brady, Gronk, Witten and Ali before them all.

232. Champ Bailey, shutdown corner.

231. Matthew Stafford, vindicated after all these years.

230. “Hail to the Redskins!”

229. Wes Unseld’s outlet passes.

228. Arch in Austin: Continuing the Manning family legacy?

227. Alex Smith’s courage.

226. The star on the helmet.
225. Yankees pinstripes.
224. The 18th at Pebble Beach.
223. Dollar Dog Night.

222. Anthony Rendon and Howie Kendrick leaving the yard in the 7th, trailing in Game 7.

221. “Hail Mary” and Touchdown Jesus.
220. The Ice Bowl, the Rose Bowl and the Beer ’n Bowl.
219. Bullets and Redskins, RIP. The Capitals are safe, for now.

218. Cameron Crazies and Reunion Rowdies
217. Eldrick “Tiger” Woods.
216. A future without Bradley Beal!

215. A future with Kristaps Porzingis?

214. Boston’s Green Monster and Augusta’s green jacket.
213. The 12th Man.
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. Serena and Venus Williams.

204. Caddyshack.
203. “Gentlemen, start your engines!”
202. RFK Stadium > FedEx Field.

201. Vince Lombardi.
200. George Allen’s infectious enthusiasm.

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 and Minnesota Fats.
194. The Fun Bunch.

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. Antonio Gibson dodging tacklers as adeptly as Snyder dodging testifying.

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188. Boban Marjanovic’s size and disposition.
187. Pizza delivered exactly five minutes before kickoff.
186. ’91 Redskins: 1,000-yard rusher (Ernest Byner) and two 1,000-yard receivers (Gary Clark, Art Monk).

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. Rivalry week.

179. Underdogs.
178. Ron Rivera’s discipline and consistency with “Dust-Up” Del Rio.

177. Fans who refuse to do “The Wave.”
176. Hat tricks via bicycle kicks.
175. Sonny Jurgenson: Substance over style.

174. NFL Films.
173. God’s gifts to Bo Jackson, Deion Sanders and Bob Hayes.
172. Bobby Knight’s sweaters. And trifecta bettors.
171. Ken Houston stuffing Walt Garrison at the goal line on Monday Night Football, circa 1973.

170. Luka Doncic, s-l-o-w motion superstar.

169. Red Zone Channel.
168. Two points, three-peats and four-baggers through the five hole.
167. Charley Taylor’s route-running.

166. Slap Shot.
165. Dexter Manley.

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. Juan Soto, sad superstar on a lousy outfit.

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. Terry McLaurin’s bang for buck.

146. Between the hedges.
145. Shutting up Spike Lee.
144. I-Right, 70-Chip. John Riggins’ rumbles 43 yards for a touchdown on a fourth-down gamble that helps win Super Bowl XVII.

143. The chills + a hangover + the day off = Jan. 1 bowl day.
142. Two minutes for roughing.
141. 30 for 30.

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. Chris Hanburger, with an “n”.

135. Tailgating, tickets or not.
134. Heisman hype.
133. Daryl Grant’s interception return beating Dallas in 1982 NFC Championship Game, setting unofficial record for how loud a sports stadium has ever been.

132. Eyeballs vs. analytics.
131. The 35-point second quarter to torch John Elway’s Broncos in Super Bowl XXII.

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. Kevin Durant, fickle championship-chaser.

124. The calculating cool of Joe Gibbs.

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. RG3 in 2012: Fast player; Quick career.

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. Stephen Strasburg, 2019 World Series MVP.

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. Not being able – even 37 years later – to watch replays of Joe Theismann’s leg injury.

104. “Hey, ump, you’re missing a great game!”
103. Doug Williams, first black quarterback to start a Super Bowl. Oh, and also Super Bowl MVP.

102. Soccer moms.
101. Michael Johnson’s golden shoes.
100. Darrell Green, fastest – best? – NFL cornerback ever.

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. RIP, Sean Taylor, last Washington player to score a touchdown (51-yard fumble return against Tampa Bay in 2006) in a playoff win.

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. Only NFL team with a band.

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.

79. “Phi Slamma Jamma.”
78. 6-4-3.
77. Bob Dandridge. Game 7. 1978. 19 points. In Seattle. D.C. 35-year title drought snapped.

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. Ryan Fitzpatrick, one-series blunder.

63. Christian Laettner’s turnaround.
62. Mark Moseley, only kicker to win NFL MVP. And a straight-on kicker at that.

61. Steph’s Warriors dynasty vs. Jordan’s Bulls dynasty.

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. Mark Rypien, MVP of Washington’s last Super Bowl win who has seen better days.

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

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.

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. Jordan, averaging 21 points and making two All-Star Games as a Wizard.

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. The Hogs and, of course, the Hogettes.

28. Taylor Heinicke, forgotten but not gone.

27. Larry Brown, from 12th-round afterthought to Cowboys’ Super Bowl MVP.

26. MLB debut: seven innings, 14 strikeouts.

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. Alexander Ovechkin.

19. Carson Wentz having something left in the tank.

18. LeBron James, indeed “The Chosen One.”
17. ESPN’s SportsCenter. TNT’s Inside The NBA and HBO’s Real Sports.
16. Tom Brady, better with age.
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. College NILs spawning Nick Saban vs. Jimbo Fisher.

10. Tom Landry’s fedora.
9. Chase Young’s bounce-back.

8. Hoosiers.
7. High-fiving a complete stranger.

6. Patrick Corbin, unlikely World Series hero.

5. Game. Seven.
4. “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!!”
3. Timmy Smith, out of nowhere for a still-Super Bowl record 204 yards rushing.

2. Our national anthem, before every single game. Kneeling or not.
1. The freedom to love D.C., and hate “America’s Team.”