Happy birthday, America.
Here is my gift to you:
“Nighttime in Morgantown, West Virginia, on the campus of West Virginia University. Halloween weekend and the goblin riding in on a broom is wearing a sport coat, a sweater and red tie. His graying hair is parted neatly on the left side and topping off a prominent nose and persistent frown is a pair of eye glasses, the trademark of one of the most successful football coaches — Joe Paterno.
“Joe is accompanied here by a frightening group of white-clad ghosts, the No. 2-ranked and undefeated Nittany Lions of Penn State, a frightening scene.
“But Don Nehlen’s Mountaineers enjoy walking in where angels fear to tread. So tonight, in ideal autumn weather, they will meet the invaders. They will do battle as prohibitive underdog but they will play this game with the knowledge that anything can happen in football. On any given night, on any given field, it can happen, and they want it to happen tonight.
“It will be our pleasure to describe the action as these two old rivals get together. So light up your pumpkins, put on your scariest Halloween mask, and keep that radio close by as the hills of West Virginia resound with the sounds of Gold and Blue football as the West Virginia Mountaineers are on the air.”
— Jack Fleming’s introduction to the 1986 renewal of the West Virginia-Penn State football game.
o o o o o o
Does it get any more American than that?
Jack Fleming’s legendary voice, the one that rang out through America on Franco Harris’ “Immaculate Reception” as the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Oakland Raiders during the 1972 playoffs. Joe Paterno, Don Nehlen, West Virginia, Penn State, football ... and freedom.
Think of it; every day is really the Fourth of July.
Be it in the cold of winter, the rain of spring, the searing heat of summer ... we are Americans and we are free.
It started with an idea, with a country that wanted to be in and of itself, that believed in this thing called democracy.
If we fight wars — and we do — it is because we were born of war, a war to rid the colonies of oppression, to establish a nation built on liberty and justice for all.
The paper we celebrate is the Declaration of Independence.
Independence ... off on our own, able to create our own history, our own destiny.
And through it all, sports has been such an important part of the overall picture.
You saw it just this week, America against the world in World Cup soccer.
Yes, it’s a British game ... a game that belongs to the world, but it is a game in which once again the pride America has in itself, in its people soared to amazing heights.
There was Jesse Owens embarrassing Adolf Hitler at his Olympics in 1936 ... there was Babe Ruth and Red Grange and Willie Mays and Bill Russell and a skinny kid out of a place called Cabin Creek named Jerry West showing just how much opportunity there was in America if you worked and did things the right way.
At a time when we are as divided as we’ve ever been politically, where we have Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals ... where we agree on nothing short of the fact that it is America first, in politics, in war and in sport.
Today is a baseball day, our national pastime at midseason. It is the summer game, but a game with a thread that runs clear back into the Civil War ... a game where America became the melting pot that it is.
It went from a sport of total segregation to one that is played across the world. If it didn’t happen as fast as you can say Jackie Robinson, it happened because of him, and in his way he loomed as large as Martin Luther King Jr. in changing our world.
The Fourth of July?
Hot dogs and hamburgers. Parades. Family. Softball games.
This is my favorite holiday, perhaps because it isn’t a commercial one.
We don’t exchange gifts; we exchange love. Love of America and what it stands for.
It is the kind of day Jack Fleming should have introduced every year, a day for golf and swimming and tennis.
Talk about the hills of West Virginia resonating with the sound of blue and gold football, today from the Rocky Mountains to the Appalachians, from the sandy beaches of Florida to the snow atop Mount McKinley, from the Great Lakes to Lake Pontchartrain our land resonates with these sounds:
O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.