On July 4, the national anthem means a little more than it does on other days. Maybe it shouldn't. Maybe it should always mean more. Maybe it should always mean as much as it did on April 17, before the Boston Bruins played the Buffalo Sabres at TD Garden in the first major sports event in the city after the bombings at the Boston Marathon.
That night, Rene Rancourt started to sing the anthem the way he has before Bruins games for more than three decades, but, then, something unusual happened. The fans, unified and filled with strength and emotion, took over for him. They started in at "by the dawn's early light," and when Rancourt got to "what so proudly we hailed," he flat-out stopped and let the crowd take over. It sang even louder. The people of Boston sang their hearts out, showing support for their city, for their country, for their way of life.
It was powerful. One of my favorite crowd moments in 34 years of covering sports. Though heartbroken at the tragedy that had afflicted their town, there was no way those fans, those Americans, were going to let a hurtful, cowardly act diminish their convictions to country. That's one thing terrorists have never seemed to grasp about the United States: Doing harm to innocent citizens hardens the country's resolve, it doesn't soften it.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: Playing the national anthem before our games is a worthwhile tradition. Doesn't matter if it's a top-flight professional event or a Little League game. It's worth doing. And it doesn't have to be Whitney Houston nailing all the right notes. I recently heard an elementary school band perform the anthem before a women's football game at a Salt Lake high school. The kids kind of butchered the song, but it still made me stop and think for just a moment or two about the freedoms we enjoy.
All fans have endured the anthem being messed up or overcooked or underdone or turned into an almost unrecognizable audition for a recording contract that will never come. I once heard a pregame instrumental of "The Star-Spangled Banner" that sounded more like "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida." George Patton, had he been there, would have driven a Sherman tank over that band. Some singers have forgotten the words or gotten lost on their way to finding the proper melody and never really found it. Way back when, Rosanne Barr goofed her way through the anthem. And one memorable account had Ronald McDonald driving a Big Mac-mobile onto the infield before a game in Minnesota where he popped out of the big burger and led the crowd in the singing.
We've all been to games where the anthem was sung or played and practically nobody noticed. There have been a few instances through the years where players disillusioned by government policies have refused to stand for the song or have turned their backs as a means of protest. And every adult sports fan of that generation remembers American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos standing with a fist raised during the playing of the anthem at the Summer Olympics at Mexico City in 1968 as a way of drawing attention to racism in the United States.
That was a powerful moment, too.
You don't have to be a zealous patriot, always agreeing with stupid policies or unjust practices, to appreciate the anthem at sports events. There have been and continue to be flaws demonstrated and mistakes made from sea to shining sea. But obviously there's a whole lot of good here in 'Murica, good from which we all benefit.
Some might consider the playing of the anthem before games out of place or inappropriate. The tradition can be traced back to roots in the early 1900s that weren't always planted solely in altruistic national pride. Promoters and franchise owners might have wanted to capitalize on connecting with paying customers based on those fans' allegiance to country.
Anything can be sullied by duality.
And nobody, after all, plays any anthem before a rock concert or before the doors swing open at the mall on Black Friday.
But a regular reminder of the positive things our country offers or of those who have paid such a heavy price to preserve our freedoms, even if that reminder comes while we're pounding $7 nachos and $8 beverages before the first pitch or kickoff or tipoff, is a quality tradition.
It certainly is on July 4. It was on April 17. And it should be treated that way every day.
GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.