Baseball pioneered playing national anthem before games

In 1814, a lawyer named Francis Scott Key wrote a poem he called "Defense of Fort McHenry" after watching said fort repel a British attack during the War of 1812.

Later set to the music, "The Star-Spangled Banner" played at various patriotic gatherings for a hundred years before Congress declared it our national anthem in 1931.

And at some point in the 202 years between the Royal Navy's assault on Fort McHenry and Ferris High School's football game at Fort Lee Friday, we started playing, singing, and -- usually -- standing for "The Star-Spangled Banner" before every sporting event at almost every level of play.

"It has been argued that we don't do this before theatrical performances or operas or ballets," said John Thorn, the official historian for Major League Baseball. He said he believes he has identified the earliest instance of the national anthem at a sporting event: 1862 at Brooklyn's Union Grounds. That was before professional league play or the founding of Major League Baseball.

"The national anthem was also played at a Major League game for the first time in 1897 in Philadelphia," Thorn said.

And it was played during every game of the 1918 World Series. By the early 1940s, every Major League ballpark in the nation played the national anthem before every contest.

"Phil Wrigley and the Cubs were something of a holdout and except during wartime years, they did not play it, except at Opening Day and so-called 'special occasions,' of which there were few at Wrigley Field in the 50s and 60s," Thorn said.

Other leagues followed Major League Baseball's lead, so that today the national anthem seems as much a chapter in the story of a sporting event as the scoring of points, and the deciding of winners and losers.

"The heroic strand that's represented by the national anthem is appropriate," Thorn said.