clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

When was the last total solar eclipse in the United States?

And, just for fun, what sports stuff was going on at the time?

Rare Partial Solar Eclipse Is Viewed Around The UK Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Hey, there’s a total solar eclipse happening Aug. 21, 2017. You might’ve heard about it. It’ll be the United States’ first coast-to-coast total eclipse in almost 100 years. Here’s how to tell exactly how much of it you’ll be able to see.

At least a couple of eclipses are visible somewhere on Earth every year. That somewhere might be the middle of an ocean, but these aren’t as rare as they seem. It’s just rare that they can be seen where you live.

I was curious what sports stuff was going on during the last times these things happened. So let’s look it up as we go.

1. The last total eclipse visible from anywhere in the United States (though this one was only Hawaii): Thursday, July 11, 1991.

Wikimedia Commons

Hawaii had a great view. So did parts of Mexico, but that was it for North America.

The Angels’ home loss to the Yankees was the closest major American sporting event, and one eventual Hall of Famer worked that for all it was worth.

Dave Winfield offered a novel explanation for the Angels' getting only one hit off Scott Sanderson Thursday in a 2-0 loss to the New York Yankees at Anaheim Stadium.

"I think we must have looked at the eclipse today and messed our eyes up," Winfield said.

Nice excuse, but it can't be used again in this lifetime.

Winfield and his Angel teammates could come up with few other reasons why Sanderson (10-3) mastered them so easily, or why they have been shut out three times in their last four games and held to three hits in their last two games.

2. The last total eclipse visible from the contiguous United States: Monday, Feb. 26, 1979.

Wikimedia Commons

People flocked to the Pacific Northwest, the only part of the country with a view. Via NASA:

The last total solar eclipse viewed from contiguous United States was on Feb. 26, 1979 whose path passed through the northwestern U.S. states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, and Canadian provinces of Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec.

Forrest Thompson, who pitched in the majors in the ‘40s, died that day at 60.

No NHL games were anywhere nearby. Otherwise, the only American sports thing I can find word of from that day: a new issue of Sports Illustrated came out. In it, we learned the NBA wasn’t doing so great at the time, maybe because it didn’t do games on Mondays. That’s what I’ll choose to blame it on.

Elsewhere, the USSR had an Olympics planning meeting. I hope it went well.

3. The last total eclipse visible from a large portion of the United States: Saturday, June 8, 1918.

Wikimedia Commons

There were games at eight MLB stadiums: Brooklyn, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, New York, Philadelphia, and St. Louis. The Yankees’ win over the St. Louis Browns (now the Baltimore Orioles) in Missouri was the closest to the eclipse’s path, but it doesn’t appear any Hall of Famers blamed any batting struggles on the lunar event.

Yeah, this means the Yankees have a total-eclipse winning streak going (so do the A’s, Braves, Pirates, and Twins), but eclipses aren’t perfect.

4. So what’s the sports schedule during 2017’s eclipse?

Nothing huge is likely to be interrupted — the MLB schedule is full of evening games, with even the earliest game, Twins-White Sox in Chicago, hours after the eclipse passes the area around 2 p.m. ET — but it’s still something to think about for a bunch of teams across the country:

Oakes and the Winston-Salem Open won’t be the only events in the sports world having to account for the solar eclipse. The Connecticut Open, a Women’s Tennis Association tournament, will play matches in New Haven. The Saratoga Race Course in New York has a full slate of races scheduled. The Little League World Series has games on deck for the day in South Williamsport, Pa., and at the East Coast Surfing Championships at Virginia Beach, a watch party on the boardwalk is planned.

The Little League World Series will be interrupted by a solar ...

The Little League World Series is taking place during this eclipse. Here's how they're handling it.

Posted by SB Nation on Monday, August 21, 2017

Outside of those events, several Power Five college towns and professional franchises fall in the direct path of the eclipse, raising the question of how the eclipse may affect practices.

Hours before Oakes takes in the solar eclipse in Winston-Salem, Oregon State’s football players will experience one of the earliest totalities. In Corvallis, the start of the total eclipse is estimated for 10:16 a.m. local time, and it will reach its peak about a minute later. It will be about 25 minutes before the Beavers begin practice.

Towns In Midwest Prepare For Influx Of Tourists For Upcoming Eclipse
Southern Illinois’ band prepares for the campus’ eclipse event at the football stadium
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Alabama football coach Nick Saban hasn’t had time to think about whether he cares or not.

We’ll set it up so if the players wanna go out there and look at it and get some sunglasses, I guess they can. That’s not something that I’m really that focused on right now. I watch the Weather Channel every day. They’re already saying what it’s gonna look like in every city in America, so what’s gonna be significant?

Just watch the Weather Channel. You see what it’s gonna be like in Portland, Oregon. Clayton, Georgia’s the No. 1 place in the country. They have a hundred percent. There are all kind of people there.

My house will probably be the only empty house on the whole lake. So I’m gonna watch it on TV. Maybe we should have a team meeting about how we’re gonna do this. I haven’t thought of that yet.

Neither has Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh. From a back-and-forth with reporters:

When is it? It’s Monday?

Can you see it from everywhere? Can you see it from here?

Eighty percent? It’s not 100 percent here? We’re chasing perfection here, alright?

So you’ve got to go to North Carolina for 100 percent? Nah. I don’t know. You’ve got to wear glasses or something, don’t you? I don’t want to blind anybody.

We’ll be in meetings. It’s going to be tough.

5. So! Football coaches don’t care, but everybody else does!