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July 4, 2003

by Bill Hogan


It was bound to happen. It was inevitable that the Friday release of Hogan's Alley would eventually fall on the 4th of July. A day of celebration. A day filled with backyard barbeques and parades; of flag waving and fireworks. A day when nobody is sitting in front of a computer reading my entertaining, informative and insightful ramblings.

So I'm supposed to spend the week painstakingly researching an incredibly interesting topic, gathering facts and figures, thinking up humorous quips for your enjoyment, bundle it into 750 easy-reading words and have it waiting for you first thing Friday morning? Done.


This is for you, lonely internet surfer. While the others go about their holiday business marinating steaks, getting the beer and box juice on ice, stowing the fireworks in a cool, dry area away from the kids, you read on – and enjoy; you'll be the wiser for it.

Someday you, too, will be invited to a party celebrating our independence. And you'll have an arsenal of useful 4th of July tidbits at your disposal. And you'll owe it all to Hogan's Alley.

It was July 4th 1939 when Lou Gehrig gave his famous Farewell Speech in front of 62,000 adoring fans at Yankee Stadium. Two months removed from his 2,130th consecutive game as the Yankees first baseman and fighting a losing battle against ALS, Gehrig's address to the crowd was inspirational and emotional.

He could no longer play baseball. He was dying from an incurable disease. And he considered himself "the luckiest man on the face of the earth." (Think about that the next time you're sitting at home reading sports commentary on your laptop while the rest of the community is marching proudly down Main Street.)

An Independence Day victory by John McEnroe at Wimbledon in 1981 kept Bjorn Borg from winning his sixth straight Championship. Other American stars to conquer tennis' oldest and most distinguished major championship on the 4th include Billie Jean King in 1975 and Jimmy Connors in 1982.

Maybe it's just me, but I could never understand why the All-England Tennis Club decided to hold their championship on or around the anniversary of American independence from – well – England. And to pour salt on a 227-year old wound, it's been the American tennis players – male and female – that have dominated the championships.

Of course sports don't have to encompass the entire scope of your Independence Day knowledge. With a little effort, you can display a much broader sense of American history.

For instance, everyone that has ever taken a sixth grade social studies class is familiar with Thomas Jefferson – widely considered the principle author of the Declaration of Independence. Now you can add your name to the short list of people privy to the fact that Jefferson died on July 4, 1826.

To compound this little nugget of information, fellow Forefather John Adams died on the same day. Presidents number two and three gone to the hereafter a couple of hours apart on the 50th anniversary of the birth of the country they helped to form.

1964 was the year of the great "British invasion" in the United States. Not quite like the Revolutionary War or the War of 1812; this was a musical invasion in the form of four long-haired rock-and-rollers known as The Beatles. They had six number one hits that year.

But this is America. Sandwiched between "I Want to Hold Your Hand", "Can't Buy Me Love" and the likes was the great American classic "I Get Around". The Beach Boys managed to rocket past a half-dozen Beatles tunes to the number one position on the Billboard chart on July 4, 1964. Say it along with me: "U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A."

Remember some of these 4th of July facts, and I guarantee that this will be the last time you spend the holiday with an American flag in one hand and your mouse in the other. Here are a few more bits of trivia for your repertoire:

In 1919 Jack Dempsey took the World Heavyweight Boxing Championship away from Jess Willard with a fourth round TKO. Nolan Ryan recorded his 3,000th strikeout in a 1980 game against the Cincinnati Reds. And two of professional sports' most notorious owners were born; Al Davis in 1929 and George Steinbrenner in 1930.

Now get off the computer, grab a couple of bottle rockets and crash the neighbor's shindig.

Happy 4th of July. God bless America.


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