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Celebrating the 4th -- Arizona Sports-style!

Happy 4th!

It's our nation's 239th birthday (doesn't look day over 75, really) and we're all celebrating, in some way, the number 4.

Four is a significant number in Phoenix sports, as well.

Four big league teams

If you're a sports fan in the Valley, you're spoiled. You live in one of only 12 metropolitan areas with teams in all four of the major league team sports.

Unfortunately, the four Phoenix teams have combined for one championship in their collective history, the least of any of the locales, but they're working on it.

Arizona Rattlers going for fourth straight title

But Phoenix also has other pro teams, like the Arena Football League's Arizona Rattlers -- an organization that has been a model franchise for 22 seasons. The Rattlers have won the ArenaBowl three years in a row, and at 11-2 this season, are right in the thick of the race for a fourth straight league title.

Four Cy Young Awards

From 1999 to 2002, baseball fans in the Valley were spoiled rotten. In that span, the Arizona Diamondbacks won 58 percent of their games. Fans cheered playoff teams three times and watched arguably the greatest World Series ever in in 2001. And every fifth day, they got to see absolute greatness.

In that span, Randy Johnson went 81-27 with a 2.48 ERA while striking out 1,417 opposing hitters. Johnson joined Greg Maddux (1992-95) as the only pitchers in MLB history to win the coveted Cy Young Award in four straight seasons.

The Final Four

It's a stamp of credibility for any college basketball program to have a trip to the Final Four on its résumé. Arizona State is still looking for its first trip, but their neighbors to the South -- the Arizona Wildcats -- have accomplished the feat.

In fact, the Wildcats have made (wouldn't you know it) four trips to the Final Four.

In 1988, Lute Olson led the Wildcats to their first-ever Final Four in Kansas City, where they were upended by the Oklahoma Sooners, 86-78. Six years later, the silver-haired coach guided the 'Cats back to college hoops' biggest stage during a Final Four trip to Charlotte. The 'Cats fell short to eventual-champion Arkansas, 91-82.

They say the third time is the charm, and that held true for Arizona in 1997. The fifth-seeded Wildcats got hot when it mattered most, beating South Alabama, College of Charleston, Kansas and Providence on the way to the Final Four in Indianapolis. There, they'd beat No. 1 seed North Carolina 66-58 in a semifinal game and then took down another No. 1 seed in Kentucky, 84-79, to win their first and only national championship.

Arizona would return to the Final Four four years later, advancing all the way to the championship game against Duke in Minneapolis. The Blue Devils won the game 82-72.

Some Memorable No. 4s

• Craig Counsell - Arizona Diamondbacks (2000-03, 2004-05) - Counsell still ranks as one of the most beloved players in D-backs' history because who doesn't love a .266 hitter who had only 24 home runs and drove in 193 runs in six years with the club?

But seriously, Counsell was an instrumental part of the 2001 World Series championship team and was named the NLCS MVP that season when he hit .384 in a five-game triumph over the Atlanta Braves.

• Marcin Gortat - Phoenix Suns (2010-13) - Originally drafted by the Suns and then traded away to Orlando on draft night 2005, Gortat found his way back to Phoenix in 2010 when the Magic traded him along with Vince Carter and Mickael Pietrus. The 'Polish Hammer' would endear himself to Suns fans (for the most part) over the next three seasons with his stellar play and collection of memorable quotes and interviews.

• Kyle Macy - Phoenix Suns (1980-85) - The Suns selected the slick-shooting (and slickly-coiffed) Macy out of Kentucky with the 22nd selection of the 1980 draft, and he immediately became a fan favorite. Macy was one of the best free throw shooters of his era, and twice led the league in that category while wearing the purple and orange.

• Zbynek Michalek - Arizona Coyotes (2005-10, 2012-present) - 'Z' as he's known, has been a stalwart on the Coyotes' blue line for nearly a decade. The Czech defenseman ranks fifth on the Phoenix/Arizona all-time franchise list with 539 games played.

Michalek was traded to St. Louis at the trade deadline last March, but signed back with the 'Yotes earlier this week -- his third different stint with the team! Michalek first landed in the desert in 2005 when he was traded by the Minnesota Wild. He signed as a free agent with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2010, but was traded back to the Coyotes in 2012, where he played until last March.

The Red(d), White and Blue

In its history Phoenix has had some patriotic athletes, at least when their names are presented in a list.

• Michael Redd - Some raised eyebrows when the Phoenix Suns signed Redd to a contract in December of 2011. The lefty had been one of the league's most prolific scorers, averaging more than 20 points per game in six straight seasons for the Milwaukee Bucks from 2003 to 2009.

But his career would hit a wall due to two devastating knee injuries that limited him to 28 games between 2009 and 2011. The Suns rolled the dice, bringing Redd in midway through the 2011-12 season. The veteran responded by averaging 8.2 points in 51 contests. Suns fans were treated on a few occasions to Redd's signature streaky shooting, most notably a 25-point outburst in just 18 minutes of play during a 99-86 win over the Houston Rockets on March 18, 2012 at US Airways Center.

• Devon White - On the night of the MLB Expansion Draft -- November 17, 1997 -- the Arizona Diamondbacks swung a deal that landed them 35-year-old outfielder Devon White from the Florida Marlins in exchange for minor league pitcher Jesus Martinez.

White would become the franchise's Opening Day center fielder and its first-ever All-Star. White would bat .279 with 22 home runs and a team-leading 85 RBI for the D-backs in 1998, his only season with Arizona. White signed as a free agent with the Los Angeles Dodgers prior to the 1999 season.

• Harold Blue - "Who in the world is Harold Blue," you may be asking yourself. Blue was a member of the state's first professional football team, the Arizona Wranglers of the United States Football League.

In his one and only season with the Wranglers, the former East Carolina Pirate ran for 123 yards and a touchdown on 34 carries, caught 13 passes for 84 yards and averaged 18.8 yards on kickoff returns. Hell, he even threw two passes -- one was completed for a 9-yard gain, the other was intercepted.

Blue's versatility did nothing to help the Wranglers, who lost their last 10 games and finished 4-14, which was tied for the worst record in the league in 1983.


Here's to a safe and happy Fourth of July!

About the Author

School: Arizona State University

When you started with Bonneville Phoenix: October 2011

Favorite sports memory: Watching Cardinals win NFC Championship over Philly in January 2009 with my Dad...ASU wins 1987 Rose Bowl...Suns defeat Lakers in 1990 NBA Playoffs...2001 World Series

Favorite all-time athletes: Don Mattingly, Jeff Hornacek, Walter Davis, Anquan Boldin

Favorite sports movies: Friday Night Lights, The Natural, Hoosiers


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