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Big game to provide super kickoff for commemorative Reagan events

Ronald Reagan admirers wanted to go all out to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the former president's birth next Sunday -- a fighter jet flyover, a 21-gun salute and a Beach Boys performance are among the commemorations. But the Great Communicator's centennial birthday conflicts with another great American mega-event: Super Bowl Sunday.

Yet Reaganites, true to the Gipper's attitude, saw an opportunity.

Just before kickoff, a tribute to Reagan will be displayed on the massive Jumbotron in Cowboys Stadium in Texas, perhaps fitting for this larger-than-life persona.

It's one of the scores of centennial events planned through the year for Reagan. Although many of the events are being organized by or with the help of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, activities large and small are being planned by others, including GOP clubs, former Reagan aides and admirers.

Congress created a bipartisan Reagan Centennial Commission to help plan events, but no federal funding was provided. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., didn't believe such spending would be very Reagan-like. Instead, many celebrations are privately funded.

The Reagan foundation plans a concert at the Reagan library featuring, among others, the Beach Boys, who were banned from the capital's 1983 Fourth of July celebration by Interior Secretary James G. Watt, angering Nancy Reagan.

Watt said the group attracted the "wrong element" but changed his tune after the president and Nancy Reagan made it clear that they liked the Beach Boys.

The former first lady, 89, is expected to attend a number of the centennial events.

Some are designed to familiarize a younger generation with the Reagan story.

Indiana has invited fourth- through 12th-graders to submit 500-word essays that answer the question: "What is Ronald Reagan's most important contribution to American history?" The winner will read the essay at a statehouse ceremony. Seminars about Reagan are planned at universities.

The Chicago Cubs are planning Reagan Day in Wrigley Field, at which his son Michael will throw out a ceremonial first pitch. In the 1930s, Reagan re-created Cubs radio broadcasts from descriptions provided by Western Union.

Though Reagan died in 2004, his legacy endures in a big way.

At the Capitol, lawmakers from both parties regularly invoke his name -- positively and negatively. President Obama took Lou Cannon's book, "President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime" on his recent vacation. And the candidates for Republican National Committee chairman were asked during a recent debate: "Aside from President Reagan, who is your political hero?"

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