In any given article I spend some time talking about reference information and the value it has in my work. Magazines, yearbooks, newspapers and the like are not simply sterile tools, but visual and real reminders to me that I’m a sports fan. Sure I have my favorite players or teams for the same types of reasons that most sports fans do. Long before there was ESPN, Sports Center, streaming broadcasts, daily blogs and the like…the staple for sports fans was Sports Illustrated. I reflecting on this when culling old “SI’s” for images to support some recent work. Then it struck what a cool magazine it really was and how we used to debate what should or shouldn’t have been on the cover in any given week.
I started giving some thought to what my Top Ten SI covers of all time would be and why. In order to make this manageable and to ensure I did not skew my efforts to only those covers I remember seeing first hand when they came out, I decided to select two covers from each decade of the 1950s through the 1990s. My big years as a Sports Illustrated junkie were from roughly 1974-1984, or ages 10 through the first two years after high school. By 1984, I was in college and focused on other things by and large, not having the same attachment to the magazine. In looking back at old covers and reflecting on sports for the sake of sports, having nothing to do with the value of the magazine today, this is what I came up with:
July 16th, 1956: Even if these selections were not in any decade order, this one would be my all time favorite. The uniforms and “Big Klu”…take a look at Kluszewski and those forearms that look more at home on an iron worker than a ball player.
September 9th, 1957: Fear not, as this will be the last of the Reds covers. I have always loved this uniform, but looking at this cover brings to mind stories that my Uncle Tommy used to tell about being in a bowling league with Roy McMillan. McMillan was a perennial All Star and the first shortstop to win a gold glove, yet he was in the same bowling league as my uncle. At this time (late 1950s), Tommy was driving a delivery truck for Barq’s Rootbeer in Cincinnati. What are the chances of a regular “working guy” meeting Arod or Jeter in the “beer frame” today?
August 1st 1966: While I know that Jim Ryun was not the first person to break the four-minute mile barrier, actually Roger Bannister did some 12 years prior to this cover shot, I have always been captured by this image… the look on Ryun’s face, the colors and the USA patch remind me of things bigger than sports and some true heroes I have know in other walks of life. One thing, not obvious at first, is how alone Ryun is as he breaks the tape. There isn’t a single other runner in sight. I have known and worked with a special group of people who like to think of themselves as being “Out Front, Alone, and Un-afraid….” Jim Ryun would have fit in nicely.
January 22nd 1968: Lombardi. The thing I take away from this cover really transcends sports. It is captured in the look shared between the stern task master and father figure of a coach and Jerry Kramer. There is great quote attributed to Kramer that reads “”I knew the emotions he aroused in me: Awe, love-hate, respect, gratitude and, certainly, fear. Very few things in life have frightened me, but Vince Lombardi did,” “Not physically, of course. I feared his disapproval.” This cover captures all of this in the glance between two grown men.
April 15th 1974: I remember this one. Aaron tied the Babe with #714 of Jack Billingham on Opening Day. This was the first time I can recall watching something and realizing it was something special, not just another sporting event or ball game. I never thought much about Hank Aaron as a person or ball player at the time or even for some time to come. Unlike today, when sporting events are stopped at what seems like the drop of a hat, this was different. Unlike countless other covers, this features no words or the name of any athlete…just a simple number “715.” Few numbers in all of sports ring larger…Even when Bond’s broke Aaron’s career mark of 756, there is still something magical about 715. As and old man who will undoubtedly do what all old men do in the way of berating the modern player when compared to the stars of his youth, I will say that I saw a real champion break a real record.
September 25th 1978: I never have been much of boxing fan. But Ali was bigger than boxing or any sport. By this time, Ali was over a decade away from his first title as heavy weight champ. There had been bigger Ali fights in the late 1960s and early to mid 1970s; “The Rumble in the Jungle”…”The Thrilla In Manila”, but this one was one I watched for a different reason… it was not about hype, but about hope. The movie Rocky had been out for a couple of years and I was into rooting for the underdog…as hard as it might seem, I saw the aging champ as the underdog. Spinks had beaten him and taken his title earlier in the year. I was hoping this was not just a fight being promoted to put money in people’s pockets at the expense of Ali’s legacy. It wasn’t. It had just the opposite effect…It put Ali’s legacy safely in his pocket.
March 3rd 1980: There isn’t much that the 1980s lay claim to in any notable fashion as my memory. Not a big fan of the cloths or the music. But the Miracle on Ice…Come on. This was America versus the Soviet Union and thank god for Al Michaels behind the mic. It was fashionable to be patriotic and show the flag and in my life time, has not happened near as much as it should. This was the America we have always told ourselves lay within the grasp of all of us…sounds corny but I believed it then and believe it now. It was real because I saw it happen and it made the cover of Sports Illustrated.
November 5th 1984: I have always been a huge Notre Dame fan. I played grade school football in the Cincinnati CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) League for St. Margaret
of Cortona. My 8th grade year we went undefeated and won the city championship. Our guest speaker at the banquet that year… Jerry Faust., then head coach at Moeller High School. It’s hard or nearly impossible to have listened and shook the hand of Jerry Faust and not realized that he was being afforded the chance to live his life’s dream. As hard as it was for me to watch the Irish this season, I did not feel for Charlie Wise in nearly the same way I felt for Jerry Faust. In finding this cover, something I had almost forgotten about. I reflected on not success but on opportunity and desire. Faust had both and in my book that’s what really matters.
October 29th 1990: I listened to this World Series from the desserts of Saudi Arabia. I had not been much of a Reds fan, but this event connected me with what was clearly a better and more uncomplicated time in my life. When I got back home at the end of April 1991, I guess there were roughly a dozen people who had saved this copy of Sports Illustrated for me, along with ticket stubs, programs, and copies of the Cincinnati Post and Enquirer. Sports to a sports fan represents a chance to remember and forget at the same time…remembering only the good things.
October 5th 1998: This is not what I think about with great reflection, but what I thought about right away when I saw this cover again. I thought of me and my then 11 year old son Jacob. It was a father and son being excited about the game of baseball…it was about driving 10 hours and getting to Riverfront Stadium early to watch McGwire in batting practice. It was about tuning the radio to any sports channel after one of Jacob’s games at Turley Field and finding out if Mark or Sammy went deep. I was rooting for McGwire and Jacob for Sosa. We talked about who was better and why…great and innocent conversations between a dad and his 11 year old. A decade has passed and we still talk about this season, but with the sobering reality that a lot about life and the way we see things will always change as you get older.
These are my Top Ten Sports Illustrated covers for reasons that have nothing to do with the value of the magazine. Their value and importance and fueled only by my thoughts.
When you begin to obsess with the value of the items in your collection or what you feel you need to have in it, reflect on why that is…There is always value in that.
As always, collect what you enjoy and enjoy what you collect.
MEARS Auth, LLC
For questions or comments on this article, please feel free to drop me a line at DaveGrob1@aol.com.