No sports, no problem

The July Sports Illustrated Wall Calendar is up. With the mainstream sports still sidelined by COVID-19, I thought I’d make the calendar match by pulling out some of the more obscure Sports Illustrated covers from over the years. I have to hand it to the editorial staff at SI. They have certainly had their share of unusual cover stories. In fact, in the early years, it showcased a diversity of topics. There have been articles on beer, climate change, spear fishing and cocaine use in the NFL. Some of the covers don’t age as well as others, but at least they have not been afraid to take a risk. Here’s a look at some of the more unusual covers from the month of July.

While SI is generally a showcase for great sport photography, they have used artwork from time to time. I am not a fly fisherman, but I did like the simplicity of the cover.

Here is another stark and simple image typical of the early ’60s covers. The Americas Cup garnered more than a few covers over the years.

Although not from my original collection, I do seem to remember this cover. Nancy Lopez was pretty big for awhile. I seem to recall a JIF peanut butter commercial. I can’t verify that for sure, but she is on the board of directors for Smuckers, Inc. which owns JIF peanut butter. Coincidence? I think not. And oh yeah, Nancy was hell on the links. Three majors and 48 LPGA wins.

Tennis covers were particularly popular for a long time. There were a bunch in July thanks to Wimbledon. I had the pick of covers. Not surprisingly, the cover with 17 year old Maria Sharapova won over a 17 year old Boris Becker from a few years earlier. Tough luck for the Ginger.

This was actually a two part series. It is definitely one of the more unusual covers.

A year early, SI went with the creepy, monkey cover. It was particularly unsettling considering the movie channels seem to have the film “Outbreak” on every other day. It, of course, features a deadly virus carrying monkey. Ah, life imitating art. Awesome.

There aren’t many surfing covers and they don’t often extol the virtues of east coast surfing. The title was exactly what caught my eye when I picked the cover. Even my wife said, “Wait, East Coast Surfing?!?”

I laughed when I saw this cover mainly because it is about 20 years too early in its projection. It is not the first time SI blew a prediction. I have a pretty impressive man cave with five TVs but the largest is still only 75″. Sure, you could do a whole wall with a projector but why would you given the better quality of flat screens.

I can’t say for sure, but I think this is the only sulky to grace the cover of SI. It is the last time it makes Wall as well.

I love this cover. It feels just so ’60s. I can practically hear the Beach Boys playing in the background. I am guessing Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon can’t be too far away.

I remember this cover and the associated article well from this issue. Don’t blame the breed, blame the owners. SI made up for it later with a heartfelt cover and accompanying piece on the dogs from Michael Vick’s Bad Newz kennels.

Lance Armstrong is on a bit of a redemption tour, but let’s be honest, he still seems to be a jerk. Greg LeMond, on the other hand, is the original U.S. bicycling hero. This cover will probably always be used to contract the multiple Armstrong covers I have.

I think there must have been an editor that had a thing for women in jockey silks, because there are a few of these type covers. Robyn Smith herself has an interesting history. According to Encyclopedia.com, she fabricated a story to cover her troubled childhood. However, she rose from those humble beginnings to become the first female jockey to win a stakes race. By the mid ’70s, she was running at all the prestigious tracks of the U.S. After retiring, she married Fred Astaire and still resides in their Beverly Hills home today. It is quite the story behind that cover.

Certainly, the earlier covers tend to be much more varied, but the modern times have their moments as well. After all, smack dab in the middle of this month’s wall is a recent fashion cover featuring Odell Beckham. Yeah, that’s Sports Illustrated for you.

Dark Times

The June Sports Illustrated wall mural is up. Thanks to a generous fan of the site, I now have over seven decades of covers. Going through them was a bit like time travel without all the pesky altering of the future.

As you might guess, this cover from 1956 was unusual for the era. The vast majority of the early covers were fairly conservative. I hadn’t seen that many Wasps since we knocked down a nest in our barn when we were kids. The thoughtful photo of Floyd Patterson stood out against the travelogues of bon vivants and scuba diving playboys.

I have lived in Houston several times, but I never realized that Joe Morgan had played for the Astros. It’s not the first time I have been ignorant about black history, but I am getting better. Like they use to say on NBC Saturday mornings, “The more you know…”

Dick Allen is the greatest player not in the Baseball Hall of Fame. He had the pleasure of starting his minor league career as the first black player with the Phillies’ Little Rock, farm team. The fans there welcomed him with racial harassment and protest parades. It didn’t stop him from leading the league in total bases though. He, unfortunately, went from the frying pan to the fire when he made it to the show in Philly. In standard Philly fashion, he was greeted with showers of ice, feces, and even batteries. Stay classy Philly fan. Despite all this, he was Rookie of the Year and later league MVP. With a career .292 batting average, 351 home runs and nearly 2,000 hits, he deserves to be in HOF.

There seemed to be a disproportionate number of boxing covers in the early years. The volume waned considerably as the sport’s popularity dropped off. However, Ali only gained in fame as he aged. I have often said that Colin Kaepernick will likely have a similar ascent although at a lower angle.

This cover caught my eye because of how striking it was with the single black man serving a sea of white fans. The 1950’s was a golden era, just not for everyone.

I was never much of a Reggie Jackson fan, particularly because I didn’t like the Yankees. There’s no denying that he was a superstar. Damn Yankees.

I had never heard of Gypsy Joe Harris but apparently he fought his entire career with one eye. His career was stopped at 24 -1 when a physical finally discovered his disability.

There was a great ESPN 30 for 30 on Dupree. For all his failings, he did make a comeback after his USFL career and actually played in the NFL for a couple of years. It was too bad he didn’t have that kind of discipline his whole career. He could have been something special.

It was laughable when Gerry Cooney was on the cover and Larry Holmes was the fold-over. I guess SI was playing the great white hope angle. But honestly, I don’t think anyone thought Cooney had a chance.

  At least, SI gave Larry Holmes the cover after the fight.

Jordan covers abound in SI. It isn’t surprising with his six NBA titles, he was a constant fixture, particularly in the summer issues.

Golfers in general were also a very common cover occurrence in the summer. However, except for the occasional Lee Trevino, it was a lot of white guys in bad polyester slacks. Tiger Woods changed all that. Like Jordan before him, Woods was on a ton of SI covers.

Kobe said it all. With everything that has happened in the last couple of months, what’s next indeed.

Stay safe, stay strong, and support each other, regardless of race, creed or sexual orientation.

Peace.

A poor substitute

Seen any good games lately? Me either. I recognize the loss of games is trivial in light of the on-going struggles of much of the U.S. and the world, but it doesn’t make missing sports any less palatable. In addition to watching “The Last Dance”, the Michael Jordan documentary on ESPN, I am scratching my sports itch by watching the entire Friday Nights Lights television series (for about the fifth time, my family reminds me.)

At least I have the monthly routine of updating the SI wall calendar. I am down to covers that I have been avoiding for one reason or another. Maybe I didn’t like the subject matter or the look of the cover or it just didn’t fit the theme for the month. For the time being, the mix on the wall is going to be eclectic.

As an aside, I didn’t notice when I was putting it together, but Johnny Unitas is on the wall twice which is good because his covers are in close proximity to the John Manziel and Baker Mayfield covers, helping to offset the bad karma of those two Browns QBs.

I am still giving the Washington Nationals some love, hence the Expos cover. I am not a big fan of teams leaving the cities, but it doesn’t seem like Montreal was too fussed with the whole thing.

I like the looks of the Everest cover, but I have mixed emotions about it. Certainly a para-athlete climbing is impressive, but in general, the Everst experience is becoming one to avoid. It is so crowded climbing the mountain that you have to take a number. It is hardly the unique accomplishment it once was despite the fact that it is still very dangerous. That, and I have heard the base camp is a dump, literally.

This is one of my favorite Jordan covers from SI, which is saying something because he is on a ton of them. The casual shot of Jordan is the same essence that ESPN captured in that documentary. Easy going, life of the party. That was Jordan during the rare times when he was not bending both his opponents and teammates to his will. LeBron James has blown me away with his drive and determination, but he’s no Jordan when it comes to intensity. Then again, no one is.

SI did a piece recently about what we’re losing with pandemic. One loss is a full season of Mike Trout in his prime.

The same could be said of Sid Crosby. I don’t know if the NHL season will resume or not. It is a shame because the playoff hockey looked to be particularly competitive this year. The Capitals, Flyers, and Pens all took turns being dominant. The Stanley Cup playoffs certainly had a chance to be something special. Not sure that is going to happen now.

This cover makes me laugh but not because I don’t respect Rhonda Rousey. It was the outlandish headline. Her run was impressive, but UFC fighting, particularly with women, was hardly mainstream. To figure that she was the most dominant athlete in sport was hubris indeed. What’s the saying? Pride goeth before the fall. And, man, did Rousey fall. Hard.

True leadership is an attribute rarely seen. Not so much because individuals aren’t capable of it but because much of life is stable enough that being a good manager will often suffice. The pandemic, however, has provided that opportunity and no one seized that like Adam Silver as head of the NBA. His swift action to shut down the NBA led the way for the other sports teams to follow. I have a feeling it will be one of the “where were you when?” type of memories.

I hope everyone is hanging in there. This can’t last forever, so stay strong and stay safe.

We came out of hibernation for this?

It is April and while I have came out of my annual hibernation, it still feels like I am in a cave. The Coronavirus Pandemic has turned the whole world on its ear. I am thankful for all the healthcare professionals and first responders that are taking on this deadly virus. Meanwhile, I am shuffling along in my home office counting the days to when the curve is flattened and life can start to get back to normal. After all, even working in your pajamas gets old after a while.

I have already identified a number of stadiums for the fall tour, but everything is on hold for now. To add insult to injury, Sports Illustrated has finally made the switch from a weekly periodical to a monthly one. The man cave wall calendar is probably going to feel a bit repetitive in a few years. I need a strategy to find pre-1992 SI magazine covers to fill out my collection. Do they advertise library closings? Surprisingly, I still have about 15 – 20 covers per month that have never been on the wall. There is going to be at least one more year with new looks. Below are some of my favorites for this April.

The Washington Nationals finally got over the hump in 2019. Even though I am a Pirates fan, I give credit when credit is due. This year there will be a lot of Nats covers on the wall. Two observation with these covers. One, Washington has been good for a long time. The Harper cover was from 2015 and the Strasburg cover was from 2013. Winning championships is hard. This brings me to my second observation. Whatever Harper got out of the deal with the Phillies, was it worth not getting a ring?

The cover story strikes me as particularly relevant. It might be a stretch to say Covid-19 came from climate change. Some might say a Chinese lab is more likely. I will leave that investigation to the conspiracy nuts. However, there have been a number of studies that indicate as the earth warms the likelihood of super bugs grows.

As you might expect, April has a plethora of college basketball covers. These two have special meaning to me because I was actually at the Villanova game. The final minute of that game was as good as sports get. It was back to back clutch shots that I will never forget. The UNC fans I was sitting with were just crushed when the Wildcats sank the winner. I was glad to see them get their championship the next year. While not as significant as the loss of life, both players and fans have lost that thrill of victory for winter and spring sports this year. Covid-19 gets another set of victims.

I can’t deny it. I, too, got wrapped up in the Netflix “Tiger King” series. It was the first thing I thought of when I saw the cover of the Tiger Woods with a real tiger. I wouldn’t be surprised if Doc Antle had supplied that tiger for the photo op. There will be no Masters this year, so for the time being the Tiger King is the only tiger to watch.

There is one sports related activity that is still going on, and that’s the NFL draft. I can’t say whether Leonard Fournette was a good or bad pick at number four in 2017. Only time will answer that question. I like that cover because I fondly remember seeing him play as a LSU Tiger against Auburn. Suffice it to say, he was a man-eater in that game.

For all the science NFL teams put behind the draft, it still feels an awfully like a crap shoot. Nothing exemplifies that more than the two Browns covers for April. Cleveland had a choice between Tim Couch and Akili Smith and in reality, neither was going to be their quarterback of the future. And like Fournette, I saw Baker Mayfield give an amazing performance at Bedlam a few years ago. He has shined some in the pros, but in no way, is he “can’t miss.” The covers are a nice reminder of the continuing Cleveland failures and provide a lovely contrast to the six Steeler Super Bowl pennants on the wall opposite of the SI wall calendar.

And of course, Kobe. RIP. Til next month, stay safe.

2019 Year in Review

2019 is in the books. It was a good year despite some personal challenges. I hit eight stadiums with a couple doubles helping to smooth out the schedule. I had originally planed to hit ten, even possibly eleven games. Not unlike other seasons, by the time November came around I was running out of gas. Accordingly, I cancelled the last trip of the year to Chicago. It did not take much to convince me not to go. I mean Wisconsin in November is not exactly a big draw, walleye and cheese curds notwithstanding.

With Hawaii being one of the two opening games of the season, I convinced my wife this was the year for an island vacation. We were off to Hawaii for a week where she grudgingly agreed to go to the Arizona v. Hawaii game. Little did she know it would turn out to be one of the highlights of week. It was a 45 – 38 win for the Rainbow Warriors that came right down to the wire. It was one of the best games I have seen live. The good times continued up until a stringy haired surfer dude busted the window of our rental car in search of my wallet. Mahalo brah?!?

A couple weeks later, it was the Illinois – UConn game for Labor Day weekend. It was a sloppy game but it was still very entertaining. I was visiting my great friend Bob so I knew I was going to have good time regardless of the game. However, the UConn experience was just about right. The only downer of the weekend was a dismal experience at Gillette Stadium where the Steelers suffered a beating at the hands of the Patriots. I take solace in the fact that it was probably the highlight of the Patriots season. A loss in the Wildcard round? How do you like those apples?

But, I digress. After a couple of weeks off, it was time to see the number two team in the country. Alabama was playing host to Ole Miss in what was sure to be a blowout. It was close for about a quarter before Alabama opened it up and started scoring at will. The only consolation was that we had great seats in the shade (thanks Morgan). With all the history at Alabama, a visit to Tuscaloosa should be on your list, but with lowered expectations. The hallowed SEC has more than its share of dogs. This, along with Saban’s complaint that “no one will play us”, means Bama’s home schedule has more cupcakes than a 3rd grader’s birthday party. Early the next morning, I left my car at the Atlanta airport and flew home. The following Thursday night, I flew back to Atlanta and then made the long drive down to Mobile to see the South Alabama Jaguars host the Georgia Southern Eagles. To say I was not excited about this match up would be an understatement. I was dreading this game. I could not get anyone to go with me and I was going to Mobile. To my surprise, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The game was great, going two overtimes before Georgia Southern pulled out the win. And, Mobile had a great laid back vibe, almost like a chill New Orleans.

After such a great experience, I was looking forward to visiting UAB. The program had made great progress coming back from the dead. It was a feel good story I was looking forward to participating in. Instead, it was a debacle of epic proportions, from terrible tailgating, to weak play by the Blazers, finished by a soul crushing hour and half weather delay. I had had my fill of jorts and with my mandatory half of a game in the books, I was happy to put Birmingham in the rear view mirror.

After another break, it was time for a great northwest doubleheader. It was not my first time to Oregon, but it was my first time in the fall and I was impressed with the beauty of the state. I would say I had a good time everywhere but inside the stadiums I visited. It is always hard to blame the home team for a blowout win, but watching the Ducks run all over the Buffs (final score 45-3) got old after awhile. Of course, I did blame the Oregon State Beavers for laying an egg (final score 52-7) when the fifteenth ranked Utes came to town. But that weather – wow, what great fall scenery.

The year was wrapped up with a visit to South Bend to see the Hokies take on the Fighting Irish. Often held up as a must see destination for college football, Notre Dame did not disappoint. It was a weekend’s worth of fun with nary a drunk frat boy killing the buzz. Had the Hokies not choked away their seventeen point underdog upset, it would have been a perfect weekend. It marked the fourth game this season that came down to the wire. I couldn’t ask for much more.

And with that, here are the 2019 Stats:

Games and Teams

Total Games Attended: 8, up 2 from 2018

Best Team Seen: # 5, Oregon, far better then prior year’s Michigan (#14).

Final AP Top Twenty-Five Teams Seen: 4 versus 3 in 2018 (Oregon, Alabama, Notre Dame, Utah)

Worst Team: 4 – 8 Ole Miss, (#5 in the Bottom 10). Also making the list: UConn and South Alabama. I continue to excel at seeing some of the worst teams in the country.

Best Game Seen: Notre Dame 21 (#20) – Virginia Tech 20, 9/2/18. – Maybe not an Instant classic, but close.

Worst Game Seen:  Utah 52 – Oregon State 7 – Absolute blowout.

Bowl Game Teams Seen: 8 ( and 4 won their bowls). It was much better than last year where only 2 won.

The Players

College Award winners seen: One, Outland Trophy (Best Interior Lineman): Penei Sewell, Oregon, one more than 2018.

All Americans: 11  A great year with plenty of help from Alabama.

The Stadiums (of 2019 visits)

Best Stadium: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Indiana. A must on any college football fan’s bucket list.

Worst Stadium: Legion Field, UAB, Birmingham, AL. – Thank god they are building one on campus, because it was a dump with lousy customer service as well.

Best Game Day Experience: Notre Dame (but we had a suprisingly good time at UConn as well). Pricey for sure, but the tradition, ohh the tradition.

Easiest Stadium to Get To: Reser Stadium, Oregon State. Navigating Corvallis was easy and there are multiple tailgating options along the way.

Hardest Stadium to Get To: Aloha Stadium, Hawaii – I mean it isn’t exactly a quick trip from anywhere.

Best Concessions: Aloha Stadium, Hawaii. Plenty of variety from local vendors.

Worst Concessions: Ladd Peebles, South Alabama. No souvenir cup.

Best Souvenir: Oregon, A ton of free little flashlights

Worst Souvenir: UConn, $31 for a hat? I think not.

Best Cup: Oregon, but Notre Dame was not far behind

Worst Cup: UAB, but at least they had a cup. Shame on you Hawaii and South Alabama.

The Costs

Total Season Spend: $4,800 ($3,500 ex mileage) not including Hawaii which was really a vacation as well; Ave per Game: ~$600 (ex mileage ~$433) down nearly $100

Most Expensive Ticket: Colorado vs Oregon – $50 actual (Stubhub) with a $80 face

Cheapest Ticket: Alabama – Free!

Average Ticket Price Paid: $25 (up $8 over previous year)

Average Savings on Tickets over face: $14 saved per ticket

Miscellaneous

Miles Driven: ~2,300  vs prior year 2,400

Miles Flown: ~16,000 (Hawaii, Albany (to UConn), Atlanta, Oregon, Chicago)

Two Game Weeks: Two – South Alabama / UAB; Oregon / Oregon State

Best Fans: Oregon. The guys around me were a lot of fun.

Worst Fans: UAB, but to be fair, they weren’t too bad.

Most Pleasant Surprise: South Alabama- Mobile was really pretty cool.

Most Unpleasant Surprise: UAB, I now have a new worst stadium.

2019 was also the year of AirBnb.