Couldn’t win the big one, and other questionable SI cover subjects

Another month of endless days of this pandemic. No Olympics, MLB is best experienced live and the Penguins made another embarrassingly quick exit of the NHL playoff bubble. Sigh. Sports this summer is like eating a bad frozen pizza – you go in with low expectations and it still disappoints you.

That and some Facebook inspiration from Bill Berger brings me to the Sports Illustrated Cover wall calendar theme for August: Players that couldn’t win the big one. Encapsulated within that topic includes underachievers and the overrated.

It actually is quite a high bar. Generally speaking, they don’t put just any shmoes on the cover. It is rare to find the truly unworthy and I found myself making the harshest of cuts.

As an example, take Vinny Testaverde. He did win a Heisman Trophy and played twenty-one years in the NFL. He does also lead the NFL in career losses at 123. I once stood two hours in line to get his autograph on NFL footballs for my kids. They have an honored space in the bottom of a trunk in the garage.

A number of other quarterbacks made the wall this month. Among others, it includes Richard Todd, Steve Spurrier (from his Tampa Bay Bucs days), Bernie Kosar (which seems really unfair – but really between him and the Countess Consuelo Crespi who would you pick?), and two other would’ves and could’ves. Keith Vander Kelen was a Rose Bowl MVP despite his Badgers losing the game. Unfortunately his pro-career was more of a disappointment as he spent the vast majority of his career backing up Fran Tarkenton. Likewise Don Trull was an All American QB at Baylor but has 61.3 lifetime passer rating in the NFL.

Kristie Phillips won the 1987 U.S. National Gymnastics Championship and was an early favorite for gold in the 1988 games. Alas a recurring wrist injury and a disappointing 45th place at the World Championships ruined her confidence and she only made the U.S. Olympic team as an alternate to the games. She rebounded to have a strong cheerleading career at LSU, eventually competed again in gymnastics and end up in the Hall of Fame. However, she never materialized as the next Mary Lou Retton.

I couldn’t resist selecting the socialite Clare Booth Luce for the wall. Her primary sporting credentials appear to have been being the spouse of Sports Illustrated publisher Henry Luce. While she probably didn’t deserve an SI cover, she was a Congresswoman, Broadway playwright, and Ambassador to Italy. It is an extremely impressive resume. Being rich certainly didn’t hurt, but it would be hard to say she squandered the opportunities wealth provides.

SI has also over hyped athletes from time to time. The article on Mike Peterson came to fruition after Peterson’s barber sent SI a letter extolling his skills as a once-in-a-lifetime athlete. Peterson was an above average high school athlete, nothing more.

It isn’t just people but teams as well. A number of covers this month were of team’s that didn’t quite meet expectations such as an overrated Arizona Wildcat team that was picked to win the national title but finished 8-4. I remember receiving that issue, looking at the cover and thinking “Arizona is number one?!? WTF!”

SI also jumped on the soccer bandwagon in the ’70s. I do like soccer but nearly 50 years later, it is still a tier two spectator sport in the U.S.

I will finish with Evel Knievel. It is hard to forget the hype surrounding his attempting to jump across Snake River Canyon in a motorcycle. Ultimately, the jump was in “rocket powered cycle” which was really just a rocket off a ramp. The shoot deployed early and the rocket drifted back over the canyon, floating harmlessly to canyon floor. It was a huge failure and an early life lesson that things are not always as impressive you think they will be. It was the end of my Evel Knievel action figure, wind up motorcycle and matching lunch box. And more significantly, the start of the end of my innocence.

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.