ED NOTE: My tour of Nuptials continues on for yet another week (Good luck Ethan and Amy and Kim and Guy. ((those are two separate couples who held two separate weddings, not one wacky remake of a 1970’s George Segal swingers movie) ) While we’re always happy to have John from 200 Miles from the Citi to pinch-hit, this week we welcome a very special guest into the batter’s box. A couple of months back, we interviewed Michael Weinreb, author of the great book, “Bigger Than The Game.” (If you haven’t read it yet, GET ON THAT! What else are you doing with your time? It’s not like you go to weddings every weekend. That’s only me.) This week, Michael returns the favor, reviewing SI and giving us a glimpse into his psyche. Also, he uses asterisks. And when you’re done reading this, check out his website.
And so, without further ado, ladies and Gentleman, Michael Weinreb..
I am sitting in a narrow, high-ceilinged room in Brooklyn, New York, next to a stack of Sports Illustrated magazines from the year 1986. I purchased these periodicals on EBay, ostensibly in order to research my most recent book; I purchased them because, at the time, the SI Vault did not yet exist. But I also purchased them because I owned them once before, and then my parents euthanized them, and I will never forgive my mother and father, both for that decision and for the events that took place the night of Ari Grossman’s Bar Mitzvah, which cannot be recounted on young Justin’s family-friendly website.
I have an extracted an issue at random*: February 24, 1986, an unforgettable cover, addressed to the equally unforgettable Mr. Ronald A. Fussell of Westfield Drive in San Antonio, Texas. It is adorned with the logos of the three major networks**above a console television set and a high-tech cable box tuned to Channel 3 (which, in the basic cable plan of my youth, was always PBS. And nobody covered sports like McNeil and Lehrer). The headline contained within this retro idiot box: WHY TV SPORTS ARE IN BIG TROUBLE.
Now, as we all know, televised events were once a major part of the sporting landscape, before they were replaced by transistor radios and carrier pigeons. But let us not just celebrate the obvious prescience of Sports Illustrated; let us dig down to its innards. Most notably, the commercial material: On Page 5, the advertisement for Statis Pro Football and Statis Pro Baseball, the TWO GREATEST SPORTING BOARD GAMES EVER DEVISED BY MANKIND;***on Page 23, the advertisement for TRUE GOLD cigarettes (“Blended for Smoothness”); on Pages 44-45, the promo card for Time-Life Books’ “The Enchanted World” series, beginning with Wizards and Witches and carrying through Blood-Sucking Parasitic Zombies; and of course, the back-page solicitation, from Pioneer electronics, in which a Rick Springfield impersonator, sitting in front of a shelf of books that appear to have been acquired from the $1 tables at The Strand, declares, “A CD PLAYER THAT’LL PLAY SIX DISCS? I SAID I’D TAKE IT BEFORE THE SALESMAN EVER OPENED HIS MOUTH. (AND NOW I WILL PUT ON PHIL COLLINS’ ‘NO JACKET REQUIRED’ AND TORTURE A PAIR OF PROSTITUTES.)”
So there you have it. Sports Illustrated: Prophesizing the future of America in 79 glossy pages. Like the works of Nostradamus, but with glossy 2-foot by 3-foot promotional posters of Gary Hogeboom available for mail-order, and letters to the editor requesting Paulina Porizkova’s digits, and hirsute men slowly contracting lung cancer. Also, Frank Deford, Bill Nack, Rick Reilly and Jack McCallum at the peak of their careers, many of whom are the reason I became writer in the first place.**** But hell, only an idiot reads magazines for the articles.
And now, on to modernity—the issue of October 4, 2010:
Letters—You will notice in this section a curious missive criticizing Penn State coach Joe Paterno for starting a true freshman at quarterback. And the letter is from: Ted Williams, of Bel Air, Md. That’s right: Ted Williams is critcizing Joe Paterno! Cryogenics is not only a success, it convinces its subjects to advocate for freshman ineligibility!
Scorecard—Michael Vick apparently has an affinity for canines. Friday Night Lights is nearing its end. Dick Enberg wrote a play. Jim Furyk won an overnight shipment of something. Drugs. Gambling. Suicide. Don Nelson. Retired aerospace engineers swimming the butterfly. And the number 18.
Inside the NFL, Fantasy Football, College Football, Baseball, Bowling, Rounders–Dick Enberg wrote a play?*****
Contender or Pretender, by Austin Murphy—Apparently, Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore (who, in a just world, will win the Heisman Trophy, but since the world is unjust, some zany-haired Big Ten quarterback who can’t even tie his own shoes will walk away with it) lives next door to a rooster. This raises many questions, none of them with simple answers: Does the rooster attend fraternity parties? Is the rooster enrolled in classes, or is it merely taking some time off to find itself? These are the questions I would have liked Murphy to answer. Instead, he quotes some lofty book about farm animals by George Orwell, a Communist sympathizing America-hating Obamaite who no doubt would have frowned upon a fowl pledging Theta Chi.
Who Needs Big Ben, by Jim Trotter—On a serious note, I do think SI has improved greatly over the past couple of years, thanks to new(er) writers like Trotter and Lee Jenkins and Joe Posnanski and Thomas Lake and Jon Wertheim and Grant Wahl and several others I am forgetting. Sometimes it is SI’s job to eloquently state the obvious—as with this story, which does a solid job of reminding us exactly why the Steelers are good without Ben Roethlisberger, and I’m sure is very good, except I became distracted by the GPS advertisement on the facing page. Tagline: “IT AVOIDS TRAFFIC LIKE I AVOID TOFU.” Is there a concern among GPS buyers that their mapping system is not “masculine” enough? That it may start surreptitiously directing them toward yoga studios and frozen yogurt parlors? I would like to find the copywriter who came up with this, stuff him/her in a closet, and force him/her to smoke a carton of TRUE GOLD cigarettes in order to affirm his/her overbearing manhood.
The Last Stand of Billy the Kid, by Michael Bamberger—And now a T.S. Eliot quote? Come on, SI. If I wanted a lesson in literature, I’d send my rooster to college.******
This issue culminates with a multi-page preview of a sport I’m not familiar with, though it apparently is played by white men of Eastern European background who do not use shampoo. Also, there’s a photo of Steve Carlton, because unlike TRUE GOLD, Carlton Is Lowest. Finally, two regular features: Peter King Thinks He Thinks Several Things, and Selena Roberts Dislikes Statues. And on the opposite page, there is Brett Favre with his dog, no doubt thinking about writing a play.
*This is a lie. But randomness is also a lie.
**For those who do not recall the 1980s, the three major networks were UPN, QVC and C-SPAN 2. All three network news programs were anchored by Kurt Loder.
***Each game was euthanized by my parents in 1989. What I do remember is that Rick Honeycutt was especially unhittable.
****In fact, here are three of greatest SI stories of all time, each penned by writers who are often “dissed” by the aspiring talents of the blogosphere. I urge you to read them all immediately, back to back, while neglecting your vocational duties, spouse and children:
- The Rabbit Hunter, by Frank Deford
(This my favorite SI piece of all time. In fact, I also command you to track down a collection of Deford’s called “The World’s Tallest Midget.” The man could bring it.)
- How We Got Here, by Steve Rushin
(For those who think Rushin’s career is nothing more than cute poetry or puns.)
(ED NOTE: I think he means me)
- Heaven Help Marge Schott, by Rick Reilly
*****On a side note, I wonder if Joe Sheehan ever thinks up a topic for the Inside Baseball column and thinks to himself, “Is this too inside baseball? In which case, it’s perfect for this column.”
******Feel free to adopt “I’m sending my rooster to college” as a euphemism.