There are only a few things I'm sure about. One of those is that 32 is the best number in sports. Thirty-two is Jim Brown running, Sandy Koufax throwing thunderbolts, Magic Johnson on the fast break. Thirty-two is a Bill Walton outlet pass, Steve Carlton breaking off a nasty slider, Josh Hamilton coming all the way back.
That's why there are 32 SPORTS ILLUSTRATED covers here. The SI cover has meant a lot to me ever since I was a kid racing out to the mailbox to get my issue. Who is on the cover this week? George Brett? Michael Jordan? A rabid dog? A bunch of words? My world revolved around the cover of SI. And it wasn't only my world. The SI cover has come to represent glory and jinxes, sports heroes and huge disappointments, shocking stories and moments of triumph.
So I put together my 32 favorites. Well, I didn't do it alone. I went to some people here at the magazine and some of my writer friends, people who have also found their worlds sparked by an SI cover. This isn't a list of the 32 best covers. (After all, how does one choose between, say, the action-packed Sidney Moncrief or the graceful Dr. J that appear on the preceding pages?) There is too much that goes into a good cover to choose the "best"—there's emotional value, artistic value, thepower of the moment. No, these are my 32 favorite covers.
SPORTS ILLUSTRATED: THE COVERS
The stars. The triumphs. The controversies. And, of course, the jinxes. For a complete collection of SI's covers, check out this handsome anthology, available wherever books are sold or at SI.com/thecoversbook
32 Pro Football Issue
September 8, 1980
THURSDAY WAS SPORTS ILLUSTRATED day, the day it showed up in our mailbox. And the anticipation was the best part of the day. In those early teenage years I needed something special every day, something to get me through, something to get me closer to the weekend. I'd stare up at the clock on the wall at school, grumbling to myself about how the minute hand didn't seem to be moving, and I'd think about who might be on the cover. It could be anyone. There was a special-guest-star feel to it, sort of like how you never knew who was going to be on The Love Boat. Yes, it could be anyone—though the reality tended to be less romantic. In the case of SI, it was often Muhammad Ali; in the case of The Love Boat, it was usually Florence Henderson.
I grew up in Cleveland, and throughout my childhood there was never a Cleveland athlete on the cover. Until this one: the Pro Football Issue. There's one of my heroes, Dave Logan, reaching for a ball with one hand as a Pittsburgh defensive back stretched back hopelessly. Logan had the best hands of any receiver I ever saw. I have no doubt he will catch the ball and beat the world champion Steelers. I have no doubt. That is the first SI cover that I remember getting, probably because it's the first Cleveland cover of my childhood.
31 Jim Thome