Sports Illustrated Fifty Years of Great Writing and Sports Illustrated The Anniversary Book
A review by Leard R. Daughety
January 29, 2005
In 2004, Sports Illustrated celebrated fifty years of publication. Besides covering the half-century in its weekly issues, two books marking the
anniversary were also released, one at the beginning of the year and one near the end. Sports Illustrated Fifty Years of Great Writing and Sports Illustrated The Anniversary Book are companion books that seek to chronicle and preserve the major sports personalities and events of that period as well as the history of the magazine itself. While there are no Nobel or Pulitzer prizes awarded for sports writing, during its fifty years several writers who achieved those accolades contributed pieces for SI's readers. In the introduction to Fifty Years, a partial list of these authors is given which also includes the name of one Duke (no it wasn't John Wayne) and one United States President. The Anniversary Book is a composition of the very best photographs and excerpts from all of its issues. There are pages that show miniatures of each cover of every year except for 2004 which has thirty. Two pages are devoted to the issues featuring the swimsuit covers. Whether you agree or disagree with the "sport" in these editions, at least no one looking at them can use the excuse that they "are just reading the articles" because they do not have any. The Anniversary Book showcases the humorous side of sports in "They Said It" and "Signs of the Apocalypse". Some of those that caught my eye are:"Joe Theisman who said: 'The word genius isn't applicable in football. A genius is a guy like Norman Einstein'."
"Sacramento King Bobby Hurley who asked a high school teacher if 'Beirut was named after that famous baseball player who hit home runs'."
"Elden Campbell, a forward for the Los Angeles Lakers, when he was asked if he had earned his degree from Clemson: 'No, but they gave me one anyway'."
"Betsy Cronkite, who replied after hearing that her husband Walter's wish was to die on a 60 foot yacht with a 16 year old mistress: 'He's more likely to die on a 16 foot yacht with a 60 year old mistress.'"
"Thirty-five Kansas City football fans last week (Jan. 22, 1996) signed up for Chief's Grief, a therapy session designed to help people get over the team's Jan. 7 loss to the Indianapolis Colts." I wonder how many Colts fans signed up for therapy this year after watching their team lose to the Patriots.
"Angered by a call during a soccer game in South Africa, a player pulled a knife and charged the referee, who got a gun from the sideline and shot the player dead."
"The babycenter.com website offers a Sports Conflict Catcher to help prospective parents plan pregnancies so childbirth won't conflict with major sports events."
Fifty Years of Great Writing offers quite a contrast to the Anniversary Book. The only photographs that you will find in this volume are on the jacket cover. The emphasis is instead, as it should be, on the best stories of the past fifity years published in their entirety. "The Coach and His Champion" is the story of John Wooden, the former UCLA basket ball coach who talks about the greatest champion that he was ever in the company of-his wife. Whether you enjoy horse racing or have no interest in it whatsoever, I recommend "Kentucky: May: Saturday" and "Pure Heart". Kentucky is written by William Faulkner, who in the spring of 1955 went there to write about the Kentucky Derby favorite, Nashua. Faulkner's beautifully descriptive prose is more about the land, the horses, and the people around the race track than it is the "Big Horse". You find yourself being drawn into a world in the same manner that you are when you read Faulkner's novels, while forgetting for a moment that the story is part of a sports anthology. "Pure Heart" is the thrilling and powerful tale of Secretariat, who won the Triple Crown of racing in 1973. If you were old enough then, you remember the excitement that this "athlete" created as it seemed as though he was embodied with as much human spirit as he was horse flesh.
The last chapter of Great Writing is entitled simply, "The Best There Ever Was" by Frank Deford. There are no apologies for the title, neither does Deford use any phrases like "except for", "at his position" or "during his era". The just over four page article was written less than two weeks after the death of its subject, Johnny Unitas. Deford writes about Unitas from the standpoint of a Baltimore native and what it was like to live in that city during the time that Unitas and his team mates played there.
While The Anniversary Book and Fifty Years of Great Writing are very different in content and format, they also share some things in common. Both books are arranged so that they can be enjoyed at the reader's convenience and both contain one forgivable absence-an index. Whether you are a sports fan or participant, are absolutely oblivious to sports and prefer to stay that way or have had your fill of today's egotistical, muti-million dollar athletes, I think you might enjoy these books. I would also recommend them to that person who seldom ever picks up a book or thinks that a visit to the library is some creative form of parental punishment. More than anything, these two books remind us that some of the best writing that is produced can be found in the most common of places, the sports page.