Ann Crider should be happy to know I’ve been having quite a bit of fun going through the old issues of Sports Illustrated from 1957 and ’58 that she gifted me, especially with all the extra COVID-19-induced time at home.
Truth be told, from my attraction to Turner Classic Movies to old books and on to my favorite type of writing I like to do, if it’s a crime to live in the past, I’m guilty as charged, for indeed I’m an inveterate nostalgist.
During my growing-up 1960s, the magazine many simply called SI had so very much to do with the teaching career that would choose me during my undergrad years at Miami University. The magazine, once upon a time, was so very blessed with an outstanding staff of writers, such as Frank Deford, Walter Bingham, Robert Creamer and Dan Jenkins, who, without my even realizing it, would show me how semicolons were correctly used, how parallel items-in-a-series sentences were constructed and which side of the S the apostrophe went long before my classroom teachers did.
Sadly, because of the shifting tides in the newsprint world, SI has changed so very much. From a magazine five years ago that still pumped out a weekly edition just as it had each year since its inception in 1954, it has morphed to a publication that produces just one issue a month. With four special issues and the swimsuit issue, that means just 17 total over 12 months.
The 1957 editions were the early years before my parents got me my first subscription starting in 1961. The first edition of Ann’s I opened was dated Nov. 4, 1957. The cover featured Minnesota Golden Gopher quarterback Bobby Cox, sans facemask, who became an early example of the notorious Sports Illustrated jinx, where supposedly any athlete that graced an issue’s cover would soon find his bubble burst. The next spring, Cox, whom Sports Illustrated proclaimed the nation’s best college quarterback, was drafted by the NFL’s Rams, cut in the preseason and never played a down in the NFL.
The issue also featured NBA team previews for a league that had only been around since 1949-‘50, making it, like SI, still a baby. Particular props were given to the Boston Celtics, a team that had just won its very first NBA championship the previous season. The preview said the team’s prospects were good, which just may have been the biggest sports understatement ever written, since the Celtics were about to go on an unprecedented run, winning 11 more championships over the next 13 years.
I also found the article on college football fascinating because among the elite teams discussed, besides schools that are still good today (Ohio State, Notre Dame, Oklahoma), there were also schools like Duke and Army, surely not elite today. As for the players mentioned, well, they would be the ones a few years later as pros that were on the football cards I still have, players like John Crowe, a Texas A&M halfback who would add the middle name David by the time he would become a St. Louis Cardinal; Jimmy Taylor, an LSU running back who one day would become the answer to a trivia question as the only back to outgain the great Jim Brown in a given season; and Iowa Hawkeye defensive lineman Alex Karras before his days as a Detroit Lion and that smudge on his resume, a year-long suspension in 1963 for betting on NFL games.
As I went from page to page, I took notice of how different the magazine was before my introduction to it. There was a long feature on a luxury boat called the Oceanus, named for the Greek mythological Titan son of Uranus and Gaia, and another pictorial feature entitled “Europe’s Girls Show Their New Sweaters,” which I took to be the late ‘50s forerunner to the swimsuit edition that wouldn’t arrive until 1964, just in time for my pals’ and my eighth-grade awakenings.
Of course, I also found interesting the ads, which in old newsprint are always a sociological peek into the window of by-gone days. There were plenty of ads for hard liquor and plenty more for trench coats. While, of course, liquor has always been in vogue, the trench coat is now a relic rarely seen since Don Draper of Mad Men made his exit in 2015.
And, my, wouldn’t Merri Hanjora, who gives us our weekly “Real Wheels,” love featuring what I saw on a two-page color ad, the 1958 Chevy Bel Air Impala with its big-block V-8.
A subscription card was still stapled in the magazine, something as a kid a few years later I would always found odd since I was already receiving the magazine. For just $7.50 a year, that magazine was slid into Frank and Ann Crider’s mailbox every week back in a time when a gas-station attendant would fill a 16-gallon tank for about five bucks and just a few years before a fidgety St. Charles fifth-grader would fall in love with a magazine.
Thanks again, Ann, for reminding me of what Sports Illustrated once meant.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.