With just a few days remaining in the calendar year, it seems appropriate for a Sports Illustrated Cover Top 100 Countdown from ’79-’89. To give you a little background, it was on a cold Sunday morning in January of 1979 while watching a Steelers playoff game with my parents in our living room that I decided I was going to start collecting Sports Illustrated covers. Not the mags, but just the covers. I could barely even use a pair of scissors due to being left handed in a right hand world, but that day I cut (or ripped) my first cover (picture of Terry Bradshaw sliding on his behind) and that led to a 10 year hobby. Somehow I’ve managed to hang on to most of these gems in boxes for over 35 years and I still feel the need to return to them every 5 years to have a look. Like a Merle Haggard song from the late ’60’s, that ‘ol box of musty covers just seems to get better with age. These covers have survived 12 moves, three women with serious aspirations to trash them and now a toddler who would like nothing more than to get her little mits on them. A few select covers even had the honor of being placed in frames and hung down the hallway of the legendary City Dump on Polk St, where they miraculously survived countless drunk admirers, wig parties, roomie rock, fist fights, hound dogs, street people, fires, projectile vomiting, 300lb men on dope, and a guy named Saskatchewan McEnroe, aka Sas-Mac.
I have to admit, selecting the Top 100 seemed like it would be a nice little one evening project in my head, but the reality was it became a torturous 4 hour ordeal just to sort and pick. There is a lot of gold to be found here and to cut somebody like Earl Campbell, Fennis Dembo or Jack Sikma was excruciating. In fact I’m sure if I had to make the selections over again the order would come out significantly different.
Anyways, here is my personal, West Coast- Bay Area biased #100-#50. I’ll post the remaining #49-#1 in groups of 10 over the next few weeks leading up to the New Year. Enjoy the trip down memory lane!
100. The Great John Stallworth. Before the Niners stole our hearts, the Steelers were kings of the NFL and I loved the variety of tremendous characters led by Chuck Knoll. Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Stallworth, Lynn Swan, Rocky Bleier, Jack Lambert, Mean Joe Green, LC Greenwood, Jack Ham, etc.
99. Dave Parker and Jim Rice: This cover used to speak to me when I was a kid. Loved the Pirate hat and Rice high pull of the pant.
98. Wade Boggs – I just Love the headline!
97. Who’s #1. The name Jarvis Redwine is in my top 5 all time athlete names. Good ‘Ol Boy College Football
96. Jim “Machine Gun” Kelly of the USFL. The whole idea of the breakaway league that was going head to head with the NFL is a boggler.
95. Ozzie Smith showing his wizardry. What an entertainer. I think the back-flip onto the field sold me as a kid.
94. LC Greenwood leading The Steel Curtain: What a beast! I know athletes have become bigger, stronger, faster over the last 20 years but this guy would be crushing RB’s and QB’s if he was on the field this weekend.
93. ‘Nique! You gotta love Dominque. Scoring machine and second best game dunker ever. The best……Vince Carter.
92. Jack, The Golden Bear: The all-time Major winner looks to be safe with Tiger’s flame out. I’ll be curious to see if Speith can make a run at him.
91. Sidney Moncrief and Nellie’s Bucks: Great uniforms. The 5 time All-Star was able get to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, but just couldn’t get to the Finals.
90. Vinny T. leading The U – Love the mention of the cream-puff schedule. Which program was more scandalous: The U in the ’80’s or Jerry Tarkanians Runnin Rebels?
89. Big Game James Worthy: The Ultimate Driving Machine may have been overshadowed by Jordan at UNC and Magic in LA, but what a talent. First step and hands to die for.
88. Mr October Going Deep. Reggie watching the long ball.
87. Rookie Sensation Fernando Valenzuela. As a 20 year old out of nowhere, Fernando came out of the gate 8-0 with a ERA of 0.5 and won Rookie of the Year, The Cy Young and the World Series.
86. Hugh Green- Always loved the cat in the back ground
85. John Riggins at play. Didn’t he live off the land with just his bare hands from Mon-Sat?
84. Isiah Thomas: He became a villain in the NBA because of his spats with Jordan and Bird, but damn what a player! How many guys have cut the nets in the NCAA’s and led a team to the NBA title?
83. AJ Foyt: Super Tex is plain old Super Badass. He could drive anything from sprint cars, Indy, Stock and even won LeMans in a GT40. Love the red gloves!
82. Marcus Allen: SC is easy to hate, but Marcus is still my favorite from Tailback U.
81. Steve Garvey- Damn he’s handsome! That guy should be in shampoo and cologne ads. Can only imagine the groupie stories.
80. Sebastian Coe: My Dad is a track fan so this was news in our household. The mile may just be the greatest test of man and should be relevant again.
79. The Admiral David Robinson. I love how the Navy recruited a 6’6″ senior in HS and a few years later had a 7′ H-O-F center on their hands. Sorry, no subs for you David.
78. Rollie Fingers. They just don’t make ’em like this anymore. Too cool!
77. The General Robert Montgomery Knight. The maniacal genius coach in a great red blazer.
76. Mary Lou: The diminutive Mary Lou captivated all of us in the LA ’84 Soviet Boycotted Summer Games. Especially Niven!
75. Carl Lewis: When the Lord created a man for running and jumping this is he. What a freak!
74. Herschel Walker: Beastly freshman tearing up the SEC.
73. Nolan Ryan – The never to be touched strike out king about to unleash another 100mph fastball. This guy was still throwing triple digits and mowing down batters into his 40’s.
72. Patrick Ewing: The days of the surefire #1 draft pick seem to gone but when a team landed a Ewing or Shaq, it was time to celebrate.
71. Sugar Ray Leonard: One thing that you realize when going through these covers, boxing was a really big deal back in the day. I loved the era of Sugar Ray, Duran, Hagler, and Hit Man Hearns.
70. Mo Malone: The Chairman of the Boards joined Dr J and crew and brought a title to Philly.
69. Chris Jackson aka Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf: This guy averaged 30/gm his freshman year of college and became an instant favorite of mine.
68. Terry Cummings: After getting his autograph and falling hard for his DePaul Blue Demons, I was thrilled when Terry was Rookie of the Year.
67. Bradshaw: Here it is! This is the first cover that I ever collected. Notice the horrible rip job on the left side.
66. Genuine Risk: Not only was this my first exposure to The Derby, this was my first exposure to winning a gambling pot. I remember that my mom put together a pool and my Philly led the field home at Churchill Downs.
65. Collingsworth: He drove me nuts back in the day because he almost beat the Niners, but I love him in the booth now and wow what hair!
64. Ewing: Pro Ewing is one thing, but Georgetown Ewing is what I remember. Love the T under the jersey.
63. Bill Walton: I remember getting this and thinking who the hell is this guy? My dad said, “That’s the best player I’ve ever seen,” and I thought he had lost his mind. Little did I know the history of Big Red.
62. ’84 Winter Olympics. I had Olympic fever that year and was a huge fan of Scotty, the Mahre brothers and Squaw Valleys own, Tamara McKinney.
61. Bernard King: Loved this man’s game! He could drop 50 with drives to the hoop on any night. Check out Tripucka with perm looking the wrong way.
60. Eric Dickerson: My vote for best back ever. Look at the upright shifty running position. Was he a robot?
59. Keith Hernandez: What a great cover. Fitting that this guy also became part of pop culture lore with a role on Seinfeld. It’s good to be Keith!
58. Ro Blackman and The Oregon St Beavs: I got to watch Ralph Miller’s Beavers that year and fell in love with them immediately. Lester Connor was incredible and the names Johnson, Radford and Bloom still come to mind instantly. Heart breaking to see them lose to K-St.
57. Round Mound of Rebound- Charles Barkley: All time player and character. Can’t get enough Chuck.
56. Craig “The Walrus” Stadler: That was a fun day at Augusta when The Walrus won in a playoff.
55. John McEnroe: No athlete was better theater than McEnroe. I remember being in shock watching his tirades, but at the same time thinking that I’m going to do the same thing in my sporting life.
54. John Jefferson: I loved the Chargers Air Raid offense and JJ was my guy. I had his poster on my wall for a good 3 years.
53. Pops Stargell/Bradshaw: What a couple of characters! Did either one of these two ever lift a single weight in their lives? That is just country strength.
52. Wayne Gretzky: The young great one sporting excellent 80’s hockey hair.
51. Danny and the Miracles: I was pulling for Sean Elliott and the AZ Wildcats in this tourney, but Danny and the Miracles made for a good story. Check out former NBA GM Kevin Pritchard in the back.
50. Pete Rose: Charlie Hustle. Love the dirty uni and helmet and look at that stance! Is that a two inch strike zone? Kids should study this and just rake singles all day long.