Sports Illustrated in the 1980s

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I owe my childhood football, basketball, and baseball fandom to growing up in Ohio, where sports allegiance is a food group (along with meat, pop, and potatoes). I owe my childhood obsession with sports to Sports Illustrated.

There is plenty of discussion about how the Internet killed tapes, CDs, videocassettes, and DVDs, but less has been said and written about how the Internet killed magazines. I’ve written before about the dorky things that excited me as a child, such as Scholastic Book Fairs and trips to the library, so obviously a magazine arriving in the mail was one of the highlights of my week. In the future I’ll dive into some of the my other magazine subscriptions, such as Boy’s Life, SI for Kids, Highlights, and Esquire and GQ in my teen years, but today I’m going to write about 1987, when my father got a Sports Illustrated subscription.

For a kid who was sports starved in 1987 and was still years away from getting cable, ABC’s Wide World of Sports, This Week in Baseball, network broadcasts, and the Morning Journal sports section were okay, but the introduction of Sports Illustrated to my sports diet expanded my reach considerably. I grabbed the issue from the pile of mail on the kitchen table every Thursday and read it from cover to cover, then most of those covers ended up tacked on my bedroom wall or cut into collages.

There is so much about Sports Illustrated that expanded my knowledge of sports in the 1980s and contributed to the culture, and I’d like to discuss a few now:

Year in Review and Sports Bloopers Videocassettes

Sports Illustrated highlight videos allowed me to revisit championships and the major sports stories of each year at a time when there was no YouTube or on-demand for reliving sports moments. The highlight tapes allowed me to watch San Francisco beat the Bengals in the Super Bowl whenever I wanted. In one of the first essays for this website I talked about Light Moments in Sports 1986 and how among other things, it made me into a NY Mets fan. This fandom was perpetuated when the Mets made another run against the Dodgers in 1988, and given that I only had access to AL games through the Indians broadcasts and whatever the game of the week was, this fandom existed entirely due to these tapes, baseball cards, and the magazine.

The other side of Sports Illustrated videocassettes were sports blooper tapes, and I nearly wore mine out. There is nothing funnier to a child than somebody running into somebody else and falling down, tripping over a base and falling down, jumping against the outfield wall and falling down, dribbling out of bounds and falling down, tripping over the yard marker and falling down; falling down = funny. Before concussions were part of the public consciousness big hits videocassettes were also a Sports Illustrated feature, and it probably says something about me being a dumb kid that I grouped those with the blooper videos. I watched the heck out of those as well.

The Accessories

We only ever received videocassettes as our promotional gifts because the Football Phone is easily one of the most important inventions of the 20th Century. If Sports Illustrated had only been formed to push football phones it would have been worth it.

The Swimsuit Issue

Another thing that the popularity of the Internet has killed is the concept of swimsuit models as celebrities. Kathy Ireland, Elle MacPherson, and Cindy Crawford were actual stars, and appeared in television commercials and even occasionally in movies. If anybody under 35 accidentally landed on this article and somehow made it this far, they were the 20th century’s version of Instagram models.

Given that I was 6 years old when we began subscribing to Sports Illustrated it makes sense that my father would hide the swimsuit issue when it arrived, not that I would have cared about it anyway had I seen it. BUT, it was a banner day when I was 11 and discovered the hiding place.

Memorable Issues

Any Issue that Featured Cleveland on the Cover

The cover image for this essay is of Joe Carter and Cory Snyder for the MLB preview issue. That issue actually convinced me Cleveland might win it all (they didn’t). The cover above featuring Bernie Kosar found its way to my bedroom wall alongside Carter and Snyder. Cleveland never won anything when I was a kid but the prospect of it happening was something I celebrated every time.

Hagler-Leonard

The run-up to Marvelous Marvin Hagler facing Sugar Ray Leonard as reported in Sports Illustrated left me convinced that this was going to be one of the biggest sports moments of the 1980s, and it is now enshrined in my brain as such even though 1) Hagler got robbed, and 2) I hadn’t seen the entire fight and formed my impressions based upon the coverage on the year in review videocassette and the account in Sports Illustrated, which is also why I decided at the time Hagler did not get robbed because I liked Leonard more (because I was supposed to, and because I was a dumb kid).

Sports Illustrated and Sunday afternoon fights on ABC made me a boxing fan. RIP Marvelous.

The 35th Anniversary Issue

This kicked off my love for “in review” issues of magazines. This whole time I was preparing myself for listicles. This particular issue also featured a “100th anniversary” piece taking place in 2054 and I freaked myself out thinking about what it would be like when I am 74 years old. Now that’s only 34 years away. Yikes.

Sports Illustrated is an awful clickbait site now because venture capitalists bought and are in the process of stripping it for parts, but 30+ years ago it made me love sports.

Thanks for reading! Come back for new essays, and buy my book if you’re so inclined.

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