Home Entertainment Farewell Sports Illustrated: 10 Covers That Rocked the World

Farewell Sports Illustrated: 10 Covers That Rocked the World

by Scott Kacsmar
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Sports Illustrated Covers

The future of Sports Illustrated (SI) is in doubt after the publisher missed a licensing payment and began cutting staff in January. Things have been heading down the wrong path for years now at SI, a sign of the growing issues with print media in an evolving world of technology.

First published in 1954, SI has been the most prominent sports magazine in circulation. From a history of great writers to the Sportsperson of the Year award to the annual swimsuit issue, SI was the go-to magazine for sports fans for decades.

Over that time, many covers have become burnt into the minds of sports fans, and some athletes arguably would not be as popular as they are today if not for appearing on the cover of SI.

We also cannot forget about the SI Cover Jinx, the longstanding myth that appearing on the cover would jinx the athlete or team featured, leading soon after to an injury or disappointing loss in the playoffs.

With the future of the magazine industry in peril, we are looking back at 10 of the most iconic SI covers that rocked the world. There will never be a sports publication quite like this again. It was a moment in time that captured many great moments in time.

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10 Tony Mandarich (1992)

Just a few years after his famous SI cover that called him the best offensive line prospect ever, Tony Mandarich returned to SI in 1992 with the reputation of being an incredible bust. The Packers got rid of him after 3 disappointing seasons, and there were concerns over steroid use.

Mandarich returned to the NFL in 1996 with the Colts and actually started 10 games at right guard in 1998 for Peyton Manning’s rookie season. But he never came anywhere close to being a success in the NFL.

9 Michael Jordan (1984)

NBA legend Michael Jordan graced the cover of SI 50 times, more than any other athlete. It is hard to choose the best one, but the 1984 issue “A Star Is Born” is a good place to start. Jordan would not start winning championships until the 1990s, but his rise to phenom status was evident early.

Jordan’s first SI cover was actually a year earlier in 1983, when he was featured as a member of the North Carolina Tar Heels.

8 Tiger Woods (2019)

Golf master Tiger Woods was no stranger to SI covers, but his 2019 appearance after coming back to win the Masters and claim his 15th major is an iconic image. It is also rare in that it is one of the few SI covers to not have any words to describe the image. Tiger’s appearance says it all.

7 LeBron James (2002)


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Would LeBron James still be the same superstar he is today without SI? Maybe so, but The King got his hype train started early with his “The Chosen One” profile in the February 2002 issue when he was just 17 years old, a high school junior.

This set early expectations for James as the next great thing in basketball, and he somehow lived up to that title and even exceeded it as the best player this century. But at the time, he was just a kid from Akron, Ohio before SI put him on the cover.

6 Kate Upton (2013)

We are all about supporting diversity and equality, so we have to acknowledge one of the best Kate Upton swimsuit covers for SI in 2013. The model and actress got her start at SI in 2011, and she made appearances in issues in 2012, 2013, and 2017 as well. SI had a huge impact on her modeling career and helped make her a household name.

5 Jack Lambert (1984)

Just an iconic image of a menacing linebacker, this 1984 issue of SI featured Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Famer Jack Lambert before what would be his final season in the NFL. This was at the time when then rookie quarterback John Elway was quoted as saying of Lambert that “he had no teeth, and he was slobbering all over himself.” Elway continued “I’m thinking, you can have your money back, just get me out of here…”

4 Tyra Banks (1997)

In 1997, model Tyra Banks made history as the first Black woman to grace the cover of SI’s swimsuit edition. She was already a household name at the time with appearances on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but she has gone on to become one of the most famous models and TV personalities in the industry.

Banks made more history in 2019 when she became the oldest model at age 45 to grace the cover of SI.

3 Brandi Chastain (1999)

One of the most iconic sports photos ever, this image of Brandi Chastain celebrating the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup win was an instant classic cover for SI. Chastain won the match for the US against China after making her penalty kick to win the shoot-out 5-4. It was a huge moment for soccer in the country as well, as this sparked a renewed interest in the sport for many.

2 Muhammad Ali (2016)

The only person who appeared on an SI cover almost as much as Michael Jordan (50) was boxing legend Muhammad Ali. His 40th and final appearance in 2016 was the tribute issue to honor his death and celebrate his incredible life and career. SI has done several tribute issues over the years, but the Ali one in 2016 remains one of the finest complete with a perfect cover image of “The Greatest.”

1 Miracle on Ice (1980)

Many fans consider the 1980 issue of SI that featured the Miracle on Ice as the most iconic cover of all time. This was to celebrate the huge upset by the United States men’s hockey team over the Soviet Union in the 1980 Winter Olympics.

It may be lost on the youth just how important that moment was during the 1980s with the Cold War backdrop, but SI and the concept of magazines are also something that will be lost on the youth. At least these covers will live on, preserved by the archives of the internet.

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Scott Kacsmar
NFL football picks are Scott Kacsmar's expertise, serving as his main focus. He has contributed to various sports websites and blogs, such as NBC Sports, ESPN Insider, FiveThirtyEight, and, JoeWager. Originating from Pittsburgh, Scott maintains a love-hate connection with the Pirates.

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